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Aviation stories

A dream comes true: flying the jumbo jet

So this is the moment. You have your few years Boeing 737 experience, and you logged some hours of Boeing 747 simulator training. But today you get to actually fly this icon, this legend.

When I walk into dispatch at this early morning hour, to the table with all the paperwork for my first flight, there are so many thoughts and emotions in my head. Flashes of previous 737 experience, flight training, moving all over the planet, Phoenix, Girona, Rome, Barcelona, Hong Kong, manuals, operating procedures and limitations. I see my name on the crew list, I sign in and read the flight plan, notams and weather. I try to push all the chaos in my head aside and focus on the task at hand: a base training flight in the Boeing 747! 

I wrote earlier that becoming a pilot was never my childhood dream. I was well into my twenties when I made the switch to aviation. However, I do have some clear childhood memories, regarding the Boeing 747. I grew up close to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I remember driving past the airport, little me in the back seat, and how my eyes would widen as I spotted these majestic planes parked up next to the highway. I tried to imagine what kind of persons would fly in the jumbo. It was clear to me that the pilots of these planes were super special, and that they did something extraordinary. Flying the 747 was only for the very lucky and extremely talented few, is what I concluded as a child. Now I know jumbo pilots are just as talented as any other aviator, but it is safe to say that some of this childish admiration for the 747 is definitely still within me. I feel so very lucky. 

Meeting the crew

‘Good morning Captain.’ At dispatch we meet the Base Training Captain, and a safety pilot, who will observe and assist on the jump seat. The flight today is a special training flight, without delivering any cargo. My training partner and myself have to make some landings and visual circuits, and we are cleared to do so at Clark Airport in the Philippines. ‘Who gets to fly first, did you guys decide yet?’ As my training partner is a gentleman, he gives me the choice. Obviously then, the first take-off in the Boeing 747 will be done by me, and not watching on the observation seat, so I say: ‘I will fly it up to Clark.’ We will later quickly change seats during the circuit training. After all preparations are done, we go out to pass security, and a bus takes us to the cargo apron of Hong Kong airport.

There she is. I have never been a passenger on the 747 and I was never close to one. Time to walk up the stairs and set her up for departure. I peek quickly at the empty belly, as I climb further up to the flight deck. I train on both the Boeing 747-8 and the Boeing 747-400ERF. Today’s training will be done on an ERF. The ground preparation needs to be done, and my head is still so full. I am simply too excited for what is ahead. I am behind the controls of the Boeing 747. I never imagined this would happen. Now is the time to be professional, and not the time to try and figure out how I got here, or why this means so much to me. I better believe it, and perform well today. Fast forward to push back complete and all four engines running: I need to taxi this beast to the holding point! First time taxiing a jet, another tick in the box today. How small do all the other planes look from where I am seated (almost 10 meters up), even my beloved 737 loses all its grandeur from here. 

Cleared for takeoff! 

‘Set thrust.’ There we go, rattling on runway 07R. We are very light without cargo, so in no time we reach the speed to rotate off the runway. It feels good to be back in the sky, and to be part of this whole world that makes aviation: ATC, engineers, dispatch, ground handling, all of it. I genuinely missed it. When a profession is more than a job, you made the right choice. I remember a moment on the 737: it was an extremely long 4-sector day with lots of delays, issues and returning from our last flight hours too late. Back at the gate I waved to the dispatcher, and opened my flight deck window to communicate the On Blocks Time to him. He laughed, shook his head and yelled: ‘Eva, I knew it was you! Only you would return from such a day and still have the happiest smile.’ I had not realised I had such a reputation, and it made me smile even more. Back to today: after a short flight over the South China Sea, we reach the Philippine coastline.

Cleared to land!

Descent briefing, approach briefing, and down we go. We are approaching Clark airport. The volcano on downwind, mount Arayat, is already visible. We come from the northwest, and fly over the airport before joining the righthand circuit of runway 02. The first approach I fly in via the ILS. It’s a hot and thermal day at the airport, firm updrafts on final, something you simply cannot simulate in the simulator. First landing is ‘good!’ Quickly take off thrust, and back in the air we go, flight directors off, and time for some visual circuits. Second landing, the flare would have been perfect for a 737, this means not enough for a jumbo! Ok, flare more, flare earlier. Next landings and circuits are good again, and so, an intense 20 minutes later, we extend upwind and I have to get out of my seat. My training partner gets to fly his circuits and fly back to Hong Kong, as I watch from the observation seat. 


