From the archives: Bob Buck gets a Boeing 707 check out

There is no real consciousness of the power of the 707, it is so quiet and smooth, the flight is effortless, the fantastic brute strength of our jet engines is not apparent, instead the strength to live in the sky seems part of us, seems integral with our bodies, more thought than reality. It is like a strong thermal in a sailplane, invisible, effortless—you cannot see or touch this power, it is an environment that engulfs you like night or day or sunshine.

But enough dreaming, it is time to get to work. We level off and start as you always have with gentle turns to get the feel of things. At high speed, up and down control is the thing. Only a little nose up, or down, affects the rate of climb a lot because the airplane is moving so fast just a little nose down means the airplane begins to rush downward―not at a big angle, but flat at big speed, so the rate on the instrument is big. This means a tender touch. It isn’t easy at first because as stick forces change you naturally trim. This means a flick with the electric trim button and, of course, you hold it too long and trim too much; then it’s a scramble back the other way and you feel like a new, frustrated, overcontrolling student. Much of this is because the trim wheel coasts after you release the button. It varies in amount with individual airplanes. Experience teaches you to outguess this over run but even with experience and knowhow it can be an annoyance.

When the trim button is touched the tab wheel in the cockpit spins rather furiously and with a crunchy noise. You can almost tell how many hours a man has in training by watching the spinning tab wheel. A new man will give it long bursts and you know it’s too much and he’ll soon be giving it a long burst the other way in the start of a nose-up, nose-down chase. When an experienced pilot is at the wheel you notice just little short bursts of a second or so and the airplane flown smoothly. The tab can be turned by hand, but is takes many, many awkward turns and considerable strength; it’s an emergency operation.

Steep Turns

After gentle turns come steep ones, but using old methods they fall in as you wish and it doesn’t take long to keep altitude very closely. The thing you notice right away is the touchy lateral control. The airplane banks easily and fast. Too much aileron is the rule and for the first few hours you over-control. It’s pesky. You finally learn that to put a wing down you roll the wheel and then almost immediately move the aileron back the other way to stop what you’ve started. It’s not nice and most small airplanes I’ve flown have more pleasant aileron control, but like a lot of things in flying you learn the trick, get used to it and finally forget it was ever a problem.

A lot of training is of an emergency nature to show what happens if something doesn’t work. We shut off the spoilers and see how sluggish the aileron control suddenly becomes, try dutch roll, go up high and stick the nose down to feel the tuck at high Mach, simulate a runaway stabilizer―you can grab the trim wheel at the price of some skin and stop it―find out what to do if the stabilizer jams and such items.

Stalls

Up in the dark that first night we did stalls under all different configurations. It stalls nicely, but the recovery is a little different because a big application of power, as in a Connie, doesn’t help with flow over the wings. There aren’t any propellers so you don’t get the slipstream aiding lift when you jam on power. This is a big jet difference not only in stalls, but landings too, especially undershoots when you want to gun it and pick the airplane up and carry it along a little further.

Air Facts cover, September 1960
This article first appeared in the September 1960 edition of Air Facts.

The stall recovery means a positive nose down and a little more loss of altitude, but not much. Nose down gets the flow over the wing straightened out and then a big show from those jet engines pushes you ahead to higher speed and escape from the situation. The stalls were quite pleasing.

We did a lot of slow flight at 10 to 15 knots above initial stall buffet with various flap configurations. It works wonderfully and simply. A gentle hand on the reins at these speeds and you feel it isn’t a problem. The airplane is respectable and honest at slow speed.

Since it was night and a certain amount of night landings are required by FAA Jim decided we’d better shoot some while we had the chance―other flight periods might be during the day or in bad weather.

So imagine your first 707 landing in a pitch black night on a semi strange airport. It proves something though, the value of the numbers and sticking close to them. This is something they harp on in transition; fly exact speeds, not 5 knots over, but ON it! And bless Jim, he has a wonderful way of bringing a discrepancy to your attention. He does it with a talking it over, calm manner that clearly shows the fallacy of the loud drill sergeant type instructor.

