From time to time, we revisit an original Air Facts article that we think would make enjoyable and worthwhile reading today. So it is with Leighton’s “Flight 700,” his story of flying with iconic Captain Robert Buck in a 707 at the beginning of the Jet Age. This is a detailed description of a flight, and like us, you will no doubt marvel at how much has changed. This originally appeared in the May 1960 edition of Air Facts magazine. –Ed.
A trans-Atlantic jet flight.
By Leighton Collins
When we mentioned last month being ready to bolt the Princeton area in search of Spring, little did we realize how soon and how far away we were going to find it. But this is the jet age. Within three days after getting the word from Bob Buck, we had a new vaccination certificate and our passport renewed, and early in the afternoon of March 24th we set forth in our second-hand English Ford for Frankfurt, West Germany, via. Westfield, N. J. (Buck’s house), Idlewild [now John F. Kennedy International Airport], and London.
As we splashed along through heavy slush, the thought that we’d next go to bed in far away Germany seemed more and more fantastic, and when we got to Route 22 and turned east, every time one of those rubber tired freight trains would go by, we’d get a complete bath in wet pasty clay mixed with oil and melting snow and delivered in gusts which made us feel small indeed. It seemed an odd start for a 4,000 mile journey which would begin at 7:30 P. M. and terminate eight hours and forty minutes later. Still, we were gaining on it, even though slowly, and the events to come, whatever they were to be, were looked forward to eagerly.
At Bob’s, Jean whispered that Bob was still asleep, and gave us a large 300-page operations manual on the 707 to read. Our airplane, on lease to Northeast for the day, had been late that morning getting off for Miami on account of snow on the runway, so it would be late getting back and our departure time had been set up from 7:30 to 9:00 P. M.
About 3:30 Bob began to stir and shortly we left in his Volkswagen for Idlewild. He has driven this route so many times he knows the percentages exactly, just when to be in which lane where. Past Newark airport, through the Lincoln Tunnel, across Manhattan on 42nd Street we moved smoothly through the ebb of rush hour traffic. Somehow the gathering darkness and the high buildings in mid-Manhattan made Europe seem even farther away than it did out in the country. Then through the Midtown Tunnel, out the expressway, and before long we were curving around the maze of parkways that are now Idlewild.
We hadn’t been there in some time and the new terminal buildings going up, one for each major airline, compete fiercely and dazzlingly in their expression of the age of jet travel. We were going to Customs to register our camera, since it was new and German-made, so there’d be no question about where we got it coming back in. Then we wove around some more and got to the TWA hangar which is so big that it makes even 707s seem small, or a little smaller than they really are.
Bob allows two hours for getting a flight organized. First he checks his mail drawer, looking particularly for anything that would be pertinent to this flight. Then he goes to the crew room and checks in and gets the list of his crew for the flight. As it turned out, his First Officer would be John Nunn, who was on the flight we made to Rome with Bob in 1955 in the Connie. John had been a domestic captain most of the time since then, but was now coming back to the international division and the jets.
The crew met in a sort of ready room, ten in all, Captain, First Officer, Second Officer, Flight Engineer, Navigator, three Pursers, two Stewardesses, and Bob told them briefly a few special things he liked to see done. Then the flight crew, as distinguished from the cabin crew, repaired to the Dispatch Office where the dispatcher handling this flight had a preliminary flight plan all made out showing gross weight, fuel, and route, supported with the dispatcher’s copies of the weather maps, including wind analysis charts at the higher levels.
New terms crop up as time runs. This flight plan was figured out on a MTR (Minimum Time Route) basis at flight level 330 (33,000′). The minimum time route is the track, considering winds, which will get us to London in the least time. In this case it was somewhat south of a great circle course (the shortest distance) as there was a low centered on the great circle course about half way across. We would fly to the south of this center to get the benefit of better tail winds. Along the segment of the flight at the bottom of the low, jet stream winds of 180 kts were forecast, which, even though he did not make a sound or move a muscle, we could tell Buck didn’t buy in full. The average wind component for the entire flight was figured at plus 53 kts, which made the enroute time come out as 5:50, or 35 minutes better than regular schedule.
How these fellows figure weather mystifies us. Or maybe not so much how they figure it but the fact that is causes them no anxiety. Both London and Frankfurt were forecast as having a 90% chance of early morning stratus that would be below landing minimums, but it was forecast to be up to minimums by our arrival time at both places. That’s sure not the general impression most of us have about London’s famous fogs. Additionally, the wind would be from the east, which is good at London, instead of bad as we assumed.
Anyhow, London weather or any terminal weather is no cause for concern. The alternate is the thing. They just don’t take off without feeling utterly confident about having a good alternate and plenty of fuel to get there. That’s obviously why they can take off with the place they’re going zero-zero just as unconcerned as if there were no such thing as weather. Strangely, they almost never go to these alternates, not once every five years. The reason for that is that the weather seldom gets below or stays long below their minimums anywhere. It’s a way the freelance operator has got to learn to think, and it’s largely a question of range and having airline minimums (which a glideslope receiver gives us). Plus, of course, always that gold plated alternate. Our alternate this time would be Prestwick, Scotland. Normally it might be Frankfurt, but the Frankfurt forecast was the same as London’s as they were both under the influence of the same weather system. Prestwick wasn’t.
The fuel on the dispatcher’s form came in for close scrutiny. It starts off reassuringly (and ends that way too). First there’s a TWA requirement of extra fuel adequate for 10% of en route flight plan time, or in this case 8500 lbs. To that is added the FAA requirement of thirty minutes’ holding at 1500′, or 6500 lbs. To this 15,000 lbs. of fuel is then added fuel to the alternate, which includes climb-out after a low pass, plus fuel for the most devious route to the alternate, plus fifteen minutes holding at alternate, plus 1700 lbs. for descent. If an alternate is within 150 miles the computations are based on going there at 16,000′. If the alternate is farther, then 25,000 is used as the cruising altitude.
