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SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 1:28 am

Hi everyone,

This report is really too long, so please feel free to skip through as you wish. Both reports were written only a few days after their respective flights so as a result there’s lots of detail… A few notes before I start:

Movies (including sound!) are discussed at the very end of the report along with their links.
Photos are throughout the report although only at various points, for example, there’s none of any takeoff or landing because I was filming the movies then. One of the problems with the flights was that for most of the time we were flying in the dark, thus no photos of the taxi outs from LHR or JNB. In a few cases there are links to a.net photos, where it’s obvious why, but in all other places I have made them as big as possible and they are all linking from my website’s server so there shouldn’t be any bandwidth exceeded problems… Please, please, if there are any accomplished a.net photographers reading, let me know if any of my photos are possible candidates for a.net submission. I have them in much larger versions than the 650 pixel widths displayed here.
And thanks must be said, even before the report, to in particular a.net member SA006 at JNB. Also to BA777 for his help from the UK and Julian Whitelaw, a photographer and SAA pilot with many excellent photos to his credit on a.net. He answered my questions relating to flight deck visits and forms on SAA.

General flight information
Captain: Walther Raubenheimer, based @ JNB First Officer: Vernon Jacobs, based @ JNB, Relief Pilot: Ernest Kekana, based @ JNB
Aircraft: 747-444
Registration: ZS-SAZ (engines RB211), selcal ID: LS-QR
Passengers: 338 LHR stand: 134 JNB stand: A8
Nautical mileage: 5013nm Trip wind component: +5 knots
Cruise FLs: FL310/330/370 Cruise Mach/TAS: M0.86/500 kts

Estimated flight time: 10 hours 21 minutes Actual flight time: 9 hours 59 minutes
Estimated JNB arrival: 0528Z
LHR blocks off: 1844Z LHR engine start: 1844Z
LHR taxi: 1851Z LHR airborne: 1907Z
JNB actual arrival: 0506Z JNB blocks on: 0516Z

Departure information
Runway: 27L Departure taxiways: Bravo, Uniform Holding point: ETTIV
Forecast wind: 290 degrees/9 kts Takeoff flaps: 20
Takeoff OAT: 9 degrees Celsius Takeoff thrust setting: TO1 = Takeoff EPR: 1.78
V1: 141 kts VR: 163 kts V2: 175 kts QNH: 995 mb
Clean speed: V2+80 kts = 255 kts
SID: MID 3G Engine start order: 4+3, 2+1 (2 at a time @ sea level airfields)

Arrival information
Runway: 03R Forecast wind: 060 degrees/5 kts Landing flaps: 30
Autobrakes: 2 Clean speed: 223 kts
MDA: 152 ft RA
Flap 30 VREF: 144 kts
STAB TRIM: 6.6 degrees UP Approach: ILS CAT 1 Landing: Manual QNH: 1027mb
Arrival taxiways: Yankee, Hotel, Alpha, Echo STAR: HBV 3A

Takeoff weight: 362 417 kgs ZFW: 236 417 kgs Landing weight: 253 587 kgs
Max landing weight: 285 763 kgs
Start fuel: 127 100 kgs Trip fuel: 108 830 kgs Diversion fuel (to furthest alternate FADN): 8 300 kgs
Reserve fuel: 12 600 kgs Taxi fuel: 1 000 kgs Fuel on takeoff: 126 300 kgs Actual fuel burn: 109 000 kgs

Flight plan
Alternates: FABL (Bloemfontein), FADN (Durban)

The flight plan is basically a series of airways between certain waypoints. In the cases where there is DCT it stands for direct, i.e. no airway. At the start, EGLL1830 means leaving LHR at 1830Z. Then N0494 is the estimated TAS and the initial cruise altitude of 31 000 feet, FL310 which is abbreviated to F310. Notice the SID/STAR is not included since that is dependant on ATC and the runway in use. At any point where there’s another N****F*** it means a change in cruise altitude or TAS. It’s perfectly natural for long haul aircraft to climb higher as the flight goes on: as more fuel is burnt up the weight is less so it is possible to climb higher, and the higher you go the less air resistance so a more efficient cruise.

Here’s the flight plan in visual form, courtesy of FS2004’s flight planner because, um, my trial of FSNavigator has expired  Sad. Included on the sides is the taxi in and taxi out (routes marked in red) and the SID and STAR (again routings marked in red).

My family and I set out for LHR at about 1:00pm and we arrived at the Purple Parking depot to drop off the car just before 4:00pm, having been delayed slightly on the M4. Still, there was plenty of time to spare and we were soon aboard the Purple Parking bus heading for the LHR central terminal area. The METARs several days ago had shown that I might get 09R for departure, but I was pleased to see that 27L was in use this afternoon; I have not departed from 27L before. The weather was fairly typical, a low cloud base, grey skies and some spots of rain. We disembarked at T1 and headed inside towards the SAA check in area at the very right of the hall. SAA international flights open check in 4 hours before departure at LHR, as it was we had 3 to spare. There was not much queuing and we were processed by a very friendly check in agent who commented on how little bags we were taking: they weighed 45kg although we were allowed 120kg. She also confirmed our upper deck seating, good good  Smile.

My boarding pass

I’m called MASTER because we are taking advantage of SAA’s youth fares, which are 2/3 of the adult price. Not bad, I haven’t come across them on any other airline.