First Landing

My first landing was at a gross weight of 180,000 pounds. Over the fence speed for that weight is 130 knots. This varies with weight and you become very aware of your landing weight―the information comes from the flight engineer who keeps a running record of fuel consumption and moment by moment weight―you keep it in your mind too as a double check.

A chart on the pedestal entered with the weight tells the boundary speed. Boundary speed is called different things like over the fence speed, reference speed or bug speed. It’s called bug speed because we set a needle, called the “bug,” on the airspeed indicator to the boundary speed―or reference speed. This speed is the basis for all pre-landing maneuvering. With 20° flaps you fly at reference speed plus 30 knots; at 30° flaps it’s reference speed plus 20 knots; at 40° flaps it’s plus 10 knots and at full flaps, 50°, you fly at reference speed.

As with any slippery airplane the first problem is to get it slowed down. This requires planning ahead and, at times, some squirming in the seat. The first flaps, 20°, has a max speed of 220 knots. When you are screeching along at 340 indicated it takes a long time to get down to 220. You can drop the gear at 270, but we don’t like to do it because the gear makes a lot of noise going down and if you are still a long way from the airport passengers wonder what’s going on. So we try in training, even though there aren’t any passengers, to form regular on-line habits.

There are those spoilers which will slow you down, but these boards up in the windstream make her dance and shudder and this makes nervous passengers twitch so we avoid spoiler use in normal operations for slowing down.

No Foot to Drag

So there we are at 340 indicated and wanting 220. It’s the same old problem you had when you went from a Cub to a Bonanza, but more of it. In the jet you just don’t carefully walk the throttles a little way, you pull them clear off! This doesn’t hurt jet engines or make ’em quit; the only thing that happens is the landing gear warning horn blows. There are two buttons to stop the horn’s blaring and there’s a mad scramble by copilots to shut it off. During transition with all its maneuvering the horn seemed to be blowing half the time.

With throttles closed the fuel flow drops way down and that’s about all that does drop, certainly the speed doesn’t. You keep right on sliding through the air with speed right at 340! It takes time, a long time, before the needle begins to fall back and get to 220. Then flaps are lowered to 20°. The throttles are still closed to help slow down to reference plus 30 knots which in this case was 160 indicated.

When the airspeed approaches 160 you start the power on to hold level and this, too, takes a big move. (This rearms the landing gear warning horn for the next throttle reduction.)

Once down to 160, flaps at 20°, speed control is easy and it only takes a little determination to be boss of the airplane. The speed drops and you say, “No you don’t, Buster,” and with positive command push the power up and get it where you want it. It’s like flying any airplane or riding a horse; let it know you’re boss and everything works out beautifully.

On downwind leg the flaps go to 30° and the speed to 150 knots. Off to one side is the runway, just lights stuck in the darkness. This field is out in the country with few lights around so there’s little reference. In these situations you’re glad of numbers to fly by because flying is a constant off and on instruments proposition; flying instruments to keep the airplane within the ball park and an occasional look outside to see where you are.

On Base

Turning into base leg the gear is dropped and right after it 40° flaps. Now the landing is getting closer and you give that little squirm and wiggle to reset yourself in the seat and call for the final portion of the check list.

At 40° flaps the speed is 140 knots and the trick is to not let the rate of descent build up over seven or eight hundred feet per minute. If you sink over 1,000 feet per minute it may be a scramble to get her stopped going down before you drive the wheels right through the pavement. There isn’t the quick recovery of a prop airplane where there is a right-now air stream over the wings when you pour on power.

TWA 707 ad
The 707 promised a new era of travel.

I had the tendency to call for full flaps too early. You should be almost at the boundary before you go to full flaps. Their purpose is to mostly bleed off speed, they don’t provide a steeper angle. In fact with the 707 you feel the entire landing procedure, starting way out from the field, is a gradual process of raising the nose and slowing down until you touch.

At the outer edge of the field flaps to 50° and get the speed down to 130 knots. I was too busy and interested to tell, or care, if this was a runway in day or night, Kansas or Paris, France.

