Comments: 3033 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

universal52581 karma

DAMN, I've been waiting for this AMA for a long time! Here goes, and apologies for so many questions...

  1. What's your favourite part of a flight and why?

  2. What's the easiest/hardest part of a flight and why?

  3. Has being a pilot yourself changed your mind about commercial aviation in any way? If so, how?

  4. How dangerous is turbulence really? Does it feel as dramatic in the cockpit as it sometimes does back where the rest of us humans sit?:-)

  5. How demanding was your job physically? in terms of maintaining reasonable health, check ups, etc.

  6. When a new aircraft becomes available for commercial use (ex. A380, B787), how safe do you think they are immediately? Is it wiser to wait for a while until a plane has been tried and tested commercially or are pre-production flight tests adequate?

  7. What would you say to people who are absolutely terrified of flying?

Thanks and sorry for my many questions!

Yeahjustme924 karma

No worries about the Qs - I'm happy to answer them. :)

1: I love the take-off and climb - it's a fascinating workflow, and there's NOTHING better on a grey and rainy day than to push through the clouds, up into the sunshine and ever-blue sky.

2: The easiest is cruise without a doubt. You just sit there, drinking coffee, answering the odd radio call and monitoring the instruments. Piece of cake. The hardest is actually taxiing on the ground in low visibility weather - you get disoriented INCREDIBLY easy.

3: Absolutely - I used to see it as being glamorous and somewhat romantic. It's neither. It's hard, cold business.

4: Turbulence is not dangerous at all. Some phenomena that CAUSE turbulence can be dangerous however - specifically cumulus nimbus clouds, super cells and microbursts. And yeah, the feeling is pretty much the same, but the crew is used to it, so we don't experience it as severely as the passengers. ...To a certain limit, obviously.

5: Not at all. If you're a fairly fit, ordinary, healthy kinda guy it wont be a problem. I've flown with captains with a BMI of 30+ - they still had their license. How - is beyond me.

6: If they are approved by the CAAs and JAA/FAA - then they are safe. The tests are immensely thorough. ...And I do mean IMMENSELY.

7: Go to a small local airfield and talk to a random pilot/flight school about getting a ride in a small aircraft on a beautiful day - you can even try controlling the plane yourself. It's fantastic. And I guarantee they'll love it. It might not remove the fear, but it will give them a very positive experience to counter the fear.

EDIT: Formatting.

towest19377 karma

I was on a plane about a month ago flying out of Iquitos, Peru. Soon after takeoff there was a bang and the smell of smoke inside the cabin. Following a few minutes of panic the plane was turned round and we soon landed again back at the airport. Turns out we hit a bird; few questions: How rare is a bird strike? How much danger were we actually in?

Yeahjustme593 karma

I've never experienced a bird strike - but they do happen from time to time - most airports actually have people hired to scare away birds...

I'm sure you all remember Cpt Sully and the Hudson River landing.

All modern jet aircraft are designed to be able to fly PERFECTLY SAFE with one engine being out. The problem is, most birdstrikes happen at pretty low altitudes, and while the plane can still fly, the ability to gain altitude is severely degraded. ...Meaning the dangers after a birdstrike is closely related to the surrounding geography.

That being said - a birdstrike IS a mayday situation, and very serious. However - all pilots are routinely trained to handle it, so I doubt you were and any life threatening situation.

Pretty cool story though - I wish I had one like that!

15rthughes325 karma

Is it true the thing pretty much flies itself?

Yeahjustme652 karma

That might be overstating it a bit - but it is true that the autopilot does a vast majority of the work, enabling the pilot to take a more supervisory role.

Compare it to a guy working on a computer. The computer is a tool that enables the guy to do his job better and faster, thus increasing efficiency. ...Yet he still needs to tell the computer what to do - and he needs to know what to do if the computer stops working.

Pretty much the same thing with flying a modern passenger jet.

My guess would be that about 98-98% of the time, a modern jet aircraft is flown with the autopilot engaged, with the pilots manipulating the aircraft and trajectory through the computer instead of through the yoke/side stick.

ima_coder293 karma

Any experiences with unexplained aerial phenomenon?