We lost no time in going through security where there were longer queues, however these were soon passed. We walked through into the departures lounge which was crowded as usual, and then up to a café on a raised level above the lounge. I sat at the edge of the balcony, which gave a distant view of the only, yes only, window in the entire lounge. Some years back the BAA liked to claim that LHR T1 had more duty free available than the whole of CDG put together. This is quite understandable, the place is crammed with shops, but comparing the number of windows at CDG

The only window in the T1 departure lounge. G-EUPZ tail in the foreground.

The window overlooks the Juliet apron and in the background 27R arrivals were just visible. Unfortunately, the window is at the back of a restaurant, so you have to buy a meal there to get any decent view at all. From the balcony the view was very impeded although I did see G-EUPZ, a BA A319, taxiing in to park on stand 117. There was no sign of our SAA 744 (they are usually on 123, 125 or 127), but a glance at the boarding pass revealed gate 30, which corresponds to stand 134 for heavies, round the corner on the Kilo cul-de-sac.

Finishing my drink, I went back downstairs to WHSmith and bought the latest copy of PC Pilot to read during the flight (note to flightsimmers: London Control looks amazing). Time for some spotting  Big grin. Armed with the camera I followed the signs towards gates 36-56 on the Europier. Heading for the Flight Connections Centre which joins onto the Europier, I soon found a window overlooking the Kilo cul-de-sac, a mass of BA/BMI 'buses and, at the end, the tail of the SAA 744 that would take me to JNB Big grin. SP-LLA, an LOT 734 bound for WAW was pushing out of 114, an awkward stand to get out of which involves doing a 180 degree turn on Kilo because there is no room for a left push back. I took some photos of it and then walked into the Flight Connections Centre. Over at the other side of the FCC was a good view of the Papa cul-de-sac which is between T1 and T2. It is possible for T2 aircraft to park on the left hand side of this apron, i.e. on stands accessed from the Europier which is T1. I was reminded of an embarrassing incident some years ago arriving on an AZ 321 from FCO and ending up in the T1 arrivals hall Embarrassment.

Down Kilo, with our 747-400 at the end.

SP-LLA pushing back for departure to WAW.

I-DANV on 207 and a company A321 behind.

G-MIDX sporting the old and best Star Alliance Livery with IB ready to roll on 27L.

After taking some more photos looking out from Papa over 27L and towards T4 I continued into the Europier, far and away the nicest gate area in T1. The pier is predominantly made of glass and also has split arrivals and departures via the large grey protuberances to which the airbridges are attached. On my right, towards the 27L departure queue, were 4 BA 744s all in a row, including BA 025 boarding for the flight to HKG, and G-BNLP, a new reg for me. On the left was the Kilo apron, with three BA Airbuses parked on this side of the pier. A 319 was preparing for departure to Hannover and another pushing back as I arrived. Camera time  Smile.

Not sure which reg, but a BA 744 bound to somewhere with better weather!

I walked all the way to the end of the pier and looked out. There are remote stands on either side at which were parked a BMI 320, a BA 319 and a BA 763 with world tail. Beyond, out on the shoulder of runway 23, was Concorde G-BOAB, looking a bit forlorn in the grey weather. The sun was now setting and the airfield lighting on, but the photos came out nice and bright on the camera. Now for the most important part. Turning to my left I was directly opposite our SAA 744, which I had predicted would be ZS-SAZ based on SAA fleet usage over the past two months. Was it? I pulled out my binoculars to take a look. Yes! Four RB211s to power me over Africa  Smile. I took a photo of 'Alpha Zulu' and then walked back down the pier, through the FCC and into the departures lounge.

With apologies for the blurriness, here’s ZS-SAZ nearly ready for boarding.

It would soon be time to board. I met up with the rest of my family and we walked down pier 3, not as nice as the Europier. It is a long hike down to the end, but speeded up with the travellators. Interestingly, approaching the end but still with gate 28 between us and gate 30, we hit a security checkpoint. Everyone, except the crew, had to go through security, i.e. X-ray for hand luggage etc, again! I wondered what the point of this was, it did not happen on my JNB flight last year, but then this did not seem specifically orientated to the South Africa flights.

Finally arriving at the gate area at around 6:35pm (with no view of the aircraft whatsoever due to the lack of windows and the unusual parking angle of 134) a gate agent ushered us to the front where families with small children were being boarded first - one of the advantages of having very young siblings  Big grin. Boarding had not yet commenced and my first thoughts were about the seating positions. We had a whole row on the upper deck for ourselves (we are a family of six) so I could choose which window seat to have. Departing on 27L, I should sit on the right to get the best view, but I needed to know the forecast winds at JNB to determine which runway we would be landing on. I pulled out my mobile and phoned a.net user BA777, who within 20 seconds had downloaded and decoded the TAF (airport weather forecast) for FAJS (JNB ICAO code). It looked like the 21s would be in use from the wind forecast, although there were crosswinds so it might swap to the 03s. Cheers Hennerz!