On the observation seat the adrenaline slowly starts to come down, and I feel so happy. I accomplished another step in my ever so short aviation career. This is also what I enjoy so much about this profession: you can always keep striving to be better, and there is no limit in how far you want to go in your career. There is always a next step; the step to learn to fly a new type, to become an experienced First Officer, Captain, trainer or examiner. You will have regular checks your whole career, your performance is always monitored, by your colleagues and the company, but mostly by yourself! I feel I am now in the perfect place to develop myself further. I fly with very experienced captains, with such various backgrounds, from bush flying to military, and decades of wide-body experience. I am certain every day I will learn tons from them, and with a positive mindset as always I now start the 747 training flights. 

Line training

As I write this I had my first line training sectors, and I enjoy it tremendously. I keep comparing my days at my previous low cost passenger airline, and my first steps as a freighter pilot for a flag carrier. I always dreamed of long haul flying, and now I have layovers in Malaysia, India, Japan, Vietnam and London coming up, and that’s only the beginning! Most readers know I use my Instagram almost as a personal diary, and it’s great so many of you enjoy ‘tagging along’ a bit with my progress and adventures. I will also continue writing here, about the cargo operations and many other things, but my next article will be when I have completed the full training. Some hard work ahead, so many new experiences ahead: taking it one flight at a time.

Aviation stories

Boeing 747 Type Rating in Hong Kong

On the first day of Christmas I fly from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. I am flying to a new adventure, a new home, and a new job. My last flight on the Boeing 737 is already two months behind me now. I remember the emotions during the last approach into Barcelona airport. So many times I flew the ILS to runway 25R, with the beautiful skyline of Barcelona on the righthand side. Now is my last approach and final landing with a cabin full of passengers. Turning off the engines seemed to symbolize closing a whole chapter. ‘Goodbye, thank you for flying with us. Adios, gracias.’ It did made me feel melancholic, despite the excitement of the new job. Now I’m off to ‘the dark side’ of freight. To join the worldwide Boeing 747 cargo operations is something I have been much anticipating. Now the moment has arrived: let the training begin!

For the conversion course I am teamed up with a Dutch guy who previously flew the Boeing 787 in the Middle East. He is just as excited as I am to now join the Boeing 747 fleet. It turns out we get along very well and make a good team training together. We tackle the first hurdle the next day: despite a proper jet lag we pass the Performance and Air Law ATPL exams. This is a requirement to get a Hong Kong license later. Both of us are not sure what the ‘747 conversion course’ will look like, as we will not get a full type rating but a condensed program. But we are soon to find out on the company introduction day.

The fire hose

In my previous airline I never got to see the head office or any of the operational departments. But the new airline has all of its departments, including the simulators and management, at one location. During the introduction we get an overload of information. We shake countless hands, and visit many floors and office buildings. In the weeks to come I will find myself many times on the wrong floor, or if I am on the right floor, then at least in the wrong building. There is a whole lot to fill in, to arrange, to register, to prepare, to obtain, to email, scan, copy, sign and choose. We sit through many briefings and presentations, take notes, and make appointments. We receive our schedule for the first two weeks of training. It’s packed. ‘Welcome to the company. This will be like nothing you have experienced before. We will put the fire hose straight at you for these coming weeks. You will have to hit the ground running. Work very hard guys.’

During another briefing, we get similar guidance from the instructing captain: ‘We put the fire hose at your mouth.’ (Are they all volunteer firefighters in their free time..?) ‘It is up to you to drink or drown.’ The instructor looks at me and says: ‘You seem so enthusiastic the whole time. There is nothing to be excited about. In a few weeks you will look like a white ghost, wondering what you got yourself into. This is very hard, and not fun.’ With training yet to start, I do feel a bit nervous now. Especially when I hear that several people have failed the course recently, including people that ‘just could not handle the 747.’

Ground School

The 747 ground school consists of lots of CBT (Computer Based Training), classroom briefings with an engineer, and practicing systems and procedures on an IPT trainer (basically a Boeing 747-8 flight deck made from touch screens). The class consists of just me and my training partner. The technical exam is scheduled only 10 days after the start of ground school. So after the long ground school days I study all evening, every evening, cramping limitations and system facts into my head. We are lucky that we both flew Boeing before, this makes all systems familiar. The Boeing 747-8 has a lot of great (to me) new features, such as autostart, autotuning of navigation aids, and automatic anti-ice: a lot of things that make a pilot’s life easier. There are also new systems and procedures I did not work with before: ACARS, fuel jettisoning, cargo temperature control, electronic checklists, Cat 3B and IAN approaches amongst many other things.

