My fiancee and I arrived to the Alteon Facility and as we drove by it, to the left was a HUGE sign “Home of the Boeing 717"
YAY! My day is starting. I was bursting with excitement. A joy different and yet just as flavorful as the one I experienced when I flew Concorde.
http://www.airliners.net/discussions/trip_reports/read.main/31702/ with 7,077 views and over 80 replies at last count, that was a great trip.
We walked into the building and immediately saw the MD-11 simulator that we would later be flying.
We then met Midnight Mike. He is a real good guy from right out of NY.
Mike gave us our ID’s for the day and walked us over to the MD90-EFD simulator. Mike explained the MD-90EFD is not drastically different from the regular MD-90 fleet except that most of the gauges on it were of the glass cockpit type. In other words, it was a sort of transition a/c towards all glass cockpits. Linked to politics, the MD90-EFD (Enhanced Flight Deck) was only sold to Saudi Airlines.
We passed a few other simulators while we were there, including a Gulfstream sim.
When we got to the sim, Mike took us to speak with another sim instructor. He had just readied the sim for a crew of real pilots and had hidden what are called “easter eggs” I quickly caught on that this meant he went into the cockpit and randomly threw a bunch of switches so that his pilots would have to walk in and troubleshoot how to start the A/C. So this instructor went back into the sim and tried to remove all the eggs so that we could fly without a problem.
Our instructor for the day, Bill Hope, arrived (real names have been tweaked). Bill was a pilot for the Marine Corps. I was honored to be in the presence of one of our veterans. He brought us into the simulator and asked what experience I had and what we did for a living. All the instructors were very happy that we were NOT pilots. Why? They get a kick out of training us non-pilots. They loved it as much as we did it.
Being that my only sim experience was in playing X-plane demo’s, Hope was in for a treat. I sat in the left seat and my fiancee, my co-pilot in life, Bell, in the right seat. It was amazing, the entire cockpit was the real deal! The FAA requires that these sims be 100% exact to the real aircraft otherwise they cannot pass as simulators in the eyes of the FAA.
So we were about to fly the real thing. The sim is mounted on 6 hydraulic jacks and move right in line with my control movements. My understanding is that very sensitive instruments are used in calibrating the sim. Amazing.
Hope tried to start the sim, putting on the air, switching over to the APU and yet the engines would not start. After fuddling through many switches, all of which were greek to me, he got it up and running! Way to go Hope! But remember this point later.
We started the sim at the gates at LAX and Hope had us pushed back from the gate. (For the sake of speed, the sim pushes you back quickly so that you can get moving.) I was then instructed to use the tiller in order to steer the plane and to use the throttle for speed.
I advanced the throttle, the engines spooled up and I turned the tiller hard left to follow the centerline. The a/c immediately began to shudder as my nosegear was screeching b/c I was going too fast (28 kts on the turn ) So I braked then started up again and followed the yellow lines until I got to runway 24L. I was kinda clumsy and all over the place on the taxiing!
Hope and I made sure the flaps were set along with the autothrottle. My fiancee kept her eye on the runway. Once we reached the runway threshold, I advanced the throttles forward and we started to gain speed, creeping quickly toward Vr then I pulled back and the feeling was exhilarating! We were aloft!
I was flying the Saudi MD-90-EFD! Hope called for the gear to be raised and Bell did so and soon afterwards she began to retract the flaps as well. Takeoff was fairly straightforward. It was very cool!
I did some free flight around the city of LA and suddenly Hope surprised us and froze the flight. Within seconds, I was now at free flying over SFO and he gave me the OK to do so more hand flying. I took the a/c down to 1200 feet and we circled around the Golden Gate Bridge a few times! Hope commented that he doubts anyone will ever be able to do that again!
Now he wanted to see us do some landings, so the sim was frozen again and now we were aligned for landing at SFO 10 L. He asked Bell to set the flaps and the gear while I hand flew to SFO. I was told quite a few times that I was coming in too low. He then reminded me to view my VASE lights and I had all reds so I throttled up and got 2 red and 2 white, then continued my descent.