As you can see, even with a relatively close-by alternate, it is not at all uncommon that a flight plan calls for arriving over a destination with as much as 25,000 lbs. of fuel. To that, then, on the intercontinental division, is added the pounds of fuel it will take to taxi out, climb to altitude, and cruise to destination at 32,000′ at maximum cruise power for that altitude. The maximum fuel capacity is around 132,000 lbs.
Finally, there’s a hidden extra margin in all these figures from two sources: going to maximum range cruise (at a lower airspeed) would at any time yield some extra range, and flying higher than 32,000 would pay off handsomely in additional miles per pound of fuel, or per thousand pounds of fuel as they figure it.
The analysis of the Dispatcher’s form, which Bob finally signed, was exceedingly thorough and took, in all, about thirty minutes. At the conclusion of this pre-flight stage, he turned the Dispatch form over to Nunn and the navigator, Francis A. Harland, and asked them to get going on a Flight Plan. That meant figuring a compass heading for each leg, estimated fuel aboard, in pounds, at each reporting point, and elapsed time. It took them almost an hour to complete their figures. It is not as simple as it sounds. Bob wanted it figured at a speed of mach .82, at 33,000′. One of the variables of the speed of sound is temperature, so this called for an analysis of the temperature situation at 33,000 on the various legs, because temperature also affects fuel flow.
The New Era
Meanwhile, Bob wandered on down to TWA’s weather bureau. Crews no longer go to FAA weather briefings for international flights like they used to. All the upper air charts come into TWA’s weather office by facsimile, but TWA maintains its own special upper air wind analysis section. Bob asks the meteorologists lots of questions, for he wants to know why they think what they do about the way it is supposed to go. That way he can check on the why’s as he goes across to see if they are remaining valid.
The jets bring also new terminology into the weather offices. Bob seemed interested in getting, from the temperature aloft charts, an image of the top of the troposphere along the route. The troposphere is about 50,000′ thick at the equator and thins to possibly as much as 25,000′ over the poles. Its top, called the tropopause, is determined by temperature, or is in a sense an inversion line or layer, above which the temperature no longer drops with altitude. Sometimes it even rises, and he’s particularly interested in that, for that affects his ceiling.
The advantage in flying above the tropopause or in the stratosphere is that in the latter the winds tend to vary little in direction and there is no turbulence. The disadvantage (if you’re eastbound) is that in the stratosphere the winds are much less than in the top part of the troposphere, especially in that this is where the jet core winds are to be found.
Worth the Candle?
In his flight planning, though, Bob seems in the process of evolving this philosophy: The big tail winds aren’t really worth probing for eastbound; the best ride for the passengers is more important. As he has kept books on it so far and in comparisons with other captains, going across eastbound low enough to get good tailwinds means turbulence going into the winds and turbulence coming out and you aren’t in there too long in any event as the jet stream usually bends after a few hundred miles. So it’s not the best ride. From the time standpoint, flights at the highest altitudes in smooth air seem to take only eight or nine minutes longer to London.
Westbound, flying in the stratosphere, where possible, has the advantage of getting the flight above the strong headwinds as well as keeping it in smooth air. The catch is that often on those days when there is a temperature rise just as you get into the stratosphere, power is affected and you can’t cruise at an efficient angle of attack up there. So, in evaluating the importance of the stratosphere on any given flight it is first necessary to see when your load will permit reaching it and whether the temperature will permit your staying in it without dragging your tail.
Sometimes, in winter, the tropopause is as low as 29,000′. At other times it is much higher. In summer it is almost always higher than the 707’s maximum cruising altitude of around 39,000′. They are approved up to 42,000′, i e. the cabin pressure differential. But with the 39,000 level out as a practicable operating level in summer that will mean a big load on the remaining two efficient high-level westbound altitudes available. So, at the best altitude levels our jet space is already crowded!
Finally, we went back to the ready room and Bob went through the notam file and also checked for any operational notams on the equipment and initialed each one. Then he checked over the Flight Plan briefly and signed it and it was turned over to the Dispatcher for filing with ATC.
The crew bus runs every fifteen minutes so we all went down to the crew platform and were soon on the way over to the terminal, where the airplane had been towed some time previously. And then it struck. A frontal passage which was not to have been of any consequence turned into a short lived but furious small blizzard. By the time the crew got settled down in the cockpit and finished a preliminary run through the pre-starting part of the check list the snow stopped. And there we sat in one of the biggest airplanes in the world with a half inch of snow and ice all along the top of the fuselage and the top of the wings. How can a person be so unruffled when they’re as anxious to go as anyone else? Bob contacted the dispatch office on company frequency and told them the airplane would have to be deiced, so to please get the wheels moving.
As great an invention as the wheel is, especially the pneumatic tired wheel, snow remains its master. It didn’t seem long then, and it seems even less long now, but little delays began to stretch into longer delays. First they said they’d bring over a mast truck and hose off the airplane at the loading ramp. After thirty minutes, which Bob and the crew spent reviewing the check lists and cockpit procedures (since the airplane is still a new one to all of them), nothing had happened.
Then word came that a tow truck would pull the airplane out to the starting area and to taxi it to the hangar where it would be taken inside. By the time the tow truck got there, after thirty minutes, another 707 had been parked behind us and a Connie of another airline had been parked in front of us and the tow truck could not maneuver us free.
Half hour later the airplane behind us finished loading and departed, and our tow to the starting area commenced. You don’t hook a tow truck, even a big one, to a 300,000 lb. airplane and zip, not on a snow- and ice-covered taxi strip. The tractor had to have sand under its wheels several times for a restart. Finally the starting area was reached, well away from the terminal building, and they fired it up and the power unit and tow truck departed.