With full flaps the throttles are cut full back earlier than you’d do with a propeller airplane. This again is the old business of no propeller slip stream over the wings. The throttles are just giving you push so you chop them early and get rid of the extra push. The airplane doesn’t settle or fall down, but slides along bleeding off its speed. Even with fully closed throttles there is still a little shove and it’s not unlike landing a prop airplane with the throttle partially on. But the landing I like better than a prop airplane because the entire final approach to touch down doesn’t have any quick change aspects to it―it’s a smooth continuous process provided, of course, you use the proper approach speeds .

Once the flaps are full and the throttles closed you just sit there and let it fly itself on. From where you sit the impression is that you are making a level landing, but actually the nose is quite high. You don’t raise the nose in a roundhouse flare. The main wheels are way back and if you flare the nose will come up more, but the rear wheels will be descending and are apt to hit the runway with a sound smack. Secondly, this big bird will float if you keep sneaking the nose up and then runway slips by underneath that you might well be rolling on, using brakes to get stopped. Actually, when just skimming along and wondering where in heck the ground is and why doesn’t she touch, you can bring it all to a climax by just pushing ahead a little on the wheel. This lowers the angle of attack, lift decreases and she slips on slicker than slippery elm.

Spoilers

Once on the ground you grab the spoiler lever and pull the spoilers full on. This kills a lot of residual lift right now and gets the weight on the wheels so the brakes can be effective. Then grab the reverse levers which close clam shell doors on the back of the engines and shoot the exhaust sideways and back for reverse thrust. This isn’t as powerful as that on a propeller airplane, but it helps. During all this action you are working on the brakes and discover you weren’t landing level at all, the nose comes down, and down and down before it touches and you are relieved to find the nosewheel is still there!

My first landing was beginner’s luck. I got the spoilers up, reversed, touched the brakes and reached for the nosewheel steering much as I would on a Connie. This brought quick comment from Jim, “Hold the yolk, she isn’t finished flying!”

With its narrow gear and touchy lateral characteristics this airplane flys on the ground and I’ve felt a wing come up at 80 knots. So you keep flying until you are slowed down and ready to turn off the runway, then you take the nose wheel steering.

The brakes have an anti skid feature which really gives sensational braking. The spoilers are wonderful too because they help get the airplane weight on the wheels so the brakes have something to work on. It’s a big surprise to discover how quickly you can stop this big airplane.

We shot some more landings, some of them touch and go. With each take-off I caught up with the proper speeds more and soon could stay within the desired numbers.

ILS

The first period ended with an ILS using the command bar of the Flight Director System. This is a little yellow horizon on top of the regular horizon that does all your thinking. If it shows a left turn, for example, you bank until the regular horizon is under the yellow one, then just keep them the same and without even trying you are glued to the ILS. It’s a great gadget.

ILS speeds are just like landing speeds with 30° flaps until on glide path and then gear down and 40° flaps until you are ready to land with the field in view and almost under you, then 50° flaps and slide her on.

The first ILS went off beautifully and I was right now in love with that command bar and told Jim so. “Well,” he said, “I wanted you to see how it works and enjoy it once. That’s the last time we use it.” So during all training and FAA rating the command bar stayed tucked away where I couldn’t see it.

The hours between flights weren’t spent in idleness, but buried in those books. The big reason was the coming FAA oral examination and we all shook a bit at the thought of it. This part of the rating would be taken in the FAA office a few days before the flight test.

The second session of transition got right into engine cuts and from then on there wasn’t any normal flying in the airplane, everything was under some sort of emergency.

Demon Rudder

An engine out is quite a thing. Powerwise there’s no problem, the airplane has plenty and even with two engines out she can haul herself out of a tight situation. You just fly the proper numbers and she’ll go. But keeping her under control is another matter. It takes a strong leg, the rudder is a monster!

Of course in normal flight the rudder isn’t a problem, but cut an engine and life gets very interesting. The part of the rudder we liked least was at low speeds where ILS’s and landing approaches are made and all the other touchy work near the ground.

The rudder has aerodynamic boost and hydraulic boost, but you are not convinced they do much because it takes almost full rudder with an engine out and the forces are enough to make your leg shake.

TWA 707
That rudder becomes quite a struggle with an engine out.

