kmh1956
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Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 2:58 am

Ok, I may be asking to be flamed here but bear in mind I'm only an aviation enthusiast...not an expert. I wouldn't know the difference between a 734 and a 738 and I'm content to stay that way.

When looking at the specs on various passenger jets, you'll always see maximum cruising altitude. However, is there such a thing as a 'minimum cruising altitude'? For safety and passenger comfort, I would imagine that such a thing exists but it's not something you see in the databases.

Thanks
Kelly
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jkudall
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 3:21 am

An aircraft's performance doesn't usually dictate a minimum cruising altitude per se. Airliners generally cruise at an altitude where the aircraft will operate most efficiently, where they can save more fuel and fly where the winds are most favorable. Higher altitudes also allow for smoother flights most of the time and allow the aircraft to stay out of most of the weather. As far as minimums go, IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) dictates minimum altitudes you must fly at on any particular route. IFR takes many factors into consideration for a minimum altitude. Some of those factors being terrain, ability to pick up radio signals, and other conflicting airspace.
 
kmh1956
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 3:44 am

Quoting Jkudall (Reply 1):

Thank you....but is there an altitude that these aircraft should NOT fly below?
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Starlionblue
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:07 am

Quoting Kmh1956 (Reply 2):
Thank you....but is there an altitude that these aircraft should NOT fly below?

Well, there is terrain. If all the mountains are 3000 feet in the area, going under 4000-5000 (just guesstimating here) is probably unwise during cruise in an airliner.

As long as the plane is over the ground, it can fly. Aerobatic pilots routinely fly at just a few feet. If you look at barometric altitude, nothing stops Israeli fighter pilots from flying under sea level over the Dead Sea.

Some other factors:
- ATC restrictions.
- Under 10k you need to follow sterile cockpit rules, which is probably a pain in the ass to do for several hours.
- If you start going really low, danger creeps in since any mistake or mechanical fault becomes critical. I would say this us under a few thousand feet.
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skyman
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:07 am

Quoting Kmh1956 (Reply 2):
Thank you....but is there an altitude that these aircraft should NOT fly below?

Yes the MRVA (minimum radar vectoring altitude) or MSA (minimum sector altitude). First of all it is not allowed and that is for a good reason: terrain.
 
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ThrottleHold
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:10 am

Quoting Skyman (Reply 4):
or MSA (minimum sector altitude). First of all it is not allowed and that is for a good reason: terrain.

If flight under MSA is not allowed....how do they take off and land?!

Flight below MSA is allowed when on a published procedure or under positive radar control.
 
airfoilsguy
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:18 am

Quoting Kmh1956 (Reply 2):
Thank you....but is there an altitude that these aircraft should NOT fly below?

It is absolutely critical to you future career as a pilot and also to your personal well being that you don't Fly below terrain level

Quoting Skyman (Reply 4):
Under 10k you need to follow sterile cockpit rules, which is probably a pain in the ass to do for several hours.

Also speed restrictions apply plus you will be in Indian country and that is not a fun place to be for airline pilots.

The general rule is that the higher you go the less wind resistance you will encounter. The less wind resistance you encounter the less fuel you will use. This applies as true in the reverse.
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KELPkid
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:19 am

Airliners take advantage of higher altitudes for two reasons (and I think the other posters stated these above, but I'll re-iterate for clarity  Wink ), fuel effeciency and riding above the majority of the weather. Beyond that, cruising altitude is chosen for other such factors such as the most favorable winds aloft or to minimize the fuel consumption for the flight (by optimizing the fuel needed for climb).

OPNLguy once shared with us some of the details of a 737-300 his company dispatched to PAE for maintenance (from Texas), however it had to cruise at or below 12,000 feet because of maintenance issues (I'm assuming it was pressurization issues  Wink ), and it had to make two fuel stops enroute. Normally, at altitude and with no passengers on board, the plane would be able to make this hop non-stop.
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ThrottleHold
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:22 am

Quoting Airfoilsguy (Reply 6):
The general rule is that the higher you go the less wind resistance you will encounter.

As a general rule, windspeed increases with altitude. Now whether that is a tailwind, crosswind or headwind will depend on the wind velocity relative to your track.

Quoting Airfoilsguy (Reply 6):
The less wind resistance you encounter the less fuel you will use

Less fuel is burnt at altitude due to the air density being much lower. The amount of fuel burnt depends on the amount of air passing throught the engine. Less air at altitude therefore means less fuel so burn goes down.
 
andrej
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:38 am

Hello Kmh1956,

I believe that this varies where you are flying. Each chart will define MSA (I believe it stands for Minimum Sector Altitude). It gives altitudes that one should not fly below. Otherwise there is a risk of flying into mountains and other obstacles.

