New Day New Jet Part I
The pilot’s mantra you should try
Clear day, smooth skies, great jet.
My ears listen to the chatter amongst the crew inside the plane and between air traffic control and other aircraft.
My eyes glance around the cockpit, checking in on engine engine instruments, airspeed and altitude.
My hands lightly caress (not like that) the yoke as the plane nearly flies itself.
My mind runs a short film highlighting the past few years. One year in pilot training, 2 years flying a twin-engine turbo prop plane throughout South America, 3 months in an air mobility schoolhouse.
All of which led me to this very moment: sitting in the cockpit of the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy.
The C-5 is about 313 feet long.
That’s the length of six full-sized semi-truck trailers lined up end to end. Think about that the next time you’re trying to pass just one semi-truck on your next road trip.
That’s about twice as long as an Olympic pool. Think about that the next time you’re splashing around in the bathtub (which, by the way, you’d need between 52 to 62 of to match the length of the C-5).
The C-5 is about 223 feet wide.
That’s 20 times wider than an average driveway. Think about that the next time you struggle just to maneuver around the trash cans your kid swore he would bring in from the curb.
That’s one and a half times as wide as an NFL football field. Think about that the next time you get all impressed because a sexy, 33-foot wide jet does a high-speed fly over right before kick off (still think size doesn’t matter?).
My mental comparison math is abruptly interrupted by an unusual sound. A sound you rarely get in a monstrous 4-engine aircraft whose 4 engines put out the equivalent horsepower of 60 Lamborgini Aventadors (or 272 Kia Souls).
The sound I hear is … silence.
Deafening silence. Which is deathening silence in a 4-engine plane that should sound like a parade of 60 Lamborginis (or 37 Toyota 4Runners).
My ears listen to confirm that the silence is not just temporary hearing loss.
My eyes immediately shoot their gaze to the dashboard gauges that tell me how much thrust each engine is producing. All 4 of the gauges are on an equal decline. That indicates that all 4 engines have failed. That means this massive strategic airlift aircraft designed for intercontinental cargo movement now has the glide ratio of a brick.
My sweaty hands grip the yoke tightly.
My mind skips the sentimental journey which no longer sets my heart at ease.
Regardless of how I got here, we are here.
And now that we’re here, with no thrust coming from any of the four 7,900-pound engines, it’s time for action.
The screaming silence of no motors spinning on the wings is an emergency procedure, meaning the first few steps are memorized exactly and executed precisely. That means I’m deploying the Ram Air Turbine, trying to ignite the inboard engine on my right and air start the inboard engine on my left.
The entire cockpit is in go mode. Each crew position has detailed responsibilities for which we’ve trained and trained. In a synchronized effort, we all check in once the memorized portions of our checklists are complete. From there, we work together, “flying” this new configuration.
We let air traffic control know our situation. We determine the nearest field that can handle us. We point our nose toward that field and continue gliding, hoping that one of the four engines fires up.
Soon we realize we’re not getting any of the engines started, so we continue trading altitude for airspeed as we circle around our intended landing strip. We’re like buzzards circling over the landfill, except our bones aren’t hollow and the thermal updrafts will never be strong enough to keep us airborne.
Sweat rolls down my back, trapped between my skin and the protective layers of my aircrew uniform. They say protective, but it’s more preservative as I baste myself with sweat and desperation inside the flame-retardant Nomex material.
We work together as a crew, all eyes on deck, keeping track of airspeed, helping with radio calls, trying to get at least one engine to start, making sure passengers are buckled in and briefed. Oh and keeping the aircraft flying.
There are some standard things we still have to do (landing gear, flaps, more checklists). The 4-engine flame out doesn’t release us of those responsibilities. Yes, I know, you’re shocked that flying with ZERO engines doesn’t let us land without putting the gear down.
Soon, the runway beckons us. We are lined up with plenty of altitude to barter for flying airspeed. We have flaps to help us slow down. We have landing gear extended (makes for a much smoother (and quieter) roll out). We have clearance to land.
I manage my grip on the yoke but wiggle my fingers so I don’t over control the aircraft. We work together, the aircraft and me. And together, we’re about to bring this air opera to a conclusion.
The runway threshold passes under me as I work to keep the plane on centerline. Soon, I feel the impact of rubber and asphalt. It’s not my softest landing (but certainly not my worst).
All things considered, safely bringing a plane back to terra firma after having lost all 4 engines is cause for celebration.
But not today.
To be continued...