What Happens Behind the Cockpit Door? by NYCAviation

Предлагаю вашему вниманию очередную статью, несложную с точки зрения авиационной терминологии, но с “живой” и интересной лексикой. Оригинал взят с NYC Aviation, при желании его можно найти по адресу http://www.nycaviation.com/2015/03/behind-cockpit-door/#.VsBxQ62mTDv

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What Happens Behind the Cockpit Door?

As you step off the jet bridge onto the airplane, you have just a moment to take a quick look around the corner to see who, and what’s, in the cockpit. Since the people in the cockpit are in charge of your life for the next few hours, passengers often wonder who they are and what they do. You might get a glimpse of white shirts, electronic screens and the throttle quadrant, but that’s it. As a passenger, especially after 9/11, you are kept far away from the pilots in the cockpit. So for those who often wonder what’s going on behind that closed door, here is a quick look inside and general overview of what they’re doing up there…

First, they’re figuring each other out. With over 12,000 pilots on the roster at some major airlines, the odds are that when a pilot walks in the cockpit door, they don’t know the other pilot. Even though policy and procedure is the same no matter who you’re flying with, every pilot has their own personality that they bring into the cockpit. Captains set the atmosphere so it’s up to the copilot to get a sense of what the captain expects. Is the captain collaborative or commanding? Do they delegate assignments or complete the task themselves? What’s the mood? Do they use humor? Are they serious or lighthearted? There is no right or wrong, just variables. Pilots in a crew environment have to learn to deal with all personality types. It doesn’t matter what type they are, but both pilots have just a few moments to size each other up before getting started with their job. Pilots are good at it and they adjust as needed. In this first segment, pilots’ conversation is restricted to just the task at hand. It’s called a “sterile cockpit” and it just means the FAA wants pilots to just be talking about the flight and nothing else.

From the very beginning of the flight, there is a constant stream of information coming into the pilots’ heads. Weather, flight plan, passenger and bag count, catering, programing for the flight management systems and ordering a fuel load just to start. While the information is coming in, pilots are also pre-flighting their assigned area. Each aircraft and airline has their own procedures, but generally, pilots verify that the area in the cockpit that they are responsible for is working and switches are in the proper position for start. The pilots will check the aircraft logs to see if everything is working and signed off properly and then, at the captain’s discretion, one of the pilots has to do an external preflight inspection. When the weather is bad, you can bet that the copilot is the one out there battling the elements outside. On an aircraft that has a flight engineer, the walk around inspection usually falls on their checklist, but the captain has final authority on who does the external inspection. The walk around is a visual check of the major components. They’re looking for any damage that might’ve occurred on the last flight and any fluid leaks, missing, damaged or loose parts, tire and brake health, oil and hydraulic levels, pitot/static inlets, and access panels. If there is an issue, doing this first gives the crew time to notify a mechanic to have it repaired or put on an MEL (airplanes can operate with broken equipment if it’s on their approved Minimum Equipment List and it has procedures that must be followed to operate without it).

During the entire flight, the captain is the maestro coordinating incoming information and delegating actions and requests. Fuel is uploaded based on weight, temperature, length of flight, runway and enroute weather. Dispatch will have sent over a flight plan with recommended fuel uplift based on the conditions for that day’s flight. It’s up to the captain to decide if they took into account all the proper information, or if the captain should adjust the fuel request. Once the crew has accepted the aircraft for flight by determining its safety, they then move onto thinking about the route ahead and getting the airplane started for the day’s flight. In the meantime, flight attendants are coming into the cockpit with issues in the cabin, catering verification and simply saying hello to the front end crew. Communication and collaboration is the peripheral effect of trying to get a flight out on time.

Checklist, checklist, checklist. From here on out, before the airplane moves, there is a checklist. The pilots have already made sure their station is ready, thus the name “check” list. It’s not a “do” list. It’s just making sure everything has been done and done correctly. Watching a crew perform a checklist is poetry in motion. An in-sync crew sees and acknowledges each callout and knows what’s coming next. They confirm the airplane is ready, now it’s their turn, as pilots, to get themselves prepared to take it into the air.

Before pushback, the pilots are plugged in and talking to the ground crew who is driving the tug. With the growing weight of aircraft, good coordination with the tug driver is imperative. Neither wants miscommunication because stepping on the brakes while towing 300,000 pounds could do some damage. Some aircraft have hydraulic ground interconnects, or bypass pins, or a variety of other settings that have to be completed before they can give control over to the tug driver. Before moving, the crew needs to get clearance from ground or ramp control for pushback. Once they have clearance, they then have to tell the tug driver they’re cleared for pushback. Pilots cannot see behind them (some aircraft have aft cameras), so they have to trust that the ground crew will push them out safely.