This MSA is defined in many enroute charts and they may differ from low levels such as 2500' to high flight levels such as FL280.

But as stated above, planes perform better at higher altitudes and therefore I believe that there is no such thing as minimum altitude for specific airplanes. Each airplane has charts and tables where optimum flight levels are defined over specific distance. If you fly lower, your fuel consumption will increase. (Unless headwinds are very strong)

I am not pilot, so I may be wrong.

Cheers,
Andrej

EDIT: When I read your post there were only 3 replies therefore I may repeat what was already said.  Smile

[Edited 2007-01-10 20:40:29]
 
SlamClick
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 4:55 am

Since you mentioned a couple of 737s in your o/p I'll talk about jet airliners and cruise.

The general sort of thinking is that you want to go as high as is safe and practical. Big reasons mostly twofold: One as you go up, fuel flow will decrease some. Second, as you go up, True AirSpeed will increase for a given Indicated Air Speed, which has an upper limit called VMO

This works for us all the way until we encounter the other speed limitation which has been way out in front of us during the climb, the constant mach limit: MMO

So go high and stay there as long as is practical.

When I was training dispatchers I found it very useful to throw in a very short flight to their planning curriculum. For a jet to go a hundred miles or so is a good exercise in planning and one of my favorite students (my daughter) had it reduced to zero nm cruise phase - climb 'til you descend.

After this there are the other considerations: Appropriate flight level for direction of flight, FL restrictions on a given airway segment, coffin corner and so on.

Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 3):
Under 10k you need to follow sterile cockpit rules

Does not apply in cruise flight. The last three words in FAR 121.542 are "except cruise flight."

Quoting Airfoilsguy (Reply 6):
the higher you go the less wind resistance you will encounter.

To clarify an unnoficial phrase: "Wind resistance" is often used by laypeople to describe "drag" which is a word for friction and other effects the passing air has on an airplane. There is another possible interpretation readers might take here and that is the effect of actual atmospheric "wind" itself, also a factor in flight planning.

Drag will decrease with increasing altitude within the normal envelope of the airplane in question.

Wind factor varies hour by hour at any given point in the atmosphere and must be monitored by pilot and dispatcher. Some times climbing higher gives you more favorable (tailwind) winds and some times it does not. Sometimes climbing higher gives you headwind increases that will offset the other benefits of climbing. (decreased fuel flow and increased TAS)
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KELPkid
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 5:01 am

Quoting Andrej (Reply 9):
believe that this varies where you are flying. Each chart will define MSA (I believe it stands for Minimum Sector Altitude). It gives altitudes that one should not fly below. Otherwise there is a risk of flying into mountains and other obstacles.

This is for off-airways use, and takes a number of factors into consideration. It tries to be a catch-all, to protect you from bumping into either terrain or man-made objects.

Generally, when operating IFR at lower altitudes (below FL180, or 18,000 feet, at least in the USA), you are on airways except in terminal areas (radar vectors) or when on approach (when you are on defined segments of the instrument approach). En-route on airways, you are subject to the airway's MEA, or Minimum En-route altitude. This is often lower (in some cases by large amounts) than the MSA for the sector on the chart. This can go up or down on a particular airway, due to terrain and/or other considerations. I could go into even more detail (like the Minimum Obstacle Clearance Altitude, or MOCA, and the Minimum Reception Alititude), but unless you are trying to get an instrument rating, this is most likely knowledge you don't need  Wink

Of course, if you are operating VFR (which I don't think any airliner ever would do  Wink except when cleared for a visual approach and maybe for traffic separation upon departure on a VFR day), none of this applies, and you use your two eyeballs for terrain separation.
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113312
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 5:03 am

In general, most jet airliners are better off cruising above 28,000 feet MSL. At about this altitude, the True Airspeed is highest with relation to a typical cruise MACH speed limit as well as indicated airspeed. As altitude increases, air temperature decreases. As MACH number is related to temperature, MACH number becomes the indicated speed limit at higher altitudes. However, with a fixed MACH number, indicated and true airspeed both decrease as altitude increases(temp decreases up to the Tropopause). Below 28,000 feet, indicated airspeed usually becomes limiting and true airspeed also decreases along with an increase in fuel consumption.