Yeahjustme693 karma

None personal, but I know an ATC-guy (pretty high ranking, too) who claims to have seen (on radar) several UFOs, on several occasions, flying in formation doing about Mach 13 without any transponder codes.

thefalcons85281 karma

How often does shit go wrong and the passengers don't know about it?

Yeahjustme429 karma

Depends on the "shit" going wrong. Loads of times stuff happens. Not significant stuff, but some systems going offline for whatever reason - a radio failing, an IRS messing up or something like that. This has little to no effect on the flight, so nothing much is done about it until we've landed. ..Thus no reason to inform and frighten the passengers - or the cabin crew, for that sake.

However - if something detrimental to flight safety occurs, forcing us to take some sort of "out of the ordinary" action, we always inform passengers and crew - otherwise they'll start wondering why we're suddenly diverting to a nearby aerodrome or something like that.

Basically - shit doesn't go wrong.

baxnet170 karma

Are you telling me that the IRS isnt working?!

Yeahjustme179 karma

The inertial reference system is only one of many navigational systems available to us - and not the most precise by far.

We also have 3 IRS's on board - so yeah - it really is no biggie if one of them starts acting up.

[deleted]239 karma


Yeahjustme382 karma

1: I was never a captain, merely a co-pilot. And, yes, the captain actually has that authority. 2: The captain is boss. His word is law. All actions are legal (even illegal ones) if he has a good reason to do whatever it is he's doing. 3: We've thrown drunken people off (before takeoff ;))... Apart from that - nothing too exciting.

HeyCarpy190 karma

Rampie here.

What do ground crews do that drive you nuts?

Yeahjustme270 karma

Some of you guys keep forgetting the pin when disconnecting after push back. That sucks.

Otherwise you guys are actually pretty great! Keep it up!

Rather_Confused184 karma

You're a pilot. Well then, did you take your martinis dry or on the rocks? And does jetlag help with hangovers?

More to the point, how big of a myth is the idea that pilots are heavy drinkers and are sometimes drunk on the job?

Yeahjustme303 karma

Im more of a beer kinda guy. ;)

Drunken pilots were much more of a problem in the "old days" - nowadays there is so much focus on flight safety nobody dares risk it. It's the lives of several hundred people at stake - and your job.

I've only experience a drunk cabin attendant - never a pilot. The CA got the boot, naturally.

WhaGwanBruv161 karma

What plane(s) did you fly? Also, where is your favorite place to fly to? above?

Yeahjustme242 karma

I flew the Airbus A320-family. London Heathrow and Innsbruck are my all time favourites. :)

BallsToBrando137 karma

Why did you quit?

Yeahjustme238 karma

It was a combination of a merger between airlines leaving me redundant - and me having a baby daughter I wouldn't be able to see as often as I'd like if I stayed in aviation.

universal5270 karma

So following on from that if you have trained so long at being a pilot are you thinking of a career change or going back to it at some point? If not, what other career options are available to you?

Yeahjustme176 karma

I'm currently studying engineering - I'll try and get a job where I can combine the knowledge and experience from flying with the more theoretical stuff from university engineering.

With only a piloting license, you can do nothing but fly planes.

coney3116 karma

1)What is the most frightening experience you've had whilst flying a plane?

2) How did you become a pilot?

Yeahjustme201 karma

1) I've flown in turbulence which left black, blue and yellow marks all over my torso from where the seat belts had restrained me. ...That was kinda exciting - not really scary... Just... Wow. Exciting.

2: Started as a glider pilot as a teen, got into my ppl, joined an integrated CPL course, got an A320 rating - and the rest is history.

kroneksix114 karma

Have you ever seen St Elmos Fire?

Yeahjustme159 karma

Yes - I have. It's a truly magnificent and awe-inspiring sight. :)

tuttle88103 karma

Why do we have to open all the window shades before landing? Most of the things we have to do I can see logical reasons for but this one stumps me.

Yeahjustme455 karma

This is actually rather logical, if a bit far-fetched:

In the very unlikely event of something going wrong during the landing necessitating an evacuation immediately, the cabin attendants need to be able to see if there is any reason to limit the evacuation to only one side of the aircraft - leaking fuel, engine fire, godzilla, whatever... There might be all sorts of stuff on one side of the aircraft you wouldn't want to land in after going down the slide.

ehs4290102 karma

Ever perform a crosswind landing? Is it as difficult as it looks?