To add problems, using rudder on the swept wing airplane is almost like using aileron. If you push rudder a wing will come right up so with the touchy ailerons and large amounts of rudder needed you get in busy situations. With an engine out the trick is to shove the rudder the amount needed with strong, big foot movement and then leave it where you have it and don’t feed it in and out. Your leg is straight out and pushing hard!

It goes like this: Jim cuts number 4 engine, I push in full left rudder and lock my leg in that position. While doing this, of course, I’ve had some aileron juggling. It’s important to keep the ball as near center as possible and never, right from the start, let skid develop; if too much does develop then rudder effectiveness is lost, you start to use aileron and are soon in a mess. When an engine is cut the trick is to get the needed rudder in fast so the skid doesn’t develop.

Calisthenics

The rudder takes so much strength to hold your leg gets cramped and often it’s necessary to have the instructor help. This makes a very contrary situation during an ILS. While you have your foot jammed up in one corner pushing hard with a lot of strain, you are also handling the ailerons, to fly the ILS, with safe-cracker finger tip delicacy. It’s like making a concert violinist play some tender piece of music with a ten pound weight on his bow hand!

One helpful gimmick comes from the excess power. Because of this you can set the power differently on each engine and relieve the rudder pressure. But this, of course, means a hand full of unequal throttles and a quick juggling act if you want lots of power in some situation lie a pull out.

If a pilot was down low with rudder held by a straining, shaking leg and he got a charley horse—this is easy—and he let the pressure off before his copilot could get there to help, the airplane would slew around fast and the possible outcome close to the ground chills the imagination.

Newer models of the 707 have more fin and full boost and it’s anxiously hoped they’ll all be modified. During training, when engines are cut much of the time, this is not only a great chore that consumes a big part of the training, but you feel it’s dangerous too.

Risk

There’s a great deal about training that feels dangerous and, of course, there have been fatal accidents during training to back up your qualms. It’s the risk pilots take to learn their airplane so the same dangers will not hang over the public’s head. Sometimes you feel it’s a lot—not taking the risk particularly, but the need for it. Your mind wonders, as you lie in bed at night thinking things over, if we do not approach the precipice of disaster too closely in order to get the last ounce of performance.

The jet safety record is sensational and potentially it is a very safe airplane, but the training record isn’t good. When my training was over I felt I’d passed the most hazardous time I’d every face flying jets!

One maneuver that’s a real eye opener is a thing they call a close in circle and landing. In this little wing ding you simulate a 500 foot ceiling and a mile and a half visibility. So you circle the field in this big fire breathing monster at 500 feet and never over one and a half miles from the field. Really it’s amazing how easily it can be done, but it takes a steady hand and a fast eye which races back and forth between looking outside and then inside to be certain of airspeed, altitude and other needed indications from instruments.

Tap Dancer

During training we did a real engine cut on take-off at V1 and this too takes some fast foot work to get that rudder in before you go off the pavement and, always, when you shove in rudder a wing wants to come up. So while your foot is working hard and boorishly your hands have to be tea party tender.

We got in a lot of cross wind landing and take-off practice and this can border on the exciting because of the touchy lateral control. In landing you set off the drift and then at the last moment kick her straight with rudder and slide it on. It really works well as long as you remember that when you kick out the rudder a wing will come up and you must be there concurrently with a delicate little twist of aileron. If the twist of aileron isn’t delicate you can start the side to side waltz of dutch roll that easily grows in size—at times like this you unhappily remember that the outboard engine pod is less than five feet off the ground!

We also try an emergency descent. This is based on the idea of a sudden loss in cabin pressure. We climb to the 35,000 foot level and, with oxygen mask off but nearby on a quick pull hanger, the instructor calls for emergency descent. In actual practice if the cabin pressure goes above 10,000 feet a horn starts blaring in intermittent blasts.

With emergency descent called for we pull back the throttles, raise the speed brakes, get the gear started down and put on oxygen masks; the descent is made in a peel off to one side which reduces forces on the people in the cabin.

Muzzled Aviator

Boeing 707 cockpit
The cockpit has just what you’d expect – lots and lots of dials.