At night Idlewild is a sea of blue lights which mark the maze of taxiways. How those fellows find their way around we don’t know. We’d always thought it worse sitting down low trying to figure out which blue light marked an Eisfarth or Ausfarth and which line of blue lights marked the edge of a taxiway. If anything, it is even more difficult sitting up high. There aren’t even any road signs at the taxiway intersections. It must not be easy. Listening on ground control frequency we heard an Eastern pilot (we think it was) say that he’d taken a wrong turn and was at the Pan Am hangar and he requested a reclearance from there.
About that time Bob stopped . We hadn’t seen anything or heard anything from ground control. But an Apache came within the field of our taxi lights moving towards us (no rotating beacon) and turned off to his right at an intersection just ahead of us. Well, hooray for somebody. That’s the way to operate. Also this: Bob doesn’t ever seem to be straining to be super-alert, but his theory is that most cockpit trouble stems from complacency. When he’s in the cockpit nothing apparently misses his notice. We still can’t figure how he picked up that Apache when he did.
It’s a Big One
It must be a couple of miles to the hangar and we crept along over the brittle thin crust of snow at a slow pace. Once there a tow truck hooked on, the big doors were rolled aside and slowly we were towed in. Just before the hosing off with water and glycol was finished, which took about an hour, the glycol truck ran dry but the airplane looked clean and so the foreman had it rolled back out and Nunn woke up Bob, who had disappeared under a blanket in the cabin for another hour’s shut-eye. Refueling, himself, so to speak.
Everything’s by the book, which starts off with an inspection of the airplane by the Flight Engineer. Shortly he came back and said that he did not want to take responsibility and wanted Bob to look at the airplane. The temperature had dropped to 20○ and even though the run-off couldn’t have been much, still there were little bumps of ice about 1/4″ high all over the back half of the top of the inboard section of the left wing. It’s hard to see how they could have built up like that, but they did. So the airplane went back in the hangar, the glycol truck went off somewhere and got refilled, and an hour later a completely clean airplane was rolled out into the clear cold night.
Some of the passengers, naturally, were fretful, but they had been protected from participating in any flight research activities, even though they did not realize it. It was a good lesson, too, in contrast, contrast between the at times shaggy operation most of us conduct with our own airplanes, when we take off knowing that something is not quite right, or even within a mile of right. A major part of an airline captain’s business is to avoid taking chances. Things are either right or wrong. They don’t fly till they’re right. It’s simply a part of their job to do this, and whether they’re doing this or flying makes, in a sense, no difference to them. Which, we presume, explains, why Bob was as unruffled at the end of the five-hour delay as he was at the start. Certainly there was nothing to suggest that in all his airline flying he’d never had a delay of this length before.
Meanwhile, as things began to shape up, the weather and validity of the original flight plan still on file had been rechecked with the dispatcher. Also, after the airplane was rolled out, Bob got another 2000 lbs. of fuel to replace that used in taxiing back to the hangar.
From DC-2 Days
It was almost 3:10 A.M. when Bob swung into position on runway 31 left with a clearance to London airport, via the outer marker, Fire Island, Hampton, Nantucket, Code intersection, and ocean control something or other. As he moved the throttles up gradually, with the brakes set, there was no shake, and not even much sound. In that still moment, while we were along to see a new marvel of the age in equipment, we couldn’t help thinking of Buck and all the others who man these machines. Here Bob was, in the next six hours, to add over 300,000 passenger miles to the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of passenger miles which he has flown safely for the people behind him. How could a man fly that long and have all his decisions, on weather, on equipment, on range, on procedure be always the safe ones? By working, working hard at it.
About that time he let it go. Beyond the mass of red-rimmed panel lights of the darkened cockpit the runway started to move, the landing-lights reaching brilliantly far ahead between the runway lights tapering into the distance. The acceleration is strong and powerful, the back of the seat pushes you hard, still, while feeling acceleration strongly, the airplane does not appear to be gaining speed rapidly.
Finally, the runway lights do start moving, ten seconds, fifteen seconds, fast now, twenty seconds, and a certain amount of shake and noise is building up that begins to reach the proportions of a normal big-airplane takeoff where everything seems to be working at about its limit. And we went even a bit past that, sitting right over the nose wheel as we were, for runways are not as smooth as they might be.
The takeoff data card which the First Officer had set on the control pedestal where Bob could see it said it would be 38 seconds to 120 kts (which is a way they have of gauging that the engines are developing full power). So 120 kts. in 38 seconds, but we had more to go and by now it was a sort of a horserace. The card also showed V1 as 143 kts, which meant we could go to that speed and still stop on the runway remaining. V1, showed at 150 kts, i.e. the speed at which he would first put back pressure on the wheel. V2, or best angle of climb speed with an engine out would be 160 kts.
At 150 kts, then, we were still running level. When you stop to think of it, that’s nearly 170 mph and at that speed tires begin to get out of shape and a lot of things happen to let you know you’re rolling a fast wheel. From an automotive standpoint alone building something that weighs 300,000 lbs. which will go 170 mph. is quite a feat.
Astonishing and Blissful
Then, midst a big rumble and shake, he pulls back on the wheel. It is a startling experience. Suddenly there is neither shake nor noise. From black to white, from dazzling light to utter darkness, from great noise to utter silence, from suddenly increasing heavy vibration to utter calm. There could be no greater example in contrast.
It soon got even quieter, for just after the end of the runway passed well below, Bob throttled way back in compliance with the noise abatement program at Idlewild. It just seemed like we couldn’t possibly be flying, no noise, no shake, anything anybody said in the cockpit in even a low voice completely audible. Yet, the rate of climb showed we were coasting uphill at 200 kts and around 2000 fpm.
Shortly we were above the noise abatement altitude and cleared for an unrestricted climb to our cruising altitude of 33,000′. In eleven minutes we were at 20,000 and twenty-five minutes after takeoff were at 33,000. It was only then that there was an impression of noise. As the speed built up wind noises developed, seemingly principally over the roof, the sound being that of a heavy waterfall close by, and soothing.