For economy (miles per pound of fuel) high altitude is best unless there is substantial head wind. Maximum altitude is generally limited by the weight of the plane and aerodynamic buffet boundaries. For speed, 28,000 feet plus or minus a thousand or so is optimum for pounds of fuel burned vs. miles per hour. Below that altitude, fuel consumption increases and speed decreases.
 
kmh1956
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 5:04 am

Quoting Airfoilsguy (Reply 6):
It is absolutely critical to you future career as a pilot and also to your personal well being that you don't Fly below terrain level

 rotfl 

Quoting SlamClick (Reply 10):
coffin corner

Very informative...thank you.
"Coffin corner"...explain?


Thanks to all of you for your detailed and well-thought-out responses.
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ThrottleHold
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 5:04 am

Quoting SlamClick (Reply 10):
Does not apply in cruise flight. The last three words in FAR 121.542 are "except cruise flight."

Ah yes, but the whole world doesn't operate under FAR's you know!  Wink
Our SOP's say a sterile cockpit at all times when below FL100.
 
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Starlionblue
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 5:07 am

Quoting SlamClick (Reply 10):
Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 3):
Under 10k you need to follow sterile cockpit rules

Does not apply in cruise flight. The last three words in FAR 121.542 are "except cruise flight."

Argh. I forgot about that one. Still, I imagine the potential for ramming some poor unsuspecting 172 in the tailpipe limits conversation topics a little.  Wink
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SlamClick
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 5:21 am

Quoting ThrottleHold (Reply 14):
Our SOP's say a sterile cockpit at all times when below FL100.

Fine, but what do the regulations under which you conduct flight operations have to say?

Quoting ThrottleHold (Reply 14):
Ah yes, but the whole world doesn't operate under FAR's you know

I think we are all aware of that. Care to post something useful from another set of flight regulations?

edit: I understand that the original poster is not from the United States. However, the question was posed to a forum of people of varying expertise and the majority of which are from the US. Anyone wishing to know the rule in Europe or over the Indian Ocean usually will frame his question to single out responses relevant to those places. Only about two thousand hours of my flying time was outside the US and all of that under US civil and/or military rules. I post from my own knowledge and experience and, if it actually seems important, will so state. If I speak from a point of view that is ex-USA I will state that it is my guess, opinion, or something that was told to me.

[Edited 2007-01-10 21:26:17]
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futurecaptain
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 5:27 am

Quoting Kmh1956 (Thread starter):
However, is there such a thing as a 'minimum cruising altitude'?

500'-1000' AGL, depending.  Smile

Quoting Airfoilsguy (Reply 6):
The general rule is that the higher you go the less wind resistance you will encounter.

Not to mention the higher the altitude you can request over the radio the better the pilot you are.  Smile . I bet those SR-71's made some airline pilots jealous.
"Cleared direct to FL650, have a good day"  Smile

Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 15):
ramming some poor unsuspecting 172 in the tailpipe

Don't hit me.  duck 
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ThrottleHold
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 5:34 am

Quoting SlamClick (Reply 16):
Fine, but what do the regulations under which you conduct flight operations have to say?

To be honest, I haven't a clue what the JAR's say. If our SOP's say that, then they'll be as, if not more conservative than the legal regulations.
Not that anyone's ever talked about "that house down there" when on 5 mile finals....

Quoting SlamClick (Reply 16):

I think we are all aware of that. Care to post something useful from another set of flight regulations?

Tongue-in-cheek 'twas....
 
KELPkid
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 6:23 am

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 17):
500'-1000' AGL, depending. Smile

Yeah, helicopter pilots and agricultural pilots start to get nosebleed above those altitudes  duck 
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SlamClick
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 6:43 am

Quoting KELPkid (Reply 19):
Yeah, helicopter pilots and agricultural pilots start to get nosebleed above those altitudes

There are cropdusters in California's Imperial Valley who never get up to sea level all season long. Sea level used to be painted on the side of the elevators at a local sugar company. The line was way up there.

In a helicopter if you are more than thirty seconds off the ground you just might not make it down in time. Couple friends of mine had a transmission chip light. They did a full-power descent, listening to the groaning from the hellhole. When the skids hit the ground the transmission siezed and they did a half turn to the left before coming to a stop. They lost all further interest in the top half of their altimeter dial!
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KELPkid
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:55 am

Quoting SlamClick (Reply 20):
There are cropdusters in California's Imperial Valley who never get up to sea level all season long. Sea level used to be painted on the side of the elevators at a local sugar company. The line was way up there.