My first landing was pretty good I think. Hope said I did a great flare and touched down lightly.
He then reset the sim so that Bell could have a go at landing. She did really well too....for a touch and go! I am kidding, babe. My fiancee, having played Fly 2K maybe twice, brought us down in the Saudi MD 90 relatively smoothly and touched down about ½ down the runway. We bounced down real hard and started going up and to the left again. That is when Hope froze the sim.
We all started cracking up! She did a great job Hope got me readied for another approach. It was so much fun!
This time, we approached SFO at night and it was amazing. These sims really had us thinking that we were flying over San Fran, watching the lights of the cars and other planes in the sky. It was the real thing!
On this night approach to SFO, I was coming in a bit too low so I throttled up got 2 red and 2 white, then all of a sudden I was getting all 4 white. I was now coming in too high and too fast. I pulled back my throttles and nosed down. I finally got 1 red and 3 whites. Then the 50 foot call out came and I flared up hard. Regardless, I hit the runway pretty damn hard and Bell hit reverse thrust as I stood on the rudder pedal tops and halt to a halt. Kinda rough landing for the folks in back, but we didn’t have to write off the plane!
I now taxied to off as per Hope’s instructions and followed the yellow line until I reached a gate. On the way, I crossed by some Fedex twin jets and an AA DC-10! How cool!
I was now time to leave the MD-90-EFD. The easter egg guy then came in and asked how we liked it. We were all laughing as Hope told him someone really screwed up the sim and couldn’t get it started at first! Yeah, the Egg guy did it! LOL But Hope did a great job finding those eggs and getting us up and running.
We thanked Hope profusely and now walked over to meet Mike again. On the stroll over through 2 buildings to see Mike, the whole place has beautiful aviation photos all over. Ever wall was adorned with frames and schematics of different airplanes, even in the kitchen dining area.
The entrance of building 2 has a huge maybe 1/50 scale of the prototype MD-11 hanging from the ceiling. I made an offer on it, but no joy. There was also a very interested display of an engine shown but cutaway so that it’s internal elements could be examined. Quite impressive! There was a display of the old sim that military aviators used to use. It was incredible how small those first sims were!
Now Mike, Bell and I walked over to another building and met our 2nd instructor, Donny Chong. Donny was also pretty excited to meet his us. He once worked with C-17's. He is an engineer and not a pilot. (This will be of interest later.)
Donny made use of one of the pre-flight class rooms. We followed him upstairs into a room. There were many classrooms on these floors. Instead of blackboards though, they have foam board replicas up of each flight sims’ overhead console, glareshield, pedestal base, and those flight controls that are straight ahead of you. Donny began to educate us in the room about how to fly the MD-11 with the use of the flight director. In other words, on this sim and with this instructor’s engineer background, he was prepping us on how to fly the plane with the computer.
We walked into the sim and it was much larger than the MD90 EFD sim. As Donny started to input data into the flight management computer, Bell and I adjusted seats and played with some controls.
Out the window, the realistically simulated world of Runway 24L at LAX was displayed. We were right on the runway threshold, not at the gate as in the other sim. Donny started up the engines one by one and the plane came to life. Bell set the flaps, I steered with the rudder and turned onto the runway.
I had Bell help me advance the 3 throttles while I steered to keep us on the centerline. As soon as I hit a certain speed, the auto-throttle took over. So all I had to do now was steer and take in the scenery.
I hit Vr and began to rotate and these controls seemed more sluggish. I could really tell how it was different from the MD-90. The ground quickly began to fall away. Donny now instructed me to fly the plane using the flight director.
What I found so interesting was that since I was so focused on using the flight director, I really couldn’t look out the window, so my copilot was my pair of eyes. Pretty interesting technology. I was trusting my instruments completely. Bell was monitoring the world outside. She then adjusted the autopilot/flight director for 14000 feet and set a new heading. I saw the flight director crosshair move up and left but I purposely ignored it for a little while. Then, I pulled steadily hard and left and began our swoop up. Bell left her stomach back at 4000 ft.