The climb had been made at around 280 kts indicated, and after leveling off and reducing power the indicated went on to around 290 kts with a Mach indication of 7.5 to 7.7. The cabin pressure was 4700′. The true airspeed indicator was on 474 kts. In the first thirty minutes we had burned 14,000 lbs. of fuel and in cruise at 33,000 we were now using 16,000 lbs. per hour. Thirty-nine minutes after takeoff we were crossing Nantucket at 33,000, some 225 miles out of Idlewild.
At this point Mr. Harland wanted his navigator’s seat (Bob had secured cockpit authorization for us) and we went back to our Tourist/Economy seat in the back to see how it rode back there. It was little noisier than in the cockpit, but what surprised us most was that as we know airlines this economy section is plusher than first class used to be.
Men at Work
Pretty soon we were back to the cockpit (there’s standing room just inside the door) and stayed there except when we’d have to back out when Harland wanted to take star shots or get, later, sun lines. In order to take these shots he had to stand on a stool where we normally stood and poke his sextant up through a hole in the ceiling. The crew called it Harland’s whistle, as it made quite a noise when in place.
The cockpit of the 707 is a compact one. The Captain and First Officer have room enough, but the remaining three cockpit crew members are pretty well packed in. The Flight Engineer sits facing to the right side of the airplane and right up against the back of the First Officer’s seat. By leaning back and to his left he just can reach the four throttles on the control pedestal between the pilots. Right behind the Captain’s seat the Second Officer sits, facing forward, and there’s barely knee room sitting straight in his seat. Right behind the Second Officer the Navigator sits, facing the left side of the airplane. His seat can be slid back to a comfortable distance from his small table but apparently he keeps it pulled up uncomfortably close to the table, with not quite enough knee room under the table, simply to avoid having to move the seat to that position every time someone wants to squeeze between the back of his seat and the engineer’s.
There may be some advantage in this compactness, for as never before, this is a crew operation. Everybody in the cockpit is flying and they need to be within both comfortable talking distance and reaching distance.
No Lull at All
Everything, and a lot of new things, impresses you on a trip like this, but one of the most noticeable things is how busy everybody is every minute all the way across. In a Connie, for instance, there are long periods in which it is possible just to sit back and fly after making a position report. This isn’t the case in the 707. The time when a mile a minute was about the ultimate concept in speed is now prehistoric. This machine is moving ten miles a minute. No matter what you figure out, by the time you get it figured out you are in a different situation.
From the time he took his seat leaving Nantucket, Harland, for instance, was working with a red hot needle and a burning thread, to borrow a household expression. For five solid hours he was writing down figures at a prodigious rate, adding, subtracting, jumping up and taking star sights, figuring madly again, reading his instruments—he never had a moment’s peace, not even time for a cup of coffee. For, you see, he had to keep before the Captain a card showing the proper compass heading to steer at all times, he had to keep up his Flight Log and be prepared to give both present position and any change needed in the estimates. He also had to fill in much of the information on the Position and Weather Report which Nunn called in by radio at 60W, 50W and so on, every 10◦ of longitude.
And, of course, in these reports they give the latitude of the crossing too. Harland got his winds from a formula used on the radio altimeter readings. After Cod, just past Nantucket, his wind direction/velocity computations were: 220/58, 225/112, 255/110, 280/82, 220/25, 250/10, for each 10◦ progress. Imagine what those changes could do both to your estimates as well as wind correction angle! Still, he made his landfall almost on the nose.
The Flight Engineer works with almost as red hot a pencil as the Navigator. He has the rather elaborate electrical system to keep tab on, both a/c and d/c (there are four 400KW generators on the engines), the cabin pressure readings to watch, the air conditioning system to manage, and the fuel system. But mainly, he keeps a running record on the pounds of fuel still aboard. Compared to a piston airplane, he has no controls to operate, no carburetor heat, no oil radiator shutters, no cowl flaps with which to vary head temperatures, no mixture controls. All he can move power-wise is the throttles and that’s simply a small adjustment now and then to get the power settings all the same. His “engine” instruments are in the center of the instrument panel between the pilots. There are twenty of them (excluding the oil quantity, oil temperature, and oil pressure gauges which are back on the Engineer’s panel) and while formidable looking they are in rather simple array: as you scan them all the needles in any given horizontal row are parallel. It would be easy to glance at the panel and pick out instantly any needle which was out of step, so to speak. As to each particular engine the gauges read from top to bottom:
- Engine Pressure Ratio
- % RPM 1st rotor
- Exhaust Temp.
- % RPM 2nd rotor
- Fuel Flow (pph x 1000)
As we understand it, none of these is subject to individual control; the throttle affects all of them simultaneously. They are simply informative of the key situations in the engine affecting normal power output. Just before take-off, as Bob moved the throttles gradually up we thought he was watching the tail pipe temperature and did not release the brakes until it reached a certain point. What he was actually watching, as the final controlling item, was the Eeper gauge, as they call it, the top one, which shows the ratio of the pressure of the air going into the engine and the pressure as it comes out.
When it reaches the figure on the Take-off Data card prepared by the First Officer, everything else being par, he lets it go. The EPR from take-off to take-off depends on air density and it is one measure or indication of normal thrust. RPM of the compressor and turbine blades is important from a ratio standpoint to indicate a normal operation, but as far as turning up goes, an engine putting out poorly as to thrust may turn up fastest of all. That’s the reason they want to compute for each take-off the time to accelerate to 120 kts taking into consideration the air density at the time and the gross weight of the airplane.