The ground school is intense, mostly because it is set up so short, and exam day is coming closer. It is a closed book technical exam of 100 questions, on all of the Boeing 747 systems. The trainer was right about one thing: within no time my skin looks bad, I have bags under my eyes, but I enjoy it and know exactly why I am here. I study the best I can, going through the manuals till late, making notes, drawing systems, and trying to become a 747 expert in just 10 days. It seems to work out: we pass and the reward comes the next day with a ‘handling session’ in the Boeing 747-8 simulator. It is a 4 hour raw data sim session, designed to make you feel comfortable handling the 747, from normal to (very) unusual attitudes. How do you recover when you soar down with the nose 20 degrees below the horizon, or when you are pitched up to almost vertical flight and stall? Our trainer, a former military and aerobatics pilot, teaches us. Who said this was not fun…?

Simulator phase

The next of the simulator sessions are more ‘serious’. The program consists, besides training in the IPT trainer, of 9 4-hour sessions: 4 normal sessions, 4 non-normal sessions and 1 low visibility session, all conducted in the Boeing 747-8F full flight simulator. We now really have to learn the new company procedures, and unlearn all our old procedures. The program is very doable with our previous Boeing experience, and we make an effort to forget and replace our ‘previous life’ procedures and callouts. I learn to taxi for the first time as well: I now have a tiller on my side to steer for taxiing (did not have that on the Boeing 737!) After making my instructor and training partner very nauseous during my first taxi attempt, I get the hang of it. Every session we tick off training elements, from basics like steep turns and approach to stall recovery, TCAS RA, to engine failures, fires, evacuations, crosswind landings. We also train loss of pressurization, and a volcanic ash encounter, which in the end makes that we lose all four engines for some time. I really enjoy the simulator phase a lot. The new flight deck feels comfortable very fast, and you get used to the handling differences quickly. It’s not so different from one Boeing to another Boeing, and the simulator phase is definitely enjoyable.

However, the last training session we have to handle ‘two engines inoperative’, this means to make an approach with only 2 engines (on the same wing) running. This is hard work, especially at maximum landing weight (346.090 kg). I struggle to fly a nice approach, coordinating my rudder and thrust. I am not pleased with my performance. Unfortunately this is the only practice I get: next up are the exams, in which I have to demonstrate the approach on two engines again. I cannot hide my frustration well, in my head I hear a voice telling me that I might be one of those who ‘just could not handle the 747’. The instructor is a nice but very strict trainer who really got us up to the right standard. ‘I told you guys it’s normal when we see a dip halfway through training. You did not have one, till today.’ He tells me I’m ready, and I’ll be fine.

Type rated on the Boeing 747

In exactly one month we have completed the simulator training phase, and now we are up for a full weekend of simulator exams during the Chinese New Year weekend. Day 1 is the skill test, and day 2 the Instrument Rating exam. During the skill test my training partner goes first as pilot flying, and he does a flawless job. ‘Well, if you do the same, that will be very nice!’ I am next, and I repeat all the different exercises. All goes well, but the last exercise is the ‘dreaded’ two engines inoperative approach. But I feel highly focused, and now I nail the approach. Lights on, motion off, exam done!

The next day we have the Instrument Rating exam. I don’t feel so nervous anymore after yesterday. Just kidding, of course I am nervous! The IR is the last step in the Type Rating process, it contains the standard elements like a rejected take-off in low visibility, engine failure during take-off (V1 cut), a non-precision approach, go-arounds etc. I am first up as pilot flying, and both me and my training partner fly a very good check. This concludes the type rating! It went so fast!

What’s next?

After the exams we did a quick 2-day differences course for the Boeing 747-400 ERF. Up next are several simulator sessions to prepare us for ‘base training’ and then the actual base training. We will take an empty Boeing 747 with us (most probably to Clark airport) to practice 3 landings each. Can you imagine doing touch-and-go’s in a Boeing 747?! It is a mandatory requirement by the Hong Kong aviation department. Soon after that I will have an observation flight and then start line training flights. This means finally joining the 747 cargo operations. March promises to be an exciting month. So stay tuned for more, on flying the Boeing 747 and also on life in Hong Kong, and thank you for all your amazing support!

Aviation stories

Next chapter: Boeing 747, the queen of the skies

‘Hard work makes dreams come true.’ Some of you, who follow me on Instagram, know about a big career change coming up for me. I promised to share the story of changing from flying passengers on the Boeing 737 through Europe, to my future pilot job, flying cargo on the Boeing 747 all over the world. I am changing airline, and changing base: this winter I will leave Barcelona and move to Hong Kong. This is a long blogpost, but so many people have been following my journey for many months or even years, and seem as excited for me as I am for this change. I hope you enjoy some background information on my upcoming career step.