Almost as soon as I turned off the phone, the doors opened and boarding commenced. With great anticipation I walked down the airbridge, into the aircraft via the middle doorway to be met by friendly SAA FAs. For the first time I climbed up the steep stairs and found myself at the back of the upper deck Big grin. We were the first passengers on the top deck. There were two FAs for the sixty odd seats in this "Premium economy at the same price as normal Y class only for those who know about it" zone  Smile. I took seat 87K to get the best view on departure from 27L. The increase in seat pitch was very striking, a lot more legroom with 34" as opposed to 31" pitch. There was also a handy compartment to stow bags, etc, for those who had window seats, comme moi. As usual in the new Millenium Configuration, there were seatback TVs for all. There are also TV monitors at the front of the cabin and hanging from the middle which are used for the safety video and the Airshow displays. ZS-SAZ is one of only two SAA 744s equipped with satellite telephone capabilities, these were on the back of the PTV control units, although at $9 a minute not be an option I would be exploring. I was more interested in the flight deck door, which was wide open  Laugh out loud, with all the instrumentation lit up, and several people visible inside who I took to be the pilots. I decided to seize my opportunity before the cabin became too crowded, and I climbed out of my seat and walked into the galley armed with my forms.

I handed my forms to a Flight Attendant who then passed them to a senior-looking colleague who I took to be the Inflight Services Manager. He read them through thoroughly, then said he would take them through to the flight deck and see if I could "come up and have a look"  Big thumbs up. He asked where I was seated and I explained. I returned to my seat and began setting up equipment for the flight. I set up my airband radio, tuning Heathrow Clearance on 121.975 which provided an interesting background commentary while I prepared the camera and the digital camcorder for departure photos/film. One problem with the upper deck is that there are two sheets of glass between you and the outside that are angled steeper than usual due to the curvature of the fuselage. Also, the window was covered in raindrops from the shower earlier which rather spoilt the view. At this point I looked up to find the Inflight Services Manager hovering by our row. "You can go into the cockpit," he said, "the door's open". Brilliant! With camera in hand I strode down the aisle and entered the cockpit.

The first thing that struck me was the size. There were four people in there, the captain and first officer, seated at their controls, and two people with fluorescent jackets on who looked like dispatchers although one had the BA logo on the back of his jacket. The flight deck felt cramped, even with the two jumpseats behind the captain and F/O. It seemed particularly small in the main cockpit area, the captain and F/O surrounded by the instruments. For the world's largest commercial airliner (for only a few months more  Sad) it had a remarkably small flight deck environment.

The dispatchers headed off, and I took the right hand jumpseat behind the F/O. I noticed my forms fastened to a clipboard. The captain laughed: "It's going to take half the night to fill that lot in." The instruments were all set up for departure, FMCs programmed and the SID (Standard Instrument Departure), Midhurst 3 Golf off 27L, brightly displayed on the navigation display: the F/O adjusted the range of his ND so I could see it all and showed me the charts fastened to the yokes. We talked a bit about the SID and speed restrictions, and how these days pilots are encouraged to turn the autopilot on as soon as possible after take off whereas in the past they would have hand flown the aircraft with LNAV and VNAV engaged following commands from the Flight Director. "There's a lot of small Airbuses around this place," said the captain, with a hint of condescension about "Airbus", "so when we get onto this radial" - indicating the Burnham QDR 165 degree radial, "ATC usually remove the speed restrictions and route us directly out to the Channel, they like to get us up and away quickly". We talked some more about the APU and the ACARS system, and the flight plan which routed us down the West coast of Africa for much of the flight. The westerly routings are new for SAA, slightly shorter and the airways are less busy. LH are also using them. When I thought it was time to head back to my seat, I said: "It's such a shame after 9/11 enthusiasts can't watch from the jumpseat during the flight" But the answer was inevitable. "I'm sorry, we can't let you in during flight. Some of our guys tried bending the rules a little and got into trouble," the F/O explained. I said I quite understood, and wished them a pleasant flight. "See you in the morning," said the captain. Then he leaned to the left of his seat so I could photograph the flight deck, which I did. Unfortunately the photos came out blurred, and I decided to have another go in the morning.

There’s sharper photos of the flight deck to come...

Back in my seat there were about 15 minutes to go till scheduled departure time. I pulled out my phone and was amazed to see a full signal, so I rang BA777 again to ask for tips about photographing cockpits. Then I prepared the Heathrow charts for taxi and departure.

Some minutes later the captain welcomed everyone aboard over the PA system, explaining the westerly routing over Africa but assuring us that he expected an on time arrival in JNB or even before schedule depending on ATC and the weather. He informed us that the seat belt signs would remain on slightly longer than usual after take off due to bad weather over the south of Britain. He also warned people to keep their seat belts loosely fastened when they went to sleep: there were usually some unpleasant weather patterns around the Equator which cause turbulence, and he wouldn't want the cabin crew to have to wake anyone up to put their seat belts on.

Everyone was now seated in the upper deck (totally full, as it mostly is on this very lucrative route) and the Airshow map displays located were lit up to show our position on a map, distance to destination, ETA, OAT, altitude, speed etc. At 19:25, 5 minutes before scheduled departure, the radio crackled into life as "Springbok 235" on 134 requested clearance to Johannesburg with information Hotel - this being the version of ATIS, the LHR automated weather/runways in use and advisory frequency. The ATIS is regularly updated in line with changing weather and each new update is given a new letter - Hotel for H. It is important for Clearance to know what version of ATIS the pilots have to make sure they are up to date.