Pulling the throttles, getting spoilers up and oxygen mask on averages, by timing lots of people, eleven seconds! Pretty fast, but the FAA still requires one pilot to wear oxygen all the time above 25,000 feet. This is the most grotesque part of flying the airplane. It’s medieval torture and I was depressed to find that modern oxygen masks aren’t any more comfortable than the ones we had during the war. This FAA enforced rule of questionable aid in an unlikely emergency creates other hazards which exist all the time and do not wait for an off chance emergency. This is so because the oxygen mask cuts down on vision—and who yells more about looking out! It also makes reading charts, plotting bearings and doing other chores difficult. I love to fly the 707, but happy anticipation of a trip is suddenly soured when the thought of the oxygen mask crosses my mind. If we must cower under this half thought out regulation why cannot someone in this industry come up with a comfortable mask that does not detract from efficiency and safety? We can build Hydrogen bombs and put TV cameras into orbit, but science cannot make a comfortable oxygen mask. I could not possibly be vitriolic enough on this subject and I suspect there are many long suffering military men who feel this way, but have given up complaining because it has been so fruitless.

During an emergency descent the passengers would not be forgotten because packed away in part of the ceiling above each head is an oxygen mask and if the cabin altitude goes above 10,000 feet one hundred and thirty six masks fall down, one in front of each passenger! Then he need only reach up a little way, pull it down and hold it over his face. Over the pilot’s head is a light which shows if the passengers’ masks have released—you check this in the emergency descent procedure—and if the automatic feature has failed the pilot can flip a switch and dump the masks himself. Yes, of course, this has been done accidentally with a great surprising rain of oxygen masks in the cabin! It takes about an hour to stuff them all back inside the ceiling again.

Canyon Approach

All the maneuvers required in training makes a long list that would take up a lot of space, but there is one maneuver that’s worth mentioning. It’s not dangerous, but it tells a great deal about a man’s ability to fly the airplane and it trains him to do it. It’s called the Canyon Approach and is an exercise of power, airspeed and general control. It goes like this:

At safe altitude you establish flight with 30° flaps and reference speed plus 20 knots. This is flown for exactly one minute, then the gear is lowered, flaps to 40°, reference plus 10 knots, 1.3 epers and descend for 2,000 feet where you level off. Three minutes from the start of descent you begin a climbing turn which means power on, 30° bank, flaps to 30°, reference speed plus 10 knots and retract the gear. At the completion of the turn flaps are retracted to 20° and at reference speed plus 10 knots climb back to the original altitude. Of course what makes this really interesting is that the instructor cuts an engine during the turning climb out! This means some real fancy juggling of everything in the airplane. You are trying to hold a 30° bank and when the engine cut comes the bank increases, if it’s an inside engine. Your reaction is to get aileron in to correct, but, of course, you get too much which means some degree of dutch roll will probably start and things get busy. It’s a good maneuver.

Inspectoritis

About the time I had seven hours I was set up for my FAA oral and with some nervousness went to their office. The inspector was very nice and put me at ease. We spent a couple of hours going over the airplane in what turned out to be a bull session. He wanted to be sure I knew certain things and we talked these points over. He also asked a lot of questions. I’d heard the best plan was to be brief and to the point with answers so when he said, “Do you know the fuel system?” I answered, “Yup.” This, I found, was too brief because he made me explain it in considerable detail. But the oral was a pleasant affair and I walked out of the building much relieved and with a school’s out feeling. I dared to think I might take in a movie that evening, the first entertainment since school started.

The next plateau arrived soon. At the end of 10 hours Jim said I’d done all the stuff required and was ready for my rating ride. While I thought I’d like more practice—say about 100 hours—I was anxious to get it over with so they set me up for an early morning period with FAA inspector Gordon. A. Williams, Jr. He is a pleasant and fair man who knows the 707 well and can fly it. He’s very nice, but thorough.