Gaining flight experience to join a respected stable airline to operate long-haul flights, has been my dream since finally getting my break in aviation. In the aviation market of the last few years, it seemed like too big of a dream. KLM, Lufthansa, BA? There were barely any vacancies. It was not an ‘urgent’ dream: I had a secure job at a big low-cost airline, I was flying over 800 hours every year, I was happy where I was based, and I was on track to become a captain in my airline quickly, also a major career step.

August 2016. But when a vacancy comes out for direct entry first officers on the Boeing 747 and Airbus 330, based in Hong Kong, at an airline with a great reputation, I do not hesitate. I get in touch with some of my former flightschool mates, who are flying several years for this airline, to get a clear idea of life at this airline and in Hong Kong. It seems like the perfect next step for me. I then use an entire weekend updating my flight hours, polishing my CV, and writing the two short essays which are requested with the application. I send my online application, receive an acknowledgement, and that is it.

No news

Eight months pass without hearing anything about my application. In these months I am preparing for the captain upgrade in my airline. I decide to fly one more winter as a first officer, and start the upgrade somewhere at the end of spring: I set my goal on June 2017 to become a Boeing 737 captain.

April 2017. Eight months since my application, I suddenly get an e-mail from the airline in Hong Kong. The flight recruitment team asks me to fill out several forms. I have to read the e-mail three times, before I realise it means that an assessment opportunity will come up for me. I start to imagine my life at this airline, and to move to Asia. I visualise myself flying Boeing 747 for them, it still seems like a surreal unreachable dream.

May 2017. Not much later I get my final interview dates; in July I have to fly to Hong Kong, for two full days of assessments. I am beyond excitement. I feel that if I now give it everything, my life could soon go in a whole new direction. I put the captain upgrade on hold. All my free time I am now studying for the assessments. I know the reputation of their recruitment: a lot of preparation is needed. I study all ATPL subjects, focussing on Meteorology, Principles of Flight, General Navigation and Performance. I also study the airline’s history, the fleet, their network, and besides that the history of Hong Kong.

Simulator training

Not only my motivation and theoretical knowledge will be tested at the assessments, also my flight skills, flying a raw data profile on a Boeing 747 simulator. To prepare for that I book a Boeing 747 simulator and an instructor for 2 hours, at the Lufthansa training Centre in Frankfurt. This costs me a half month salary, but during the short grading I will only have one chance. In this training I am shooting raw data approaches and dealing with engine failures in the middle of the night, as I have a ‘night slot’ on the simulator. It is my first time training in a Boeing 747. I am somewhat nervous, it feels as the ‘final rehearsal’ for my assessment. I am lucky to have a great German instructor, who finetunes my flying in the 2 hours. Afterwards he says he is sure I will pass at least the simulator grading if I will show them something similar in Hong Kong. This kind of confidence boost is priceless to me. To book the simulator is the best decision I could have made in my preparations.

Now we have only one week to go till the assessments. I feel both tired and energetic at the same time from enthusiasm and the non-stop preparations. My social life has been put on hold these last two months, all those nice Barcelona beach days, nights out, not for me. I Skype several hours with a friend; a pilot and professional coach, who also helped me prepare for my previous airline assessment. We practice the final interview, and we find some points where I can improve in how I present myself. A lot of paperwork has to be prepared before the assessments, and I check a dozen times if all files and copies are correct.

Hong Kong

July 2017. I fly to Hong Kong from Barcelona with the airlines A350. It is my first time flying with this airline as a passenger, and a great experience for me. In Hong Kong I meet my Dutch friend Marike, whom I actually met through Instagram! She is a very successful pastry chef, living in Hong Kong for many years. For me it is my first time in this city, possibly my future home. Marike invited me to stay at her apartment, and in several days she shows me Hong Kong Island, the beach, different areas, restaurants and the nightlife. We also go for dinner with one of her best friends, who happens to be a captain at the airline I am applying. A great opportunity to learn again more about the life as a pilot for this airline. I am so grateful for Marikes hospitality and friendship. When the weekend is over it is time to move to the airport hotel, booked for me by the airline. It is time for the assessments.