This evening we were informed of a delayed slot due to weather at LHR, all aircraft were being held up by about 15 minutes due to "weather conditions". This information the captain repeated over the PA. "All systems are ready, the aircraft is fully set up, the only thing holding us back is the weather". He assured everyone that this would not affect our arrival in Johannesburg because we would simply fly faster to compensate. I'd had a similar delay with FI two years ago so it didn't bother me. At least we were not being delayed by a technical problem as had happened with SA229 to JNB last year, when we finally left LHR at 11pm, 1 1/2 hours' late.

Pushback clearance was given at 19:43 to push onto Bravo, the inner taxiway around the CTA. Soon the inflight safety video began to play. A minute later the cabin lights were dimmed and we began moving backwards; the journey to JNB had begun  Smile. Having pushed back onto Bravo, engines #3 and #4 were started up (the F/O explained on my forms that they start two at a time at sea level airfields). Then engines #1 and #2 were also started.

With all four RB211s on idle we remained stationary for five minutes before Ground issued the taxi clearance to 27L, which involved following Bravo around the Europier before picking up Uniform, crossing runway 23 to hold at ETTIV (one of the new holding point designators). No time to lose, the engines spooled up and we taxied as requested to the ETTIV holding point. 19:30 is a bit early for the evening "heavy" departure rush at LHR when most of the aircraft bound for Asia tend to leave and the only other widebodies departing were a BA 744 and 772. Instead for company we had European departures in the form of IB, LH and AF as well BD and - how did I guess? - some BA Airbuses. There were 3 aircraft ahead of us and reaching ETTIV we were handed over to the Tower on 118.50. "Springbok 235, after the Lufthansa three twenty-one departs, line up two seven left" was the instruction given.

We gradually moved forward in line until the A321 sped past us with a roar and I started the digital camcorder for the takeoff movie. The captain told the cabin crew to take up their positions for take off, and just turning onto 27L the clearance was given, with the wind 250 degrees at 9 knots. The engines powered up to the "Engines stabilised" point, then all the way forward to TO1 takeoff power and we began to roll down 27L. The acceleration was nothing like the bat out of hell 757 but to be expected for a highly loaded 747 with a large amount of fuel onboard. What struck me was the noise, or lack of it - from the upper deck the takeoff seemed incredibly quiet. We sped past T3 where the Asian heavies were just getting loaded up and began the rotation opposite Echo at 175 knots (wow, a fast VR speed!), fully airborne at 8:06pm beside the Delta taxiway which will form the east side of the second satellite of T5. We climbed out over the M25 and towards Windsor before a shallow left turn and then a steeper one to intercept the Burnham radial which the captain had shown me. Sure enough we were soon turning off the SID and the engines increasing in power. Within ten minutes, passing through various cloud layers, we had crossed the south coast, the seatbelt signs went out and the cabin lights came on. Half way across the Channel the Airshow displays indicated an altitude of 15 000 feet and as the IFE was switched on the cabin crew came around offering drinks. I had lemonade with ice  Laugh out loud.

By this time I had turned off my radio, the "Centre" frequencies not being particularly interesting and just eating up the batteries (although it is fun to know when your aircraft is going to change direction, etc). Instead I consulted the IFE guide which listed about 30 films, including Troy, Shrek 2 and The Day After Tomorrow. The PTVs use the Sony P@ssport system which allows you to stop and start the film you are watching at leisure. I went to the films menu on the PTV - there were six listed  Sad, the only well known one being the excellent Spider Man 2. But I was keen for something new so I chose "The Clearing" and began to watch. About an hour after takeoff and over central France the FAs came around with supper, a chicken main course with some sort of ice cream desert, a salad side tray, bread, mineral water and a chocolate. It was tasty without being stunningly impressive for Y class, but generally a good meal. By the time I was through it we were crossing into the Mediterranean over the VOR at BCN.

Supper time.

"The Clearing" was over in an hour and a half. I decided it was time to catch some sleep, being nearly 11pm UK time and knowing breakfast would be served at around 4:30am UK time next morning. But before doing so, browsing through the menus on the PTV I noticed a flight position program, which is a kind of mini Airshow, still depicting the aircraft's position on a map. Here's a shot just before I settled down:

Now it was time to sleep, and I pulled out the blanket and pillow provided, took off my shoes and pulled on the special socks also supplied. Then I reclined the seat back as far as it would go, not worrying about the person behind because we were on the last row, and was asleep 15 minutes later. My night was rather disjointed since I was woken at 2am by my brother playing Space Invaders on the PTV, hmm. Also during the night I recall the seatbelt signs being turned on and some considerable turbulence. But I was pleased to get a fair amount of sleep, and the extra 3 inches of legroom and the quieter atmosphere on the upper deck made sleeping considerably easier than last year's JNB trip right behind the 742's engines on the main deck.

When I woke up everyone else was having breakfast and had several drinks on their trays and it was quite light outside, as you can see from this shot.

Beautiful sunrise, just love the glow in #3 engine.

I saw on the Airshow that we were about 1 and a half hours out of JNB. An arrival was predicted of 7:08 am South Africa time, which would mean a flight duration of just over 10 hours instead of the scheduled 11, impressive work by the FMC... At this point an FA came along with the breakfast tray - "Ah, I see you're awake now," she smiled and handed me my tray. It contained a hot English breakfast with sausage, egg and potatoes, a carton of orange juice, a bread roll with jam and butter, and a tray of fruit, really enjoyable after a 5 hour rest.

Tasty breakfast.

