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My last flight to Texas was arguably the best in the Boeing 777, excluding Christmas in Capetown or those 47 hours in Manhattan, both with my wife onboard. But on this flight to Texas, a personal endurance record was set, and it was a seriously long flight at 17 hours and 41 minutes. Even if I exlcude the long taxi, we were aloft for more than 17 hours. With more than 8,000 nautical miles of air distance traveled, we were naturally tired, but I was lucky to be the first crewmember to rest. After waking up seven hours later, I was ready to assume control hundreds of miles into the Reykjavik control area (FIR) feeling well rested for the second half of the flight.

North of Iceland, I saw something worth bringing to the attention of the captain. Lady Aurora was out dancing, and gave us an outstanding show for more than four hours, all the way to Churchill. I’ve seen the northern lights from the ground before, but from the flight deck it was much different. Flying as far north as we were, we had a much better understanding of the sheer size of this phenomenon, as the northern lights, in a kind of an arc, covered the horizon for hours, eventually subsiding as we continued flying toward the US border. The only thing greater than its size was the beauty.

Cockpit northern lights

The northern lights are a stunning sight anywhere, but especially from the cockpit.

Because of the jet lag, waking up early the next morning was easy. After some exercise and a low carb breakfast, I headed for the flight school. Despite being my first time there, American Flyers’ entire team, from the receptionist to the instructor, were very nice and accommodating. After a very good chat with Matt, the director, off I went for a real flight—some low and slow VFR flying, which is something I have not done in the US skies for a long while.

If you read one of my recent articles, you know my FAA ATP checkride was somewhat recent, so technically I didn’t need a flight review, but I asked to perform the required maneuvers anyway. After a comprehensive preflight and quick refresher on the G1000, we departed the busy Addison airport to the east. After departure, the instructor talked me through the intricacies of the Dallas-Fort Worth class bravo airspace. Other than this coaching, I was on my own hand-flying and communicating. My less than optimum skills on the VFR communications may have had my instructor wondering how the heck someone like me gets paid to fly in and out of DFW in a 350-ton airplane, but this was one of the very things I wanted to get polished on this flight.

airplane in flight

Other than some coaching on the airspace, I was on my own hand-flying and communicating.

The Skyhawk is one of the most brilliant designs to ever take to the skies, so it’s no surprise that more than 44,000 units have been sold in the many decades of its production. The first of the maneuvers to be flown were slow flight and steep turns. While the steep turns weren’t amazing, the stall series was very nice, and much better than I expected. Last but not least, engine failure!  I established best glide and dutifully looked for a field. I chose a couple grass openings slightly behind us. As I maneuvered toward the field, I realized we were too high. As I  glanced at the moving map—a luxury I did not have during my Private training—the G1000 revealed a grass strip right underneath us. In no time, I positioned myself for a landing and completed the simulated emergency successfully.

Now it was time for pattern work. All of my approaches were very good, and we made normal and short field landings as well as short field and soft field takeoffs that were all safe.  Comparatively, the B777 is easy to land, but as a first officer I only average about one landing per month. After an unexpected go-around closely followed by a rejected takeoff, we were on our way back to Addison.

After making my first no-flap landing in years back at Addison, we completed a pleasant and thorough debrief. On our way back to the building, the instructor asked, “How many hours have you got?” When I responded that I had “logged, five point two,” he remarked that he was envious.  While I don’t feel that old, at this instructor’s age, I had zero flight time.  And at well over a thousand hours in his logbook, he’s in fact way ahead of where I was—just like so many young men and women taking to the skies nowadays.

I’ve survived some four or five industry disruptions, and they have barely seen their first. But they are doing exactly what I’ve suggested, which is prepare and continue to build experience, because when the time comes, your career will skyrocket. Seniority is the name of the game. One day my instructor, and many just like him, will be up in the flight levels with all the perks and sacrifices—and realize the best part of their careers was sneaking below Class Bravos.

Enderson Rafael
Latest posts by Enderson Rafael (see all)
6 replies
  1. mike harper
    mike harper says:

    The aurora opening reminded me of my PanAm pilot friend telling of a similar flight where he announced to the cabin of the wonderful display and got negative blowback because it interrupted the inflight movie. Now days it is good that the cockpit door is locked.

    Reply
  2. Bruno Defelippe
    Bruno Defelippe says:

    Parabens Enderson, imagino una muito boa esperiencia no C172! Congratulations Enderson, I imagine a beautiful experience on the C172!

    Reply

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