What do the pilots do in an airplane that seemingly moves through the smooth air of the stratosphere without effort? Hand flying it, one or the other of them is busy. For one thing, the airplane has to be constantly retrimmed because the stabilizer is really a flight control and the elevators are capable of overriding the stabilizer to only a limited extent. The pilot does this with a button on the control wheel and one way to tell if the airplane is being hand flown is to watch, or listen for, the large flywheel type of trim wheel that is on either side of the control pedestal beside each pilot.
Electrically driven, it makes a noise when it moves, and it moves rapidly and a white mark on the rim comes to the same position each time as it seems to brake itself to a stop. When hand flown the airplane has to be flown on instruments. It could be flown over the nose but it would be an up and down proposition because at such speeds (in cruise) such a small change in pitch makes such a large change in altitude. You feel the g-load from this too.
In a piston airplane you may be used to g-load in a turn, but in the jet you can be riding along and in seemingly level flight and become conscious of being pressed down in the seat, and then as gradually as the pressure built up it fades. An updraft can, of course, do the same thing and it seems to come more in this form than a bump, as you might expect.
So, they fly it by the instruments any time they’re flying it by hand in cruise, and it takes concentration, both in pitch and in roll, for there seems to be a fly-wheel effect from all that inertia of fuel-filled wings. As we interpreted the wheel movements the trick seems to be the second a wing responds to being picked up with the ailerons you give it a nudge of opposite aileron and if the amount of nudge is right it coasts to a stop at the wings level point.
But actually the flying is, in cruise, almost wholly on autopilot for it is simply too tedious to do a satisfactory job for an indefinite period. Hand flying one of these across would be a terrific load on even two pilots alternating at the wheel and we wonder if these won’t finally be the first airplanes with dual autopilots.
Only an Aid
What do the pilots do then, sitting there with the autopilot on for five hours or more? They certainly just don’t sit there, as you might surmise. Bob, of course, was also the executive and as well as his part of the flying, i.e., even on autopilot, it seems that it is definitely understood that one or the other of them is “flying” it, which means that he is constantly monitoring the autopilot and the flight instruments and on the ready to take over.
Our initial observation that all the crew members are constantly busy and busier than ever before in any cockpit applies equally to the pilots. It’s just a question of things happening fast and there being something of importance going on continuously. When not flying Bob was always checking on something: the reason for a heading change of more than a few degrees, the basis for a change in ETA at London, a late weather sequence copied down by the Second Officer, a look at the Flight Position and Weather Report form, some point of discussion with the flight engineer.
He was just busy, plain busy, all the time. There just isn’t any leisure hour between hitches, or even half hour. The hitches come faster than that. And, of course, the pilot “flying” the airplane has to wear an oxygen mask, which is uncomfortable and makes it difficult for him to see anything in his lap, which even in this airplane remains the only solution anybody has been able to come up with in providing the pilot a place for his maps and papers.
But they lead a good life riding as they do on the heels of the speed of sound. Concentrate, yes, at all times. But they work in quiet, and free of the fatigue of vibration, and, we believe, the airplane puts them on a new plateau of serenity. It has not only good engines, but already it can be seen, the best ever built. Most of the time they are in smooth air and also above the weather. The airplane is challenging to them, mentally stimulating, and apparently they are enthralled with it. They also seem aware of its economic potency. We mentioned earlier that on this flight Bob would add another 300,000 passenger miles to his log. The airplane also participates in this. With a full house to Frankfurt and back the add to the kitty would be over 1,000,000 passenger miles and the airplane does one of these every twenty-four hours for on Bob’s arrival in Frankfurt a return crew is waiting and after a few hours there the airplane comes back to London and thence to Idlewild.
At 7¢ per passenger mile that would be $70,000 a day, which is a pretty fancy oil well or two (gusher). The trick, of course, is to keep it filled, but even half-filled it is more of a money maker than a Connie full. No man can be oblivious to the economic foundation beneath his job. The 707 is an earth and sky shaking advance in mass transportation and probably more than anyone else the pilots themselves realize how it is going to completely revolutionize the world transportation picture.
To make still another comparison, a rough one, which brings out the fact that the bigger an airplane is the greater its economic potency, the 707’s average cruising is on 15,000 lbs. of fuel per hour. A Connie uses 3,000, but its fuel costs twice as much, so, relatively, that’s 6,000 lbs. against the Connie. The 707 is twice as fast though, so that brings the Connie up to 12,000 lbs. Then, the 707 carries twice as many.
It also costs twice as much, but airplane depreciation is a small part of the total fare and doubling it is too small a difference to compare with twice the gross coming in. Utilization will be much higher than on the Connie, and maintenance no more. Also, in the great bottom of that fuselage, in addition to the main fuel tank, there’s a 10,000 lb. cargo allowance. Money, money, money, from all directions.
Actually, though, we’re not sure we’re in favor of this rule that the bigger an airplane the more sense it makes economically. At one point, sailing along there in the blue, we thought that what we’d like would be a 4-place version of this airplane. Same speed, same performance, same everything. It could be done. For around $1,000,000. Which springs the trap. Pay only five times more and instead of four, carry 160 people! That’s what knocked the Mooney Mite out. Pay only twice as much and carry four. Maybe the solution, for those who like to fly above all else, is to fly the big one and forget all those people are back there, which is easy to do in the snug five-place cockpit of the 707.
We didn’t mean to slight the Second Officer, perched as he is behind the Captain. He was as busy as anybody else (we were even busy just standing there watching). We mentioned that he copies weather. Sometimes when both pilots were busy he made position reports. In one sense he takes over the duties a radio operator used to be carried for. In the climb up and let down and approach he is a very important cog in the crew; nobody can fly this airplane and look up charts or tune radios or copy clearances.