When I had finished the sun was fully risen and I pulled out my clipboard where I had scribbled down the frequencies supplied by a.net user SA006. The first on my list was Gaborone Center for the cruise over Botswana, but this just hissed. Instead I tuned the Johannesburg Area North frequency on 126.7 and turned on the squelch to mask background noise. Meanwhile I checked the camera and set it up for the approach shots along with the camcorder. Ten minutes later the captain was on the PA system informing us that we would be arriving in JNB ahead of schedule, the temperature 15 degrees, clear skies and no wind (I bet  Big grin). We would be starting our descent shortly.

It was very obvious when descent began, the engine noise lowered and the wings visibly pitched down. Some minutes later I was delighted to hear the radio crackle into life as Springbok 235 made her first contact with Johannesburg. Further descent clearance was given down to eventually FL170 when we switched frequencies to one not on SA006's list. Quickly I typed in the new frequency, just in time to hear the captain acknowledging: "One five zero for zero three right". Problem - 03R and I was sitting on the right hand side which would give me no view of the airport. Luckily I was able to swap with my brother at the other window seat, 87A before the seatbelt signs came on. The descent seemed quicker, which it is bearing in mind that Johannesburg has an elevation of about 5,500 feet AMSL.

Downwind for 03R.

Soon the dry plains and rivers gave way to busy roads and housing areas as we routed from the Hartbees VOR downwind of JNB on the STAR. The visibility, typical for Johannesburg, was hazy and I could not see the airport although it lay not far to the east. As the leading edge flaps were lowered the captain informed us that we were beginning the approach and the seatbelt signs came on. Radar routed us very low as we came downwind and over the house of SA006, who was just about to leave to photograph me landing on 03R. However, because we were early, there would be no time, so Zak photographed SAZ from his house instead. So here’s the photo on a.net with the caption to prove, I’m really chuffed. Thanks Zak!

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Click here for bigger photo!

Photo © Zak Economides

Johannesburg Radar vectored us some miles south of JNB before we turned east onto the "base leg" and then north to intercept the localiser for 03R. I love the approach onto the 03s at JNB, the scenery is so different to the UK with much dryer landscapes, huge factories and suburbs and the Johannesburg haze. As we made the final turn for the localiser I looked north and could just make out 03L, looking like a black slab of asphalt amongst the urban areas and the yellowed landscape around JNB.

Perhaps some Jo’burg locals could identify this area?

Turning onto finals over an industrial area

Look at the top right of this photo, 03L is just visible through the haze as a grey line.

Now I turned on the camcorder as the undercarriage was lowered and we established on final approach, the shadow of ZS-SAZ visible below and getting larger as we lost altitude. I quickly adjusted frequencies to the tower where our landing clearance was issued, with, surprise surprise, some wind, 060 degrees at 5 knots. Now we flew low over housing areas, and then over the final busy freeways and factories. At an altitude of surely not more than 500 feet the throttles spooled up slightly and I wondered if we were a touch low on the glideslope. But soon we were over the runway, flaring in typical 747 style.

We touched down slightly late I thought and, applying bursts of autobrakes and reverse, slowed to a halt at the fascinating airport that is JNB, apparently the busiest in the southern hemisphere. I could see many Antonovs and other unusual types parked on the main taxiway crossing the field and in the distance the terminal buildings. A Comair 737-200 was rotating off 03L and turning off the runway I could already make out the silhouette of an SAA A340-600 following us in on approach operating SA 261 from FRA. We had used up a lot of tarmac and were now given a taxi clearance along Hotel which loops round the field past the control tower, over the control tower access road and comes out opposite the Delta apron by 03L. It was a long taxi but a great route to take, particularly crossing the road. I was delighted to see an SA A319 departing, SAA having received their first only recently.

BA 55 from LHR on finals for 03R behind the tower.

Tower gave us permission to cross straight over 03L where a 1Time DC-9 was lining up at the end, as you can see here.

The SA A346 had landed and I now saw a BA 744 on short finals for 03R operating BA 055 from LHR. JNB has its morning heavy rush too!

Having crossed 03L we taxied back down Alpha to the main apron where there was an SAA 342 on the remote Bravo stands along with various short haul SAA, Comair, Nationwide and Kulula aircraft, typical JNB style. The most interesting long haul types were a CX 343 and an SQ 772.

9V-SVO is on A4.

We pulled up on Alpha 8, the engines were shut down and the airbridge docked. But I was not going anywhere for the moment  Big grin.

Engines shut down, on A8 at JNB.

ZS-SJL, 737-800, beside us on A10.

While all the other passengers from the upper deck filed out, my family waited, packing up everything, sorting out young children, etc... After a few minutes the cockpit door opened and the captain emerged. By this time I was almost completed packing up. He stopped half way down the aisle, winked at me and pointed in the direction of the flight deck. I clambered out into the aisle with my camera and, this time, my father  Big grin, a very experienced photographer. As we headed down the aisle the F/O came out of the door with my forms plus another sheet; he handed me all of them, explaining that the last sheet contained our flight plan, being too long to write out. It was infact very interesting, temperature summaries at different waypoints as well as the flight plan, and the list of ATC FIRs we should pass through which had been crossed off as they were contacted. I thanked then asked the captain if it was alright to try another photo of the flight deck. It was, he said, but "you'll need to be quick, as we're all going to Durban". So in we rushed, and my father took some excellent photos of the flight deck, and one with me in the captain’s seat  Big thumbs up.