The rating ride had nineteen items and I list them:

  1. Take off – hood 200 feet.
  2. Area departure (a simulated ATC departure).
  3. Steep turns – 45° bank.
  4. Approach to stalls:
  5. Landing gear down – 50° flaps.
  6. 30° flaps – gear up – 15° turn.
  7. Slow flight (10 to 15 knots above initial buffet).
  8. Pull out from landing and approach configuration-three engines. Set up two engine enroute climb out of approach configuration.
  9. Canyon approach.
  10. Inoperative stabilizer trim—establish trim for landing. (this is done with spoilers).
  11. Recovery from unusual positions.
  12. Dutch roll.
  13. 35,000 feet, demonstrate tuck with mach trim off.
  14. Emergency descent.
  15. High altitude holding pattern, 15,000 to 20,000 feet. (They’re real fussy about this to see if you can hold altitude and stay within the pattern. Sometimes the wind is strong at altitude and the pattern can get wild if you’re not with it).
  16. Engine shut down and restart.
  17. ILS approach three engines.
  18. Landing out of ILS.
  19. Landing out of close in circle simulating 500 – 1½.
  20. Engine failure at V1.
  21. Landing out of two engine approach – touch and go.

The ride took a little over two hours, concentrated hours! It was a happy moment when Gordon put that Boeing 707 on my license and school was out for sure.

But that didn’t end the check out. There are two strips with a check pilot over the regular routes before you are finally turned loose on your own.

My first ride was with Jack Fryer who heads up our flight training. He knows the 707 impressively well and is a good instructor.

Route Check

The first check ride was to Paris and Rome. Jack flew the first leg and I acted as copilot. This was a very refreshing experience. For the first time I was in the airplane under normal circumstances, all engines working and everything the way it should be—it was almost disappointing not to have an engine out!

707 at Paris
The 707 made trips to Paris a lot faster – and more comfortable.

It was also pleasant to see someone else fly the airplane while I had time to sit, look things over and relax.

Jack flies beautifully, one of those unhurried smooth pilots. I learned a lot just watching him and secretly hoped I would do as well someday.

Being copilot across the ocean was a good opportunity to become accustomed to the numbers regarding speed and fuel consumption as well as learn where everything is, like radio tuning knobs and little gadgetry you don’t mess with much during flight training.

The fuel consumption and cruise control isn’t much, really. It’s an airplane and while the numbers are bigger and more impressive than any you’ve ever fooled with the idea that you want to get somewhere with so much time or miles remaining in the tanks is the same as a 150 Cessna. An impressive point is that all the airplane performance charts are accurate, she does what the book says she’ll do and this is a very nice way to have things.

I was impressed that to get more fuel enroute you fly at higher altitudes where miles per pound of fuel go up impressively – as ground school said they would. We had planned the flight for minimum fuel at 33,000 feet. As the flight progressed we climbed to 37,000 feet and actually arrived in Paris with more fuel in the tanks than planned for.

Jack doesn’t sit idle during the trip, but spends a lot of time asking questions about the airplane and its performance. In someways the trip to Paris was a six and a half hour quiz.

In the Left Seat

At Paris it was my time to climb in the left seat and start flying. It’s amazing how quickly an airplane becomes familiar to you. But even with familiarity the check list takes longer and you are more deliberate. This means instead of getting in the cockpit fifteen minutes before take off you say goodbye to the French friends you’ve been having coffee with earlier and get in the airplane thirty minutes ahead of time.

After starting we whistled our way along as I taxied out to the end of the runway at Orly. Now I felt not only familiar with the airplane, but I was on home ground too. We were cleared to Bray, over Dijon, Geneva, Torino, Elba and to Rome, 29,000 feet. Flight plan was one hour and nineteen minutes.

Off Orly we climbed quickly and I swung toward Bray as Paris Control cleared us direct. A broken deck of stratocu was only a momentary blink of an eye as we zoomed through it in an instant. The tops of the clouds dropped away in dramatic fashion. In a piston airplane you climb up through a cloud deck and slowly climb above it, but in a jet you burst through the cloud deck and then it seems someone pulls the clouds down and away from you they recede so fast.

600 m.p.h.

In about seven minutes we had gobbled up the distance to Bray and were rushing toward Dijon. At 29,000 feet in high speed cruise the airspeed is impressive, close to six hundred miles an hour.