I've seen those driving through on Intersate 8...you don't want to drive a clean white car through the Imperial Valley. The front of your car will get absolutely splattered with dead yellow butterflies Big grin
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airfoilsguy
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:38 am

Quoting ThrottleHold (Reply 8):
As a general rule, windspeed increases with altitude

You got me, had a brain skip, I meant air.
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highflyer9790
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 9:54 am

Quoting KELPkid (Reply 11):
Of course, if you are operating VFR (which I don't think any airliner ever would do except when cleared for a visual approach and maybe for traffic separation upon departure on a VFR day), none of this applies, and you use your two eyeballs for terrain separation.

Airlines are not allowed to fly VFR. IFR only for these guys. they can, however, be granted a visual approach/separation on a VFR day as you stated.

highflyer
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skyman
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 6:36 pm

Quoting ThrottleHold (Reply 5):
If flight under MSA is not allowed....how do they take off and land?!

Of course you are right but he was asking about cruising altitudes and not departures.
In general for Germany I would say IFR don´t fly below FL100 (or FL150 in the Alpsregion) to keep clear of airspace E. Normal is FL300 and above unless the destination is to close.
 
BAE146QT
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:51 pm

Quoting Futurecaptain:
I bet those SR-71's made some airline pilots jealous.

Heard a story about a SR-71 crew requesting FL800 from a civillian controller who was unaware of their AC type. The controller laughed and said, "Sure. If you can reach it, you can have it."

SR-71 jock replies, "Roger. DESCENDING to 800".

Cue much giggling.

Probably an urban legend, but made me chuckle.



(Apparently the SR-71s did talk to the civvies - there's a similar story out there about groundspeed checks - I'm not sure whether it's a courtesy or not)

::EDIT:: Here's a link to one version of the groundspeed story, for those that haven't read it before;

http://www.mail-archive.com/flyin@ercoupers.com/msg06857.html

[Edited 2007-01-11 11:56:40]
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airfoilsguy
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 10:15 pm

Quoting BAe146QT (Reply 25):
Heard a story about a SR-71 crew requesting FL800 from a civillian controller who was unaware of their AC type. The controller laughed and said, "Sure. If you can reach it, you can have it."

SR-71 jock replies, "Roger. DESCENDING to 800".

Cue much giggling.

Probably an urban legend, but made me chuckle.



(Apparently the SR-71s did talk to the civvies - there's a similar story out there about groundspeed checks - I'm not sure whether it's a courtesy or not)

::EDIT:: Here's a link to one version of the groundspeed story, for those that haven't read it before;

Very interesting, but wasn't the altitude and speed performance of the SR 71 classified? wouldn't the pilots get in trouble for doing something like that?
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IAHFLYR
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 11:05 pm

Quoting HighFlyer9790 (Reply 23):
Airlines are not allowed to fly VFR. IFR only for these guys. they can, however, be granted a visual approach/separation on a VFR day as you stated

For the FYI Dept.

The weather doesn't have to be VFR to accept visual separation, only able to see the traffic until possible conflict is resolved......not the best idea but can be accomplished and is quite often with departures and the second airplane turning inside of the first.

Airliners can and do request a VFR climb such as flying past a mountain to give the passengers a great view, like Mt. Rainier.
Any views shared are strictly my own and do not a represent those of any former employer.
 
BAE146QT
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Thu Jan 11, 2007 11:30 pm

Quoting Airfoilsguy:
Very interesting, but wasn't the altitude and speed performance of the SR 71 classified? wouldn't the pilots get in trouble for doing something like that?

Dunno, but mabe - and that's why I had it tagged as a probably urban legend.

Having said that... to what altitude is a ground-based aviation RADAR accurate? If it were accurate enough, then that classified performance information was probably known to the staff in several hundred control centres...
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skyman
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Fri Jan 12, 2007 12:57 am

Quoting IAHFLYR (Reply 27):
Airliners can and do request a VFR climb such as flying past a mountain to give the passengers a great view, like Mt. Rainier.

Do you mean in respect of other traffic? Because in Germany it is not allowed anymore over FL100. Probably due to TCAS.

Quoting BAe146QT (Reply 28):
Having said that... to what altitude is a ground-based aviation RADAR accurate?

Most civil radar works with mode C readout and if that is switched out he will only have a primary target with no level indication.
 