After we had taken the photos we followed the F/O out of the cockpit, through the cabin and downstairs and I asked him a bit more about what actions to take towards a career as a pilot. We walked through the business cabin with the lie flat seats always on SA235/234 which have won SAA the best business class award from Skytrax. The airbridge was attached to the forward door this time. We met up with the rest of the family outside the airbridge and followed the signs for terminal A2 arrivals, which handles mostly the SAA flights. I noticed on the right a tiny window through which SAZ's nose was visible and I tried a photo, though really the window is to blame for the quality of this!

Arriving in the passport control area we met the worst queues I have ever known for immigration. The entire area was crammed full of international passengers, all queuing for entry into South Africa. They were from the three SAA flights that had arrived in quick succession from GRU, LHR and FRA, and there must have been around 600 people queuing. Worst of all, the processing by the customs officials was extremely slow, taking usually around five minutes per group, only a little less for a single person. Imagine how long it was taking when there were only around 10 customs desks! Even South African citizens were processed very slowly.

Fortunately for us, or else we would have been there for several hours, the benefits of younger siblings were made clear  Smile. When my youngest brother, aged 2 and a half, began to wail, we were quickly ushered out by an official and put in a queue marked "Passengers with special disabilities", hmm... There were only 2 groups ahead of us, although they took 10 minutes to be processed. To give an example, an American lady who had transited through ORD and FRA already to get to SA with several children aged about nine, asked the official if she could join our queue. She had been waiting in line for an hour and had barely moved. After very much enjoying the landing and view of JNB from airside, I was not impressed with this transit to landside. I had not noticed anything like this at JNB last year, but then we landed at 11am. Perhaps this time we were just caught in the early morning rush?

After passing through immigration it was no surprise to find our bags waiting on carousel number 2 along with most other people’s, who were still in the passport queue and would be for some hours at this rate. We followed the signs for “Nothing to declare” and emerged in the international arrivals area where an orange overalled porter was only too happy to take us to the car hire offices. An hour later we were heading south on the N3 towards Drakensberg. There were a few aircraft overhead lined up on the 03R approach as we had done in ZS-SAZ some hours previously.

A brief interlude… bush flying in SA

During my incredible two week holiday in the country we spent three nights at a bush lodge called Djuma on a game reserve bordering the Kruger National Park. The days I spent at Djuma were the most enjoyable I’ve ever known on a holiday for a variety of reasons. Many of the visitors to the bush lodges actually fly in to the small airstrips in the bush. They tend to be ferried in by charter companies from the nearby brand new Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, MQP, (called KMIA by the South Africans for short, which might cause some confusion with the ICAO code of a certain busier airport in Florida  Big grin). So many visitors fly LHR-JNB-MQP and then onwards to a bush lodge. Unfortunately we were not amongst these  Sad.

One night at our lodge some guests arrived who had flown in, along with their pilot who would be spending the night at the lodge before taking some other visitors back to KRU the following morning. The pilot was a remarkable person named Louw. So at supper we became engaged in conversation about bush flying and general flying in SA. For example, he encouraged me to come and train in SA: it’s much cheaper to train for a PPL in SA than in the UK. He had some strong views on SAA’s choice of switching to Airbus for their fleet  Big grin, in fact strong views on Airbuses in general. He also said that SAA are not happy with the performance of the A340-600, as has been mentioned on here in the past.

Next morning I hitched a ride from the lodge with him and his passengers to the airstrip they use, which is called Chitwa Chitwa Safari. The runway is sloped upwards for the first 250 metres before it levels out. At the end of the runway was parked his Cherokee 6, which had just been left there overnight. I took some photos of the aircraft as they put all the luggage in and took their seats.

The Cherokee 6, ZS-MSO. Louw is in the back checking the seating arrangements. Temperature was 34 degrees Celsius  Laugh out loud.

There was a pre-flight briefing for the passengers with a difference: “if I tell you to open the left door in the middle of the flight, open it!” and “if we’re not airborne halfway down the runway, we start throwing out the bags”. Then I drove back up with the lodge vehicle to the point where the aircraft usually rotates and stood outside with the camera. Here they are, off to Kruger:

After he had taken off, Louw turned the Cherokee through 270 degrees and made a low level pass over the strip, waggling the wings before turning towards MQP Big grin. I was amazed at how relaxed the attitude to flying is in the bush. Long may it last, Louw!

General flight information
Captain: Robert Knowles, based @ JNB First Officer: K. du Plessis, based @ JNB
Aircraft: 747-444
Registration: ZS-SAZ (engines RB211), selcal ID: LS-QR
Passengers: 334 JNB stand: A2 LHR stand: 125
Nautical mileage: 4984nm Trip wind component: +16 kts
Cruise FLs: FL310/350/360 Cruise Mach/TAS: M0.85/503 kts

Estimated flight time: 10 hours 4 minutes Actual flight time: 10 hours 45 minutes
Estimated LHR arrival: 0600Z
JNB blocks off: 1944Z JNB engine start: 1944Z
JNB taxi: 1951Z JNB airborne: 2001Z
LHRB actual arrival: 0646Z LHR blocks on: 0651Z

Departure information
Runway: 03L Departure taxiways: Echo, Alpha Holding point: 03L west hold
Forecast wind: 130 degrees/16 kts Takeoff flaps: 20
Takeoff OAT: 13 degrees Celsius Takeoff EPR: 1.77 QNH: 1028 mb
V1: 149 kts VR: 169 kts V2: 178 kts
SID: ELAND 7A Engine start order: 4,3,2,1