Before the cute French hostess had time to bring up coffee and a croissant, Geneva slipped under us.

There had been a slight bounce in the air at 29,000 feet so I went up to 33,000. The lows clouds had shredded off to invisibleness and now the sky was clear and the world stretched out below.

The Lake of Geneva was far under us and the Alps seemed like small lumps on the earth’s surface. I looked down at Geneva and my eye noticed the Rhone River flowing through the nearby low mountains on its westward journey to France. In one of those quick unexpected pictures that dart through your mind I saw the times of the DC-4 when we climbed carefully and in precise pattern to get over those mountains, over to France on our way to Rome. We had to go that way, around the Alps, because our airplane wasn’t pressurized and its climbing ability not strong. Now these same hills were unimportant looking, just form on a topographical map; if you’d never seen them up close they would mean nothing. But fondly I remembered the intimacy I once had with them when I flew close enough to see the rocks and trees and sense the mountain’s power. In that busy jet moment I was happy in knowing that once I’d struggled in the air near those mountains. That was experience, that was the molding of one so he might someday wear the title of old timer.

The Alps were gone and the Mediterranean lay golden blue below. My dreaming mind suddenly came to life as it dawned on me that we’d be over Rome soon and if I didn’t start down we’d be 33,000 feet when we got there!

Rome

Rome ATC was cooperative and on the ball. We started down. Throttles off, high airspeed—there wasn’t any turbulence—and the rates of descent almost 4000 feet per minute. It seemed only a moment before the ADF was centered on Rome’s beacon and the north side of town came in view through the winter time haze. I landed north and everything seemed quite natural.

We flew home the next day and it was just a matter of getting more and more used to things and seeing how it works. There is one startling impression and that’s the westbound time from Europe.

The Paris departure was at five in the afternoon. The arrival back in New York is seven that evening or two hours later! Of course the time change does the impressive part, but it still means saving a night’s sleep. With piston airplanes we left Paris late at night, flew all night and dragged into Idlewild the next morning even with the time change. So I gain that night with the jet. Of course to get eighty five hours flying a month I’ll have to make almost twice as many trips and so in the long run will lose just as much sleep. (I lose a night going over).

The second check ride was to Frankfurt and back. The big impression with more experience was that the jet is pleasant to fly and the problems we had talked about so much before the jets came into being—when we really didn’t know what we were talking about—are actually not much. It holds fuel, you have enough to hold and she goes.

All Alone

After the Frankfurt ride I was a checked out 707 line pilot and the next trip was on my own—to Paris and Rome. The long school, training and check out was so complete that my first “solo” ride felt routine. I wasn’t even excited and that, to me, is the finest compliment I can pay the school.

Now, having made many trips the gloss has worn off and the hard facts are sharply in view.

On the happy side is the wonderful relief of flying with good power plants. The problems of the jet are few, its reliability great. Gone are the troublesome cares of manifold pressure relationships, head temperatures and all the rest. Also the big power makes climbing easy. When you want to go you push the throttle, pull the nose up and stride up into the sky.

It’s smooth and clean and quiet. The airplane’s interior keeps an ample supply of fresh air and my eyes don’t burn from sale tobacco smoke that’s been recirculated once too often.

There are many wonderful things about the jet airliner and you cannot work with them very long without a long, silent thanks to the genius of our men of science, the engineers and builders because even with the faults, and there are some, this is a great airplane, a tremendous advance—all the jets are.

You don’t get it all for northing, of course. Everything isn’t perfect, there’s always a fiddler to pay somewhere. In the jet this occurs mostly outside the airplane―except for those horrible oxygen masks. Airports have inadequacies. At Idlewild we are towed away from the ramp at snail’s pace to start a near sonic flight for you are not allowed to start up at the gate.

The runways are marginal and loads have to be juggled to get enough fuel to fit and be legal for take off. Sometimes the runways look squeaky on a weather landing.

At the ends of the runways, be it Idlewild, London or Paris there is the noise problem. The people around the airports don’t like the noise. There’s little that can be done about it except by operational procedures. That’s a way of saying put the onus on the pilot.