Better than anyone else he is in position to monitor the flight for he isn’t manually juggling any balls. By staying right with and on top of the flight he can know what chart he should have ready to put in the Captain’s hand when he reaches back, he can reach ahead and tune the next station and announce it as tuned and identified. Meanwhile the Captain’s in there pitching with the wheel and getting answers to any questions he wants to know or verification on what he’s thinking, both from the Second Officer and First Officer. You have a strong awareness that while the airplane is being flown by the hand of one man its flight is being shepherded by the brains of three men in unanimous consent. Or at least that’s the way Buck runs it. We are thoroughly convinced that that third pilot in there is important, and wonder, if someday, his seat won’t become the bridge and be occupied by the Captain.
As in our previous trip, we crossed the Atlantic standing up.
There are new sights flying in the stratosphere. An hour out of Idlewild the horizon to the east started turning a yellowish-orange color. We were flying above what could have easily passed as a haze layer or inversion of a summer day along the Atlantic seaboard and it looked to us that it sloped upward ahead of us and that soon we’d be flying in it, but Bob said he didn’t think so.
Saucers? We saw one, directly ahead, in the first minutes of dawn. The stars had all disappeared. Right over the nose, only a degree or so above the yellowish band ahead there would be a dim light, small, going down to almost pinpoint size. Then it would flare, brightly and to about the diameter of a coffee cup saucer at twenty paces. And then it would fade rapidly in brightness and diameter as if moving suddenly away and almost disappear. And, of course, finally it did disappear and didn’t come back. It was Venus. We had thought at first that it was some kind of new high intensity light on the tail of an airplane ahead of us.
As the sun came up, the sky overhead took on a dark bluish, almost gunmetal bluish cast.
At one point Bob commented that we must be passing the center of that low off to our left. We were on top of broken stratiform cloud, or had been for some time, but off to the north it appeared as if it might be less than broken and that were we up that way it would be possible to see farther down into the haze and layers.
By now we were working Shannon control, the top of the haze, or actually probably thin cirrus, was lifting with the sun, and occasionally we were encountering a moderate amount of turbulence. They got a change to 37,000 and we were again in smooth air, outside air temperature minus 44○ C. The fuel flow was now down to 3200 lbs. per hour per engine, true airspeed 469 knots and we had 54,517 lbs. of fuel aboard. London was now approximately 1:30 away, so we were fat on fuel with nearly four hours’ left at this altitude.
Hard to Describe
Speaking of turbulence, it is another of those new things to get accustomed to in the jets. As we mentioned, rather than hard bumps it is more a case of the bump being stretched out into a slow-motion g-load. But even that is not its principal characteristic in turbulence. The thing you notice most is a sidewise motion. We would notice at times that the whole cockpit seemed to go through a cycle of sidewise oscillation. At first we assumed this was simply a yaw characteristic coming from the fact that we were in the nose and the rudder and fin were a hundred and fifty feet behind us and probably half of that behind the yaw axis. It’s the same sensation in the cabin, though. In turbulence the airplane just seems to waddle or jiggle, or a combination of both, more sidewise than up and down.
An hour out of London we went into a different air mass and there were cumulus clouds below us and white caps on the sea were visible. Another new sight: cu which must have been built up to twelve or fourteen thousand looked more like scattered strato cumulus at 4000 viewed from 10,000.
About that time we saw a large ocean liner way down below, with a short white wake behind it. It looked massive even from 37,000′. But to think: we’d be in London in forty-five minutes and the people on the boat would only be getting to Liverpool twenty-four hours from now.
Still another new sight: a long dark streak on the water just below that ocean liner and paralleling its course. It was the shadow of our contrail!
The ideal termination of a flight with a jet appears to be to come up pretty close still high and then come down fast (and not have any traffic delay). When Bob was cleared to start his descent from the next check point, an omni station on the southwestern tip of England, it was obvious that he was beginning to work well ahead of the airplane. Several minutes, it seemed, before he was due over the check point he pulled the throttles all the way back. The drag or deceleration sensation this produces reminds you of the take-off. With the initial acceleration of the take-off you feel it will be off in no time.
When the throttles are closed you feel that in only a matter of seconds it will be down to some low speed. But it does not come out that way. You’re sailing along at around 550 mph and nothing’s going to slow you precipitately. Actually, with throttles closed at cruising speed it takes three minutes to slow to gear-down speed of 260 kts if altitude is maintained. What Bob was angling for was to reach the point for starting the descent with a lot less than 550 m.p.h., for, in time, we weren’t so far out of London now and the clearance would apparently be for a straight-in approach. London was 1200 and 2.
Down we went, three, sometimes four thousand feet per minute. Not, however, at such high airspeed, because lower and closer in it becomes necessary to maneuver and at cruising speed a 30○ bank will hardly move the turn needle at all. Only when the speed gets to or below 200 kts does a 30○ bank begin to give something like a standard rate turn, and 30○ is their bank limit, for passenger comfort.
Radar had us finally and as Bob came down the ILS they kept repeating “On course, 20 feet below the glideslope.” “On course, 20 feet below the glideslope.” We were happy to see him just let it gin along. With it that close, why fool with the power. But what an eerie feeling it is as you slow and slow, and slow. Finally you wonder if you’re still flying. The big wind noises of cruise are gone, there is no sound of the engines, no vibration. Utter silence in the cockpit.
The only things in the panel which suggest motion are the rate of climb, down about 400 fpm, and the airspeed, sitting on 200 kts and finally 150 kts with 30○ of flaps, then 145 with 40○, but they aren’t very convincing. Every few seconds the trim wheel will spin a revolution or two, making a grinding sound, as Bob keeps the load off the stick. Bob was still flying it on the gauges when Nunn said, “There are the lights.” And there they were, the only thing you could see in the smoke yet, in wedge shape, pointing to the end of the runway.