The assessments

The first assessment day, I am beyond nervous when I wake up. A bus takes me to the interview location. The assessments take two full days. In order to go to the final interview you have to pass the first day. I meet 3 other candidates for the Direct Entry first officer position. We start off with paperwork, and then a group exercise. The next round is a theory exam, 50 questions to be answered in 60 minutes, without a calculator and a passmark of 70%. It is more difficult than I expected. But I have no time to moan or reflect on how good or bad I performed in the exam, as immediately I have to go into the 747 simulator. The instructors are great, but my nerves predominate. I fly not as good as during my training earlier that month. Before I know it also this part is done, and I have to return to the hotel and wait. In the evening they will send me an e-mail, stating that either I passed and can go to the assessments of the next day, or that it all ends here for me. It is now 15:00 and I can expect the e-mail between 17:00 and 18:00. What to do? I start to look up several questions from the theory exam. When I find a question that I had answered right, but last minuted changed to a wrong answer, I feel so devastated. My dreamjob is so close, but I feel it slipping away. I go to the hotel gym and try to stop my mind from driving me mad, and pass the time with a work-out and loud music in my ears. From 17:00 onwards I refresh, refresh, and refresh again my mail. 17:28, an e-mail pops up: ‘Final interview day 2 invitation letter.’ It turns out I passed and got through to the very last round. I cannot describe how happy and relieved I feel, it goes beyond words.

A330 or B747

The next day it turns out 2 of the 4 candidates from yesterday did not get a positive answer last night. A busy programme for today, with a company briefing, medical exam, English language assessment, personality test and then the big final interview. In 1,5 hour I have to present myself, who I am, why I want to join the airline, tell about situations I have been in when flying for my current airline. They conclude with a lot of technical questions, in which all the preparation turns out to have not been in vain. They ask me if I prefer to fly the A330 or B747, they can assign me to either of the fleets if I pass. I explain my preference for the B747: I know that the roster of the A330 has a better reputation, but I think the transition from Boeing to Boeing, B737 to B747, will be smoother as to the Airbus. Especially as they tell me the training will be intense and very short. Besides that, I really long to fly worldwide, and not initially regional Asia only, ánd I love that I will fly cargo on the 747. I used to work for Martinair in operations, I planned the routes as a dispatcher, and after joining the cargo pilots for a week as a supernummary on the MD11, it sparked hope that one day I would also fly cargo. There is a family kind of atmosphere amongst the cargo pilots, it existed in Martinair, and according the 747 pilots I spoke to, it also exists in this airline. It is a special kind of operation, with a lot of night flights and a lot of last minute changes, as the schedule is less stable than passenger schedules. To top it off: it is an iconic airplane, that will not exist for too long anymore. It feels safe to join the B747 fleet in this airline, for if they change the fleet, the pilots can join on another fleet.

I feel very happy after the interview. They don’t reveal if I have the job or not, I will have to await an e-mail within the next 2 weeks. But my gut feeling says now that I don’t have to worry. I meet with my friend Marike again, she has made me a Michelin star-worthy cake, we enjoy it on her roof terrace in central Hong Kong and then we celebrate the end of the assessments in the nightlife of Hong Kong. The next day we hike up to The Peak of Hong Kong Island, and I feel on top of the world. I love this small buzzing metropole, surrounded by nature, hiking trails and beautiful islands. I see myself living here, I feel with all my heart that this has to be the next step in my career and in my life. That evening I board the A350 to return to Barcelona. Will I be back, and if so, when? And will I then train B747 or A330? A weight is lifted off my shoulders, now that the assessments are done. I reflect on the last few months. A lot of hard work has been put into the preparations.

Important e-mail

August 2017. It is one week after the assessment. Today I am scheduled to operate as a safety pilot, which means I am on the jumpseat observing, while a brand new first officer gets training from the captain. We operate a long flight, almost 4 hours. When we arrive at our destination at the stand I switch on my phone and check my e-mail. There it is, the e-mail offering me the much desired job, starting in December, and on my preferred Boeing 747. Crying I call my boyfriend (joining the adventure in Hong Kong!) and my parents in the turnaround, out of sight from the passengers. In the next days I call a whole lot of other people, receive the contract and resign from my current airline.

As I am writing this I am preparing the big move to Hong Kong. I only have 6 more weeks flying the Boeing 737 from Barcelona, and then some time off. A lot needs to be done: pack, sell things, drive to Holland, sell my car, loads of administration, and also prepare for several exams that I have to make upon arriving in Hong Kong. Above all I try to enjoy all the time that I have ‘left’ living in Europe, making trips and plans and enjoying the city of Barcelona. It is with the biggest excitement that I start this adventure. I know it will take a lot of hard work and studying more to make my dream come true, but it will happen!