Yeahjustme173 karma

All landings are crosswind landings - however slight. ;)

But yes, we do them all the time. They are not easy, but the aircraft has maximum crosswind limitations which are not allowed to be exceeded they are are 28 knots on the a320 if I recall correctly.

While it may look very difficult, it is not a risk. No pilot will (should...) opt to land a plane if he doubts his ability to do so under the given circumstances. ...And remember, the captain alway has at least 1500 (often 10.000+) hours of experience, so he knows what he is doing.

panfist43 karma

They are not easy, but the aircraft has maximum crosswind limitations which are not allowed to be exceeded they are are 28 knots on the a320 if I recall correctly. While it may look very difficult, it is not a risk. No pilot will (should...) opt to land a plane if he doubts his ability to do so under the given circumstances

So what happens if the wind exceeds 28 knots and does not die down, and you start running out of fuel?

Yeahjustme228 karma

It is for reasons like that we always carry extra fuel to make sure we can reach an alternate aerodrome. If you get caught with low fuel and bad weather due to some fuck up somewhere along the line, you have no option but to do your best landing the plane in the actual conditions.

...And you'd better start lubing up for the FAA/JAA inquisition that'll follow.

Red_Delta95 karma

What does it feel like flying somewhere as a passenger not as the pilot?

Yeahjustme218 karma

I actually don't like it. :)

I prefer being in control of the vehicle/aircraft/whatever I'm currently hurdling through the world in.

theoneandonlytisa85 karma

Did you fly long distance? How long are you allowed to (or have to) stay at your destination? I can imagine if you arrive in the carribean that you wouldn't mind staying a few extra days? Fancy hotels? Is there a lot of sex going on between the crew (serious question)? Do you have your own fixed route/destination or do they shift? Any hints on how to get a free upgade?

Yeahjustme142 karma

Only short and medium haul - hence very rarely nightstops.

Sex? Yeah. Lots of stuff going on.

Routes are more or less random - you get a roster, and you fly it. It makes little difference what destination you get - all airports look the same. :)

Free upgrades? Travel alone, don't be a dick. Ask the senior flight attendant as you're boarding as one of the last passengers.

_it_was_me69 karma

What goes on in the cockpit that people would be the most shocked to know?

Yeahjustme207 karma

The amount of seedy, chauvinistic jokes. On cruise, it really is a no holds barred competition of bad, bad jokes.

Professionally - it's all good.

jhans2217 karma

What's the funniest thing you've heard while someone unknowingly hot miked their radio?

Yeahjustme50 karma

I've heard some poor bugger give his entire "welcome aboard flight xx to yy.... blabla"-speech to the atc instead of the passengers...

And there was this guy who asked atc who was winning the football game currently on tv.

Vagfilla65 karma

Why former? Do you still fly? Do you fly for fun anymore or did it become not as enjoyable.

Did you ever crash a simulator spectacularly? Do tell.

Yeahjustme211 karma

A combination of a merger and me having an infant daughter. I still for a bit occasionally for fun. :)

And yeah - I've mucked around in sims doing all sorts of very very bad stuff - just for shits and giggles - flying under bridges, attempting landings on highways, flying into buildings... (I won't say which, the yanks will hate me for it... 'Nuff said.)

Sometimes you just have to let off some steam between training sessions.

comicsansibar63 karma

What are your thoughts on Unions? Despite airlines going under do you still agree with them wanting pay increases?

Yeahjustme193 karma

My political views are to the far (FAR) left.

Hence - anything to curb "big business" and empower the little guy is a good thing.

willdogs47 karma

I also work for an Airline (Non-Pilot) and noticed you only have two stripes on your jacket sleeve cuffs. First Officers (Right Chair) Normally have 3 Stripes and Captains (Left Chair) have 4. Why do you only have two?

Yeahjustme62 karma

The amount of stripes vary from company to company. Where I was, the captain had 4, senior first officers had 3 and first officers had 2.

haile_selassie21 karma

Could really kick anyone of the flight, obviously before take off, for any reason? If so, did you ever?

Yeahjustme29 karma

Absolutely - It happens every once in a while when some drunk bugger starts making a scene. It's not as rare as you'd think.

And yeah, I've done so several times.