After a few minutes of flying with the flight director, Donny now froze the sim and had me doing some landings at LAX. But first, he wanted us to use the auto-land. He wanted to show us how the computer is able to land the aircraft. He showed us how to activate it. Then Bell activated it and we now watched as our plane landed itself effortlessly. All we had to do was brake the plane.
I got another three shots at landing the MD11, first at LAX, then SFO then LAX at night. The night landings always played with my perception a bit and I would consistently run low and then end up too high on approach. But I had my flare and touchdown pretty smooth according to what Donny said.
This plane was a joy to fly and it was a thrill to know that I flew the last tri-jet around!
Now we had a little break between sims, so I was given a tour of the Alteon Training facilities. Imagine whole classrooms devoted to single cockpit type cockpits and consoles. Imagine hallways full of 11x18 and even larger photos of Boeing aircraft. All very beautiful. There was even a fuselage used in training flight attendants
Then we met up with a class of UPS pilots. Imagine that. While they were out there studying and trouble shooting for the real possibility, here we were flying alongside them. There were pretty nice fellas. All they wanted to know was what is a pair of optometrists doing out here flying with them! LOL
At that point, we all walked over to where the “HOME of the Boeing 717" was. Once past security, we went into one hangar where the prototype 717 with its original paint was. Right in front of her was a DC-2. My first time seeing one. Perhaps I can post a pic of that later if you guys would like.
Then we walked to the area there the fuselages are delivered. What we saw were separate cockpit sections and cabin sections of the 717. The next building was where the wings and tanks were assembled. Then the fuselage sections were lifted and placed onto the wings, and the nose and tail added. Add to this thousands upon thousands of rivets and wiring and here is your 717. I saw how the rivets and sections were joined. Very impressive.
Later we saw the flap and rudder sections newly painted and about to be joined. One rudder section was laying right new me so I examined it and ran it through its full movement. Then we climbed some scaffolding that took us to the top of the 717 rudder/fin assembly. I thoroughly examined the clean soul of the aircraft that was being born in front of me.
Down the stairs and into the cabin we went. There I stood, on the threshold of a brand new Boeing 717 being built before me and around me. It was amazing.
The cockpit had a mass of wires being fed into it. The cabin light panels hung from the ceiling by anchors, more wires being lined into the wall and insulation on the sides. Every window was still wrapped in that shiny bluish cellophane that you see on the display of new cellphones or calculators. And the scent....not a new car scent....
But a new plane scent,... of clean plastic, steel and dense clean air. It was the first time I ever noticed a plane to have that scent and it is beyond words and unlike any smell you get when you walk onto a plane. I highly recommend it.
After more discussion amongst ourselves (Midnight Mike, a co-worker and I may enter atriumvirate of sorts to hold a huge rave at the 717 plane. All airliners.net members invited free with 2 drink minimum), we walked back to the sim buildings.
There I met my last instructor for the day, Pip Lartinsen. Pip used to fly F-4 and F-16s and later was a 757 chief for AA. He was also an excellent instructor. He first took us into a classroom and briefed us. Then into the sim we went where he allowed us to buckle up as he input our data into the FMC.
Pip asked simply, “where are we flying” and I asked to be put at JFK. Within seconds I was on 31R and I quickly said, “Pip, is that the Post Office building on the left?” He nodded and asked how knew we were on 31R and also how we knew the building. I proceeded to explain that I knew exactly where we were as my dad once worked there! Yay! I impressed the teacher!
Ahead of me on 31R, we saw a JAL 747 and a Southwest 737 jump ahead in queue and take off. Perhaps the WN plane was diverted? :-P
Then Skip asked if I would do the honors. He let me have my choice of flying so I chose to hand fly this trip. He set Deer Park as a way point and then said it was all mine. I spooled up and the plane started bumping along the runway. I reached 150kts before pulling up then launched up into a 35 degree climb until I Bell retracted the flaps and gear, then I leveled out. The island of Manhattan was ahead and I turned toward the south and acknowledged our missing twin icons on the south end. I paid my respects then cut hard right at Brooklyn bridge. Then over Teterboro.