Bob rounded out with 130 kts just past the “fence” and called for the remaining ten degrees of flaps. We will not attempt to describe the landing procedure. We’ve heard Bob mention that if you get the airplane close to the ground and then haul back you can bang the main wheels on the runway because they are so far behind the point about which the airplane rotates in pitch. At any rate, he touched down softly, the nose went down some (except there really isn’t any nose) and we thought we were in level attitude. But there was more, much more to come, and all of a sudden it came and the nose went way down and the nose wheel started rumbling along the runway. Obviously instead of a near-level attitude landing we had landed tail way down.
The shortness of the landing roll is impressive. Just after he touches and gets 3-point Bob raises the spoilers and then he operates the thrust reversal linkage on the throttles. The spoilers, though, are more important to him than the reverse thrust, for on touchdown the airplane still has a lot of speed and the wing is still producing a lot of lift even with the nosewheel on the runway. The spoilers eliminate this lift and put the full weight of the airplane on the wheels, thus augmenting the braking action.
Actually, with reversible propellers, which seem so effective, the main thing they do is not by way of reverse thrust but by reason of what they do in taking the lift out of the wing with turbulence, thus making the brakes fully effective. With the jet engines the thrust reversal effect comes at the rear of the engine and the disturbance to airflow goes beneath the wing, therefore the spoiler is necessary. At any rate, the decelerating rate is most impressive. We turned off not more than half way down the runway.
A Too Short Hour
Asphalt and concrete are probably no different one place than another and, in a sense, London Airport isn’t exactly England, but compared to any other European city it somehow did seem like home. Even more so when the biggest fuel truck we ever saw anywhere drove up and turned and ESSO was on the side.
We were not there long, just time to refuel, go to the TWA Dispatcher’s office and weather. There was some talk of a decibel measuring truck being half mile or so beyond the end of the take-off runway and that an early turn was desirable.
We rode in the cabin on this takeoff and got an entirely different impression of it than at Idlewild a few hours earlier. The run did seem long, even longer than in the cockpit because in the cabin you can’t see how much runway is left. But the really impressive thing is the angle of climb. In the day, and looking out along the wing, the attitude is startling, or it seems that you’re cocked up at about a 45○ angle.
Many a jet passenger must wonder if he’s drawn a hot rod pilot. Actually, of course, they do it strictly by the book, rotating only after they’ve reached 150 kts or more, depending on the temperature and weight of the airplane. But as the wings arch up and it lifts off the runway, it takes quite a nose-up angle to keep the speed from going past the applicable maximum flaps down speeds which are 210 kts with 30○ take-off flaps, 220 kts with 20○ flaps.
We were hoping to see some of London and southeastern England through one of the portholes, but there was too much haze and smoke and we got sight of little more than the patchwork of tiny rectangular fields with stone fences around them. Across the channel and over Belgium it was still hazy, but we got a fair look at Brussels and its airport. As you advance deeper into Europe the medieval character of the country is increasingly evident, even from 24,000′. The towns all seem to have a kernel and from this often walled center the streets and roads radiate out in a delightfully irregular pattern.
At 24,000 we were close to the maximum cruising speed altitude and we were really walking along: the true airspeed indicator was showing 501 kts in its window (it does not work under 200 kts), the mach meter 8.4, and the fuel flow was 5.0, or a total of 20,000 lbs. per hour for all the engines. The indicated on the regular airspeed was 365 kts. So you can see what a high price in fuel and range it is necessary to pay for an extra 30-35 kts. Not to mention that to operate at any useful speed at all below 22,000′ you’d be pressed to have a 4-hour range airplane. Obviously in the jet era the airlines aren’t going to be interested in the low altitude traffic problems, except in terminal areas.
We landed at Frankfurt at 4:30 their time. The south side of the field is a big U. S. Air Force base. The airline terminal is on the north side and is a most attractive one. Soon we were in a crew bus sailing down the autobahn on the way to Bad Homburg, a famous Spa, where we’d stay. On the way we circled Frankfurt and it looked most intriguing. It was once probably more of a showplace than now, as it was one of Germany’s largest medieval cities, but during the War its center was largely bombed out, but the cathedral and Goethe’s house and many other isolated treasures of the past remain.
The city is now almost completely rebuilt. It’s odd what a tourist notices besides the spires: around the rim of Frankfurt we thought we were looking at an unusually large shanty town. Not so. On the rich, flat grounds the factory workers come out and put a small house and garden and build a fence around them. Many of the houses are just tool houses, but some apparently are large enough for a bed. These patches are crowded in, dozens to the acre. This is where they spend their spring and summer weekends, working on their plots. The Germans are an industrious people. The entire countryside all the way to Bad Homburg, about fifteen miles, has a neat, well-tended look, which, by comparison, makes most any rural section of our country look raw.
We got checked into the hotel in time to make a run with Bob a couple of blocks over to main street and then through the center of town to a camera shop where he’d left some Minox film on a previous trip. Bad (rhymes with Cod) Homburg, with its narrow main street, square of sorts, and many half-timbered buildings and Ritter’s Park beside the middle of it appealed to us. The rushing about at just before six as the stores were closing was reminiscent of Manhattan the short evening before.
Back at the hotel Bob suggested we meet after a nap of half hour and have dinner and we’re surprised we ever woke up. After dinner—it was getting on to ten, local time, by then—he offered to lead us over to the Casino at the other side of the park for a quick look-in, but by then one eye was shut almost and we gave up.
Bob had told us as we were originally going into the hotel to register that the Germans used hard beds, with the mattresses made in three separate pieces. He asked the clerk to give us both foam rubber mattresses, and when we turned in this had been taken care of. The mattress had been enclosed in a sheeting material case, as had also the down comforter, and the bed was turned down with two enormous 2 1/2′ square pillows at the head. All we can remember is how soft that mattress felt, for next thing the phone rang—at 8:00 A. M. next morning.
A Delightful Place
The Ritter’s Park Hotel is a delightful place, old, high ceilinged, simply spotless, and run with an iron hand. We had a narrow escape. Beside the man-sized bath tub there was a string running down the wall from a lever way up on the wall. We couldn’t figure what it could be for and started to pull it just to see. If you pull it the maids come in to scrub your back, and they don’t speak English.