Arrival information
Runway: 09L Forecast wind: 040 degrees/5 kts Landing flaps: 30
Autobrakes: 2 Clean speed: 226 kts
MDA: 51 ft RA
Flap 30 VREF: 146 kts
STAB TRIM: 6.6 degrees UP Approach: ILS CAT 3B Landing: Autoland QNH: 1010 mb
Arrival taxiways: Alpha 5, Alpha, Kilo, Bravo, Juliet STAR: BIG 3B

Takeoff weight: 369 105 kgs ZFW: 241 105 kgs Landing weight: 255 205 kgs
Max landing weight: 285 763 kgs
Trip fuel: 108 840 kgs Diversion fuel (to furthest alternate EHAM): 7 480 kgs
Reserve fuel: 4 350 kgs Taxi fuel: 1 000 kgs Fuel on takeoff: 128 100 kgs Actual fuel burn: 115 700 kgs

Flight plan
Alternates: EHAM (Amsterdam), EGCC (Manchester), EGBB (Birmingham)

Flight plan again. The downwind/base/finals at LHR is a bit of guesswork since the STAR terminates at Biggin. Aircraft are taken under radar vectors for the approach.

From the Cherokee 6 to the 747-400… after undoubtedly the greatest holiday I have ever known, it was time to head back to JNB and return home. The afternoon of 30th October saw us driving west on the N12 towards Johannesburg and the airport. I had been busy texting SA006 to arrange a meet up at check in, but unfortunately this was not possible, till next time Zak! We drove in to the south of JNB and tuning the tower I heard that, as usual, the 03s were in use. This was late Saturday afternoon when there are less movements than normal so 03R was not in operation. All arrivals were using 03L, which consisted of an SA Express CRJ and an SAA 737-800 as we drove under the approach path.

Having returned the car we followed the signs to the international departures area. Without fail the airports I have used in South Africa have been spacious, modern and stylish and this was no exception, the check in area well signposted and lit up. Compared to LHR T2 check in… Most international departures at this time were the evening rush to Europe, five flights to LHR from BA, SAA and VS, others to FRA, CDG, MAD etc and also CAI with MS.

The system in use for check in was also very efficient. Before going to any check in desk passengers move into pens where at a desk all passports and tickets are checked and entered into the computer. Then you are moved over a ramp which is actually a weighing scales where the luggage weight is checked against what is allowed. This avoids any luggage weight disputes at check in. After this we proceeded to the check in desks where queues are very short, and the check in process is now a lot quicker. Finally, the baggage is moved along a conveyor belt behind the desk into a lift which takes it up out of sight, meaning we were able to walk through behind the desks to the corridor leading to passport control.

Boarding pass again.

Passport control was of course quicker than arriving but there could have been more desks open. The security process was relatively fast and we were soon in the departures lounge, which runs right along gates 3 to 7, packed with shops, high ceilings, clearly signposted and with an abundance of windows  Smile. However, the windows are not ideally positioned. If you look at the photos of the international terminal you’ll see the triangular areas jutting out of the terminal overlooking the apron. Unfortunately they are not gate areas but mostly full of shops or worse, restaurants. So, spotting was not as easy as I’d hoped. I saw an MS A342 further along the apron which I’m told by Horus was lucky, since MS have from November begun to operate the A332s on that route. As for getting close up, clambering behind some clothes hangars I was able to take this photo of G-BNLA operating BA 56 to LHR. Behind, on A4, is the VS A340-300 operating VS602 to LHR, a flight I’m very familiar with on flight simulator (see my website).

After doing some shopping it was time to head to the gate which was marked on the boards and the boarding passes as gate 2, corresponding to stand A2. I was hoping for a nice glass view of our aircraft like at CPT last year, but it was not to be. Gate 2 was in the middle of the corridor leading to gate 1 and there were not even any chairs to sit on. We were at the northern end of the terminal where the stands are orientated southerly instead of westerly, and they are not accessed from the main departure lounge, so no windows.

Boarding time was scheduled for 20:10 (departure being at 21:05), but this time came and went. The area was soon packed with people waiting to board (334 passengers) and wondering what the delay was. The gate agents were not helping the situation by sitting around laughing to each other and they did not offer any explanation of what was going on. Finally, at 20:40, they stood up and we began to board. There was no priority for families with young children but it didn’t matter since we were quite near the front.

After a long walk down another curving corridor and then onto the airbridge, past an AF 744 boarding for CDG, I found myself on board the 747-400 – but which one? The Inflight Services Manager greeted us pleasantly and indicated in the direction of the top deck. As usual, we were boarding through door number 2, behind the business and first class cabins. We climbed the stairs and entered the upper deck. This time I took 87A to get the best view of JNB on departure from 03L.

Again, it was time to present my forms to the cabin crew and see about visiting the flight deck, this time the door was shut. I approached the two FAs at the back of the cabin who were very friendly. They had a look through the forms and covering notes, and one said “Is this for your logbook?”. I explained my ambition to pursue a career as a pilot and she asked how many hours I had towards my PPL, etc. They said they would hand the forms in as soon as possible, but visiting the flight deck was up to the captain, some were nicer than others. I said there had been no problem on the way, and she said yes, but not to get your hopes up! I wondered if this was a hint that the captain was not as friendly as some.