SlamClick
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Fri Jan 12, 2007 1:07 am

Quoting Airfoilsguy (Reply 26):
wasn't the altitude and speed performance of the SR 71 classified? wouldn't the pilots get in trouble for doing something like that?

There must be thousands of air traffic controllers who have a pretty good idea of what this plane could do in terms of speed over CONUS. Altitude was probably anybody's guess. The Air Force admitted to the following:

Absolute Altitude: 80,257.86 ft (24,390 meters)... YF-12A # 60-6934
Absolute Speed Over a Straight Course: 2,070.101 mph...YF-12A #60-6936

Clearly it was designed for performance in excess of those but those are the numbers and they are sticking to them. Frank Powers said he exceeded the world altitude record on virtually every single training flight in the U-2. His U-2 was hit at about this altitude, so don't we all think maybe the blackbird would go a bit higher than a U-2.

Thing is, air traffic controllers don't have any authority or interest up that high so the descent to FL800 story is not likely true. The ground speed story from the book "Sled Driver" no doubt is.

Flying into Reno from PDX or SEA just after beginning descent northeast of Susanville Cal. we used to start watching the skies below us, along the northern edge of the Smoke Creek desert. It was not uncommon to see an SR-71 inbound to Beale way down there at about 20-24 thousand feet. Down there they'd need to talk to Center, but not up in the tall numbers.

If an SR-71 pilot called irrefutable evidence into existence of a crossing of a known distance in a very short time he might indeed have gotten in some trouble. Let's say the USAF says "above Mach 3" and he documents and claims Mach 4.5 I think it would enhance the promotion opportunities for some other officer below him.
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IAHFLYR
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Fri Jan 12, 2007 1:14 am

Quoting Skyman (Reply 29):
Do you mean in respect of other traffic?

Not sure of how the clearances have been given so it may not have included traffic.
Any views shared are strictly my own and do not a represent those of any former employer.
 
SlamClick
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Fri Jan 12, 2007 2:03 am

Quoting IAHFLYR (Reply 27):
Airliners can and do request a VFR climb such as flying past a mountain to give the passengers a great view, like Mt. Rainier.

When we do something like that we are not flying VFR as our flight plan is filed as IFR and we may not even be authorized VFR flight under our OpsSpecs. It is visual separation while on an IFR flight plan. And it does indeed require that we be able to maintain visual contact with the mountains and/or traffic.

Another place I've used this is departing Las Vegas headed northwesterly. You normally have to climb southwest along the track of an airway quite a ways before turning toward BTY. I've offered to "maintain my own terrain separation" and been permitted a much earlier turn. It is no sweat, I'll top Mount Charleston by at least fifteen thousand feet. Other airlines might not be permitted to do this. Up to their flight department and what they want to get ruled on by their FAA POI.
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IAHFLYR
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Fri Jan 12, 2007 3:30 am

Quoting SlamClick (Reply 32):
When we do something like that we are not flying VFR as our flight plan is filed as IFR and we may not even be authorized VFR flight under our OpsSpecs.

That is what I actually meant to say, IFR but taking a VFR climb in essence maintaining visual with the rock. Thanks for making my post clear, almost VMC!  Smile
Any views shared are strictly my own and do not a represent those of any former employer.
 
turkee
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Fri Jan 12, 2007 6:07 pm

Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 3):
Under 10k you need to follow sterile cockpit rules, which is probably a pain in the ass to do for several hours.

I've got to tell you - I went for a jumpseat ride in one of our company aircraft the other day, and on short final into PER, the pilot-flying turns to me and says "Are you scared?? You ****ing should be! I haven't done a flaps 40 landing in a while!"

Needless to say, the landing went without incident. It was an amusing take on the 'sterile cockpit' though.
 
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Starlionblue
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RE: Cruising Altitudes

Fri Jan 12, 2007 9:44 pm

Quoting Turkee (Reply 34):
Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 3):
Under 10k you need to follow sterile cockpit rules, which is probably a pain in the ass to do for several hours.

I've got to tell you - I went for a jumpseat ride in one of our company aircraft the other day, and on short final into PER, the pilot-flying turns to me and says "Are you scared?? You ****ing should be! I haven't done a flaps 40 landing in a while!"

Needless to say, the landing went without incident. It was an amusing take on the 'sterile cockpit' though.

 rotfl 

On landing at ARN when I was in the jumpseat, all the pilots were talking about the rabbit the previous plane landing had hit, and whether the carcass was visible.

We couldn't find anything, but it was pretty dark.
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