TWA 707 with Leighton Collins
Standing in front of that beautiful 707 (l to r): Capt. Robert N. Buck, Second Officer Kenneth Hippe, First Officer John Nunn and Leighton Collins.

At take-off, because of noise, we have to climb at certain speeds and in a precise manner, we have to reduce power where we wish we didn’t have to and we are asked to make turns right off the end of the runway. Landing you are required to keep above a certain slope. All this is a bother and heckles you because all this fancy maneuvering hasn’t a single thing to do with safety except detract from it! The FAA and all interested parties always preface all this hog wash with a sanctimonious “safety first,” but then glower at you and intimidate you if you don’t act correctly on anti noise. They even have sound measuring devices located off the runway and measure the noise you made and you are not supposed to exceed certain values.

We can accomplish all this anti noise maneuvering but we shouldn’t have to do it and someday it may be just the added last straw that catches up with someone and contributes greatly to an accident. Of course the accident investigators will say the pilot didn’t have to follow the procedures! Grrrrrr!

Airways, once away from the airport, still leave a lot to be desired. The routes have too many twists and turns still, although fine progress has been made. But the big problem is up high.

Radar

The FAA takes you under their wing up to 24,000 feet then, above that, you go to an advisory radar service. They give clearances and warn you of approaching aircraft, but it isn’t 100% by any means. Example; my last trip I asked radar to give headings to steer around other traffic. He was unable to because his equipment had been faulty for a day! That’s happened to me more than once. The FAA admits it too and in the current Airman’s Guide it says, “These services should not be considered as providing positive separation . . . “Yet airline jets, except in the immediate terminal areas, are not allowed to go any way except IFR!

Because the jet moves as fast as it does and the airways are so tight, you have a feeling you don’t want to miss a moment. So airline jet flying is high concentration. You don’t get up, wander around and say many hellos to passengers. You strap that big bird on and stay strapped to it until you get there. Even on the “long” over-ocean hops of seven hours I’m only out of the seat once. Doing this kind of concentration eighty five hours a month is tiring mentally and physically. I find kinks in my back I never had before and I want to sleep a lot more than I ever did.

With the complexities of the airways and their constant revisions, as well as a desire to keep up with and ahead of the airplane’s systems, structure and performance I find that school never really ended. I spend some time with the various manuals each day. I also find that when I’ve finished going through a book it’s time to start over again and review once more. The time of the airline pilot who had many enviable days off is over. I now feel like one of those chickens that lives in a wire cage a few feet square all his life and does nothing except produce. Our cage is close packed routine, home, highway to the field, the airplane, a hotel, the airplane, highway, field to home, then home where you take the dirty shirt out of the bag, rest a bit, put a clean shirt in the bag and start all over again. How long a man, or gal, can do this, keep efficient and maintain a live interest is yet to be determined.

But the advantages overshadow the disadvantages. I’m still happy to be an airline pilot and especially one flying jets. They are great, I almost love them―I would except for that damned oxygen mask!

1 Comment

  • Many thanks for publishing this exceptional article by an exceptional pilot and writer. If you have not read his memoir ‘North Star Over My Shoulder’ you will enjoy it as much as Ernie Gann’s – at least I did and I believe I learned a lot more about flying from Buck then Gann. ‘Weather Flying’ is an amazing book as well and totally changed the way I looked at and think about weather as a pilot. The difference? Who cares how weather is MADE – The question is ‘HOW IS IT FLOWN?’ Totally demystifies the whole subject and gives you actionable intelligence which can be summed up as DON’T TRUST THE FORECAST AND ALWAYS HAVE AN OUT. Funny enough my favorite part of that book is the introduction by Wolfgang Langewiesche just as my favorite part of his famous ‘Stick and Rudder’ is the first chapter by Leighton Collins. Anyway just wanted to really thank the editors at Air Facts for publishing this gem. Now we just need an article from Richard Collins about what it was like to witness a conversation between these three people who have done so much for all of us in explaining how you can travel the country by small plane. But I would imagine that they talked like they wrote: clearly, honestly with a passion for safety, comfort and efficiency.

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