While they’re being pushed back, the crew usually begins the engine start sequence. With fuel cost as a constant factor, many airlines encourage starting/taxiing on only one engine. This keeps the pilots on their toes as to how best to manage electrical usage and cabin comfort on just one engine. As the aircraft begins to taxi, the pilots’ thought process is now drawn from inside the cockpit to balancing their attention with what’s outside. Complicated clearances and busy airports demand the pilots’ full attention. During the taxi to the runway, the pilots are still continuing their checklists. The pilots also have to determine when the best time would be to start the other engine(s). Even while the aircraft is taxiing, the pilots must continue running a checklist while starting the remaining engine(s). Rub your head and pat your belly. Throw in a day of snow when aircraft need to be taxied over to the deice pad, and the pilots will need to run all these checklists twice, and coordinate with the iceman, and determine the holdover time, and get to the runway and depart as quickly as possible so they don’t need to be deiced twice. And, we haven’t even left the ground yet.

Takeoff, not landing, is the most hazardous segment of the flight. Issues are so rare, and pilots are so well trained, that it’s usually no problem. It’s just that the aircraft is at its heaviest, so if an engine or component were to fail, the airplane is operating at the edge of its performance margins. This just means the pilots would have to use every ounce of their training, which they can, and do, very well. The captain and copilot will take turns flying each leg. After takeoff, you’ll hear the landing gear come up and as airspeed builds, you’ll hear each notch of flaps being retracted. At 10,000 feet above ground level (AGL), pilots will “ding” the flight attendants (you’ll hear it through the speakers) so they know it’s okay to leave their seat if there is no turbulence. It’s at this altitude when a pilot is allowed to also be a human being again. The sterile cockpit rule is lifted and pilots can now include normal, human to human conversation to pass the time and long hours of sitting. The irony is that the pilots usually end up talking about flying anyways.

During cruise, pilots are continuously being handed off and communicating with different air traffic control (ATC) centers. They are monitoring and balancing fuel, and trying to find the smoothest air while navigating through and around all types of weather. With the autopilot on and navigating for them, the pilot’s job goes from actively participating, to monitoring the situation. While paying attention, they’re also trying everything they can to pass the time. Maybe a quick game (or two) of Farkle, a page/chapter or two from a book, update the Jeppesen manual, balance a checkbook. Of course they’re not “supposed”to do this. But pilots, who have the constant need for brain stimulation, cannot sit still and do nothing for long, tedious hours and not find a way to pass the time. They are still doing their job, and doing it well.

About 30 minutes from landing, pilots start getting weather at the arrival airport, figuring out which runway they can use, and preparing for descent. Around 18,000 feet, the pilots will turn on all their additional position lights and ATC will start getting them in line for arrival. Pilots are constantly asked to comply with speed and altitude crossing restrictions and you’ll hear the engines comply with the demands. If the weather is bad, there will be additional maneuvering to get all the aircraft in line so they can shoot the instrument approach. Once they get started on the approach, you’ll hear the flaps being set to different degrees and the gear come out once established on final. The last of the flaps will be set and with all that drag, the engines will spool up and be more ready for a go-around. Pilots are always prepared to abort the landing for a variety of reasons. If tower tells them to go-around, they’re ready to go.

Landing is the most fun and most demanding of the pilot’s attention. Constant wind changes while trying to maintain an intentional airspeed and glide slope is the challenge. It’s also the moment when a pilot gets judged. Truly, a pilot’s talent should be based on how the entire flight is operated, but the epitome of their skillset gets based on the landings. A good landing begins with a good, stabilized approach. Some airplanes have automated settings for operating items upon landing (speedbrakes, brakes), and some computers can even land the aircraft, but most pilots and airplanes are still being landing manually, by the pilot.

After clearing the runway, the pilots start running the After Landing Checklists and getting the aircraft in a configuration for the next flight, or the next crew. Any maintenance issues are noted in the logbook so the next crew can track the quirks of the airplane. Every airplane, just like people, have their issues. It’s helpful to know their history. Once at the gate and the door is open, the pilots will tease or congratulate each other about the landing. If the captain made a bad landing, he’ll have the copilot stand in the doorway and say goodbye. If the copilot made a good landing, the captain will stand in the doorway.

Being a passenger can be difficult. Sitting back there not knowing what’s going on up front can be a trigger for fear. You see the closed door of the cockpit and it’s hard to imagine what’s going on. If you can only remember one thing, remember this: these airline pilots are so well trained, conscientious and professional, that you can take a deep breath and relax. They’ve spent years and thousands of hours being a pilot. They realize the stakes are high and they live their lives dedicated to this profession. They will do everything in their power to keep you safe.

So now, when you hear that “ding” at 10,000 feet, you’ll know what’s going on in the cockpit.

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