Now Pip asked, “Have you ever rolled a plane before?” I said no but asked if airliners really could do that. He said yes, under the right conditions. He would now talk me through it. First, he noted that the 717 is so advanced that you have to get by the computer in order to gain control on it. I reached 280knots then pitched up 20 degrees and slowly rolled right. He told me to roll harder, I kept rolling.
Then, as the nose started dropping, I pushed forward with all my might. All the cockpit alarms were going off. The one I remember most was overspeed. The plane went upside-down and my fiancee was really feeling the 1G roll! Of course, we were not really rolling but it definitely felt like you were!
Your eyes trigger the perception and work with your labyrinth canals to complete the feeling.
As soon as I completed my roll, he congratulated me and asked if Bell wanted to try. She said she didn’t want to do that again. But I know she loves me So then I rolled right over to the left now to complete a full roll in the other direction. Good thing we didn’t have breakfast!
I leveled out over the George Washington Bridge then cut a hard right towards LGA. I think Pip was looking to freeze and put me in on a 31 approach, but instead, I free flew at 1000 feet toward JFK, overspeeding all the way, then turned toward Shea Stadium, pulled the speedbrake and cut a hard U-turn. You really felt the air molecules rushing over the spoilers as we cut the turn and I kept holding the brake!
I took as all the way into LGA 31, just skimming the upper deck at Shea and low over the water. I made a light landing, hit the tarmac and stood as my brakes as Bell hit reverse. Now that was fun flying!
Pip then asked “where to next?” I asked if I could takeoff at LGA and he was more than accommodating. He places us now at the 31 threshold and we were surrounded by a fleet of United 757's in their old orange/white colors. I asked if I could hold the brakes and spool up to the hilt before releasing and he OKed it. So I stood on the brakes as my plane fought to inch forward. When I let go, the nose lurched forward and we felt a bit lightheaded for 2 seconds, then that rushing pull in the stomach began as we began to accelerate.
We rotated and climbed from 31 and I turned out over College Point. We flew by BigPhilnyc’s place. Then I hit the brakes again and cut a turn at Shea to bring her in again. Another decent landing as per Pip.
He asked, “what is that weird named approach they use sometimes?” Expressway Visual I noted, and he was impressed I knew that too. So he froze me and put me there now with a 15kt crosswind. Pip then taught me how to apply the rudder input gently. I did relatively well but freaked a bit when I noticed how my nose wasn’t facing the runway but then realized the crosswind effect. Phil may have gotten video of it.
I turned off the runway and was instructed to go to the assigned gate. I followed the yellow line a bit better than then I did that morning. When I got to the gate, I was surprised to actually see a ramp agent directing me into the gate with the orange wands we know so well! I pulled in and we motioned me to go right, then straight up to him. Things sims are so incredibly real!!
My time was up and it was now time to depart. But I was not sad. I was very happy at a great fun day and I was tired too!
I hope u enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed sharing it. My COncorde experience cost me very relatively very little cash and I was VERY lucky to have flown on it only 2 days prior to the announcment. A seat in the post-retirement announcment rush would have been impossible for me to get for the same cost.
BUT...this flight experience cost me only...$199.00. Do you hear that? Less than two hundred dollars (plus airfare to LAX, free as I had a Rapid Rewards ticket.)
Only $200 dollars and it was VERY well spent.
That is much less than what most of us pay for cell phone use for the year!!!!
I met great people, including MidnightMike, toured a Boeing plant, few real sims and enjoyed my day.
You too can go! Email him. Trust me. If you wanted Concorde but couldn't get there, that is understandable. But if you want to do this, guys, it's a no brainer...it's so reasonable!
Love to hear comments and questions. Will post more images later if you guys want. The images here are used with Mike's permission.
BTW, after the trip, Midnight, didn't you estimate 40-60 minutes to get from LGB to LAX in the rush? How about 22 minutes to LAX Encounter restaurant with the top down