United captain’s painful account of parking a 747-400 for good

United 747-400 N196UA.jpg

Obviously the people being laid off are more important, but United is also in the process of grounding an extraordinary number of aircraft and it’s a painful experience for many of those involved. This account which came to me below is a particularly poignant tale from an angry captain who writes of the distress involved in parking one of Boeing’s magnificent beasts in the desert.

I suppose there are plenty of pilots who could do this sort of thing, and probably have done, without so much as a look over their shoulder. But this guy is clearly not one of them. I’ve previously mentioned the great Robert Prest (in fairness a bit more of a poet than our United friend) and his account of shutting down an F-4 Phantom for the last time. It was in print in Pilot magazine some years back and if anyone from Pilot or elsewhere could post the text on the web it would be terrific to see.

The 747 story relates the end of this flight here it seems. And that’s the aircraft pictured above

Meanwhile, here is the start of the 747 story, continued below via the link. The author is pretty cross – if you’re Glenn Tilton, you might want to look away now:

Goodbye B-747-400 #8196

—————————————————————————-

—-

On Thursday I had the sad duty of being first officer on a one-way flight

from San Francisco International Airport to Victorville Airport in theMojave

Desert. The purpose of this flight was to retire a low-time perfectly good

747-400. I was called out for my last day of reserve for this dubious ferry

flight.


For those who haven’t flown it, the 747 series aircraft are probably the

best flying most graceful machines the Boeing company has ever produced. You

can tell they got it right after your first flying leg. Hardly a pilot that

has flown it likes an airliner better. There are a few that don’t agree, but

most that fly it would, and always will, refer to the 747-400 as their

favorite airliner.

She’s a forgiving bird. The pilots have the least landings and operations of

any fleet yet I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a truly ugly landing on it, even

from the least proficient pilots. It was involved in a near miss incident we

all know about in the vicinity of San Bruno Mountain in the SF Bay Area.

Somehow, miraculously, the 747 didn’t let this stumbling crew down. They

missed the threat and got her home safely. We all got a free lesson in

thinking ahead about what we should do to prepare for the worst. That

incident made us ALL better at what we do. That aircraft forgave those

pilots, and us.

Every pilot that has time on the 777 and the -400 know this: a United 777,

even the 90K engine aircraft, is limited to flights in the 12 hour range or

less. It can hardly carry just passengers and their bags on flights to the

edges of China. A 747 can carry those passengers plus their bags plus extra

fuel needed PLUS revenue cargo to Hong Kong from Chicago or to Sydney from

San Fran or LAX in the winter. If that 747 loses an engine over the North

Pole you now have a 3 engined airplane to take you to a safe airport in

China vs. sweating a single engine trek with low fuel temps to a

questionable airport. The 777 is an amazing airplane. But the 747 does many

things better.

Our managers are making room. They’re trying to sell our airline. They’re

not trying to make it better; they’re trying to make it gone, at least as we

know it. They’re hoping that a smaller -400 fleet will make seniority

integration easier and will open up Glenn’s chances of making his final

stand: a merger with Continental Airlines. They are getting rid of 6

airplanes that can carry more than every type of airplane on Earth, except

for a few copies of the A-380.

Glenn must be finding it tough these days. Maybe he punched in his PIN at

the United ATM and didn’t get enough back to satisfy his greed. So he’ll

sell the 737′s and begin to sell all the 747′s to be able to afford that

bigger yacht.

I took a bunch of pictures of this airplane before we left. I felt sick to

my stomach as we rolled down the runway for her last turnoff and setting the

parking brake on a ramp in the desert. I was glad the Captain wanted to fly

it down. I didn’t want to be the one to fly it to its last moment as a

United Airliner. The Captain flew a visual approach with all the flight

directors and purple lines out of view to a beautiful painted-on landing on

this 15,000 foot runway in gusty winds. I saw the other dinosaurs and our

newer proud airplane, that never let us down, being left behind. I swear to

god it watched me and the Captain get into the van and said “…how could

you leave me?” as we headed for Los Angeles for our deadhead back to SFO.

These machines take on a life to us. They’re MORE than machines. United

Airlines CEO and his top echelon have forgotten what airlines do and that

the people who fly and maintain these airplanes actually give a sh!t about

them and care deeply about this airline.

To Mr. Tilton: We are done with you. You’ve taken what you can take. You’ve

done supreme damage to the morale of it’s people and the core of the

business of running what was once the premier airline in the United States.

Now, sir, you can get out. We don’t want you here anymore. Go find another

corporation to drag through bankruptcy and destroy. It’s what you do best.

You had your chance after September 11th, 2001 to lead us and instead you

picked us up, opened the lid, turned us upside down and shook until there

was little left. Keep your attorney friend Sprayragan on your Christmas card

list. You guys make a great team.

Retiring Boeing 747-400 N196UA #8196 is a symbol of what this dysfunctional

management means to me and their ability and desire to run this airline

properly. 8196…I’m sorry I had to be the one to take you there. I hope we

get you back to where you belong: on a United route flying United passengers

and cargo to United destinations. But, as long as Glenn and his friends are

here, I’ll have to bid to you what I bid to my friends before I sign off…

Aloha…and mahalo for never letting me down.

Doc

OK, this is me again: if you’re not already familiar with the 1998 San Francisco incident, here it is. The only full account I can find is from the FAA ASRS report. Bit harsh on the eye, but an amazing read.