Bob had left a call for ten, but we wanted to get up earlier than that and do as much walking and picture taking as we could. So, for the next several hours we went all over town taking pictures—with no film in the camera. Or at least it was put in incorrectly and was not advancing. In consequence, we have nothing to show you of the quaint buildings, the Kaiser Wilhelm II bath house (both he and his uncle, King Edward VII popularized Homburg—as the Romans and pre-Romans had even longer ago), nor of the narrow street cars with only one seat on each side of the aisle, the ancient gate, the old inner section of the town.
Thus you are spared. And worst of all, we missed some interesting sights at the airport, including a tractor-drawn tourist train which every major terminal should have, and a Beechcraft display in the terminal. Fortunately, though, as it turns out, Ken Fletcher of TWA who was along on the trip saved the day for us with his Rollei.
Along about eleven, at a busy intersection, someone started speaking German over our shoulder. It was Buck. He always seems to learn enough of the language wherever he flies to get by and we spent an interesting hour in the shops—china, hardware, toys, leather, cameras. They are well stocked, but most refreshing of all is the way the shopkeepers are anxious for business. They’ll search the place over for, and usually find, the smallest item.
We wound up our tour going through the really old part of town, then through the Park, and by the golf course where Bob leaves a set of clubs. By the time we’d finished a late lunch it was time to pack up, check out and stand by for the bus, as we were due at the Flughafen by three for the usual preliminaries.
With the Sun, Almost
The trip back is the one which tells the story of the jet age best. We left Frankfurt at 4:00 P. M. local time (and on this takeoff we really did get upstairs as there’s no power restriction there for noise abatement purposes). We can well remember the first time we ever flew a thousand miles in a day. It took fifteen hours, and we felt like Mercury himself. Here we were now at four in the afternoon starting out to fly 4,000 miles home—and expecting to get there at 7:30 P. M., including an hour on the ground in London!
It was approximately an hour to London, again a smokey smoke approach, and as they paralleled us outbound along the localizer course it seemed as if we were going to reach Ireland before they cleared us to turn inbound. There were a couple of other approaches ahead of us and while we couldn’t see them we could, of course, hear them on radar control. There was again that eerie feeling, coasting along at 200 kts, of being in a glider, and almost stopped.
Something like eighty passengers boarded at London and shortly we broke out on top again. The same low was still out in mid-Atlantic, but a little farther north, so Bob planned to keep well to the north of it. The track would be over Bushmills in northern Ireland, thence past the southern tip of Greenland about two hundred miles, over Goose Bay, across the St. Lawrence near Seven Islands, and thence down to Presque Isle, Maine and down to Boston.
Bob wanted to fly at 34,000, at least initially, but shortly past Bushmills they cleared him up to 36,000. The airplane got up there quite well, but it was obvious that it was still a little heavy to cruise well at that altitude. The boys have to help each other along though, and it soon developed that TWA 801, out of Paris for New York, was following our route also and that if he had to stay down at 32,000 he wasn’t going to have the fuel specified over New York.
To help him out Bob agreed to go to 39,000 and as we got up there and 801 to 37,000 we had no trouble spotting 801 some fifty miles ahead of us, for his vapor trail which had started evidently only when he reached 37,000 was now coming by our right window. It was a beautiful sight stretched out into the low afternoon sun, but oddly enough, it always looked as if 801 had made about a 20○ cut to the right judging from a bend in the trail just before it got to the airplane. We parted company, as it were, when he turned more southerly at 56○ north. We were going to 57○. Everybody was flying north today. There was a Pan-Am 707 behind us, at 28,000, and we assumed he’d beat us to New York, but he barely did.
We had dinner—they really dine you—for an hour or more, and it was still sunset. And it went on and on, the sun almost not lowering any at all.
At one point we were in contact with the weather ship south of Greenland. He had reported the sea condition as swells of 20 feet 160 feet apart. When asked for a radar fix the operator advised that they’d try but that due to the sea condition had not been able to do much with their weapon, as he called it. From the sound of his voice you almost see and hear the roll and pitch of that tortured vessel he was on. In fact, he didn’t sound real well. They couldn’t get us on radar.
It didn’t seem really long out of London when we saw what we took to be a fog bank with holes in it. It was the ice pack off the Labrador coast, extending out seventy-five miles or more, and the black spots were islands. Finally we overheaded the beacon at Cape Harrison, then Goose Bay, and right on down. Only when we turned more to the south at Goose did the sun start going down at a reasonable rate. At the high latitude at which we had been flying, the sun had actually been outpacing us by only about 100 mph.
It was clear down the coast. We started our descent just past Boston, and landed straight in on 25L at Idlewild at 7:50 P. M. local time. Back at the hangar when turning in the flight envelope the dispatcher wanted to know, not in criticism but to learn something, whey we were 15 minutes over our estimate. Only fifteen minutes? We miss that much on 100 mile segments. But we weren’t fifteen over. London had erroneously transmitted the ETA they’d shown on their original dispach form, which had the flight at 32,000. When Bob saw that, he had asked that it be changed to 34,000 and 9 minutes added to the en route time, but they forgot to add the 9. The other six came from our not going as fast at 39,000 as we would have had we not played good Samaritan.
All between 3:10 A. M. of a Wednesday morning and 7:50 P. M. Thursday night.
And they do it every day. Not only to London and Frankfurt and return, but to Paris and Rome and return. As the season progresses additional flights will be added as the equipment comes along from Seattle.
Bob called awhile ago, off to Frankfurt again this evening, this time with 138 passengers. He also has the same airplane, 763, which has been to Frankfurt and back and to Miami and back five times since our trip.
Those tireless jet engines! They are indeed changing our world.
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