NARRATIVE

AFTER TKOF SFO RWY 28R, LOUD THUMPING NOISE ALONG WITH ACFT VIBRATION (FO FLYING). GEAR HAD JUST BEEN RETRACTED (APPROX 300 FT AGL). FIRST THOUGHT WAS TIRE FAILURE IN WHEEL WELL. SHORTLY THEREAFTER, #3 EGT BEGAN RAPID RISE ALONG WITH EGT WARNING. VIBRATION CONTINUED, FO STILL FLYING. I SHUT DOWN #3 (EGT APPROX 750 DEGS C). STOPPED EGT RISE AND VIBRATION. ASKED NON FLYING FO’S TO DO CHKLIST. RETURNED ATTN TO FLYING FO JUST AS STICK SHAKER COMMENCED. ALL 3 OTHER CREW MEMBERS TELLING HIM TO WATCH HIS SPD. SHORTLY THEREAFTER, WITH INTERMITTENT STICK SHAKER (SPD APPROX 160 KTS), RECEIVED GPWS WARNING, PULL UP, TERRAIN. TRACK HAD DRIFTED R OF PRESCRIBED COURSE FOR ENG OUT PROC. I TOOK OVER ACFT, PREVENTED STALL WHILE STILL ATTEMPTING TO CLB AND RETURN TO PRESCRIBED 295 DEG RADIAL OF VOR. TERRAIN WARNING INTERMITTENT (WE HAD ENTERED FOG AT DEP END OF RWY). BROKE OUT OF OVCST AT +/- 1000 FT MSL VFR CONDITIONS ON TOP. CLEANED UP ACFT, CLBED TO 5000 FT. RECEIVED DUMP VECTORS. DUMPED FUEL FOR APPROX 30 MINS. OPTED FOR OVERWT LNDG DUE TO FOG W OF ARPT. NORMAL 3 ENG APCH AND LNDG. GND EQUIP STANDING BY ADVISED EVERYTHING LOOKED NORMAL. TAXIED TO GATE. TKOF GROSS WT 860920 LBS. FUEL DUMPED TO 187000 LBS. FUEL 374000 LBS. BOEING 747-400. LNDG WT 670000 LBS. FO STATED HE FELT AS IF ACFT WAS NOT RESPONDING TO HIS INPUTS, WAS SURPRISED BY LACK OF PERFORMANCE AND DISTR BY STALL WARNING, ETC. PLEASE CALL FOR FURTHER INFO. MY ATTN SHOULD HAVE BEEN DIRECTED TO FO’S FLYING OF THE ACFT FIRST, THEN DEALING WITH ENG PROB. ALL THE VARIOUS ENG WARNINGS BROUGHT ME INTO THE COCKPIT INSTEAD OF HELPING FO FLY THE ACFT. SHOULD HAVE TAKEN OVER ACFT SOONER. SUPPLEMENTAL INFO FROM ACN 406808: SOON AFTER LIFTOFF AT ABOUT 300-500 FT, THE #3 ENG BEGAN COMPRESSOR STALLING AND THE EGT ROSE TO 750 DEGS C (THE LIMIT FOR TKOF IS 650 DEGS C). THE THROTTLE WAS RETARDED TO IDLE AND AN EMER WAS DECLARED WHILE FLYING THE ACR’S 3 ENG PROFILE WITH 20 DEGS FLAPS AND A GROSS WT OF 864000 LBS. ON DEP, STICK SHAKER, GPWS WERE ANNUNCIATED. AFTER FLAPS WERE RETRACTED AND THE ACFT ACCELERATED, VECTORS FOR FUEL DUMPING WERE REQUESTED. AFTER FUEL DUMPING, WE WERE VECTORED TO AN ILS FOR RWY 28R AND AN OVERWT LNDG WAS MADE WITH 30 DEGS FLAPS. NO KNOWN INJURIES OR DAMAGE TO THE ACFT. CALLBACK CONVERSATION WITH RPTR REVEALED THE FOLLOWING INFO: RPTR WAS ACTING AS RELIEF PLT AND WAS SITTING IN THE SEAT BTWN THE CAPT AND FO. HE HAD A GOOD VIEW OF EVERYTHING GOING ON. FLC EXPERIENCED LOSS OF ENG PWR ON #3 DURING INITIAL CLBOUT. THE LOUD THUMPING NOISE AND VIBRATION OCCURRED AT 300-500 FT AGL. HE NOTICED THE FLYING FO LOST 40 KIAS DURING THE INITIAL CLBOUT. THE OTHER RELIEF PLT AND HE BOTH SHOUTED OUT LOUD ‘AIRSPD.’ THIS CALLOUT GOT THE CAPT’S ATTN AND HE TURNED BACK TO SEE THE AIRSPD LOW. HE THEN TOOK CTL OF THE ACFT, HELD THE ACFT LEVEL UNTIL THE AIRSPD PICKED UP. THERE WAS NO LOSS OF ALT. THEN THE FLC TOOK ACTION TO DUMP FUEL. THE FLC DUMPED 30000 LBS OF FUEL AND RETURNED TO LAND OVERWT AT 690000 LBS AT SFO. IT WAS NOT KNOWN EXACTLY WHAT CAUSED THE ENG TO FAIL. SUPPLEMENTAL INFO FROM ACN 406322: I NOTED THE ACFT WAS HANDLING VERY SLUGGISH AND VERY SLOW TO CLB. INSTINCTIVELY, I PULLED THE NOSE UP JUST A BIT MORE TO CLB AWAY FROM THE GND. PERHAPS BY DOING THIS, AIRSPD WAS ALLOWED TO DECAY AND THUS THE STICK SHAKER SYS WAS ACTIVATED.

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