A few minutes later and back in my seat, I saw one of the FAs going into the flight deck with my forms. The door was opened and closed behind her! Meanwhile I had a look out of the window. The AF 744 was beside us on A3, then the VS 343, then G-BNLA. After a few minutes I noticed the FA leaving the flight deck and heading back to my row. “He says you can go in,” she said, “Quickly”. It seemed like my forms had done the trick.

On the flight deck this time were all three pilots: captain, F/O and relief pilot. The captain looked older and slightly flustered, the two others were younger. The F/O was sitting on the right jumpseat going through the flight plan with a highlighter pen, the relief pilot was looking at my forms in the F/O’s seat. I noticed from the manuals on the wall that this was ZS-SAZ – again!

The captain shook hands and introduced himself as Robert Knowles. He first explained about the delay in boarding. The new westerly routing combined with a tail wind meant a 10 hour 5 minute flight against the scheduled 11 hours. To further knock down the time the UK was switching to GMT at midnight, which meant another hour gained. There’s a curfew at LHR for most airlines which means they aren’t allowed in before 6am. Furthermore, if they do turn up before 6, not only is it into the hold but also a hefty fine for the airline. So, to arrive after 6am GMT because of the change in time zones, we couldn’t leave JNB any earlier than 10pm local time. Thus the delay in boarding, and also there’d be a delay in leaving.

Next we ran through the FMC, where he showed me that each flight plan has its own code. By putting the code into the FMC the route is automatically loaded into the FMC from the SAA database. The legs page shows each leg, which is basically an airway, the route page shows all the waypoints. We scrolled through to the last page where just ALESO and then EGLL were shown. They don’t fill in the STAR or landing runway until ATC supply it. I saw ELAND 7A on the flight plan, “Ah yes,” I said “That’s the SID?”. “No, no,” said the captain, “It’s the departure.” Right  Nuts

I asked which runway they were expecting to land on. The captain said it would probably be a 27 looking at the TAF for Heathrow which was giving a northerly wind. Whether it was 27L or 27R he could not tell. He said that usually, arriving just after 6am ATC can slot the flight directly onto final approach without any holding, and if possible will give them 27R because it is nearer the stand at terminal 1. However for that Sunday morning the main landing runway would be 27L due to the way they swap round from week to week. There was fog forecast tomorrow morning which he said would probably mean an autoland, ILS CAT3B, which can cope with an RVR (runway visual range) of 75 feet. So, he said, whatever runway we use, the likelihood was I would not see much anyway!

I then asked if I could take some photos of the flight deck which they were more than happy to allow. Just as I pulled the camera out the door opened and the Inflight Services Manager came in. “Good evening guys,” he said, not the slightest bit surprised at my presence. He looked anxious and explained that the IFE was not working and probably would not fu
Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 3:08 am

JAXpax: I really doubt it matters while they're on the ground at the gate. Just as you can still use a cellphone during the boarding process.

LHR27C: Fantastic report buddy. I've always wanted to visit South Africa, and SAA looks like the way to go. Keep up the excellent work!

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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 3:33 am

What can I say....fantastic trip report (and great photos) Oliver....how long did it take you to write it?


EGYPT: A 7,000 Year Old Civilisation
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 4:41 am

Really excellent flight report - congratulations!

The more detail, the better! Big grin And great pics!

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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 4:52 am

Excellent trip report Oliver-it took me 15 mins to read it
Wonder how long u took to write it???
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 5:13 am

Fantastic work - but I think the final paragraphs may have been cut off. I'm not showing anything after you visited the cockpit on the return flight. Could you perhaps post the second half of the trip as a reply to this thread?

Otherwise, excellent job! One of the best I've read.
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 5:15 am

Great report Oliver  Big thumbs up

I know Captain Raubenheimer , he is a very nice guy and gave me a jumpseat when I was 6  Big grin .

Pity I didn't get to meet you! Glad you like the pic I took Big grin .

How did you get these "forms"? I mean , I can get jumpseats on SAA through my mother but I am interested to know.

Rgds  Smile/happy/getting dizzy
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 5:19 am

Oh yeh and you were really early! I think you missed the controller saying he gave you no speed restrcitions  Nuts  Laugh out loud

Gotta hate ATNS...they did the same to a flight my mother was on once thus making me miss it  Smile

By the way you realise you showed the same picture 3 times? (Morning sunrise wing shot)  Big grin


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Topic Author
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 6:14 am

Sorry guys, looks like a.net cut off the bottom of the report! There's plenty more here. My apologies to all who missed it. Here we are again:

(Arguably SA234 is the most important flight on SAA’s network) It clearly was not his day! The Services Manager looked even more uncomfortable, and said he’d try rebooting it, like your home computer. “Well,” said the captain, “I’m not starting engines for 45 minutes, so there’s time to get someone to have a look at it.”

During this time I was busy taking photographs, some quite successfully since I leant the camera on the back of the captain’s seat. When the ISM left I decided to leave too. The captain said I must return in the morning after engine shut down, because “we’ve got lots of sheets we can give you which otherwise go in the bin”. He apologised for not being able to let me in during the flight.

This is more like it! Taken leaning against the captain’s seat, the F/O has a JNB airfield plan fastened to the yoke. The left hand FMC has is on the last route page as the captain showed me with just ALESO before EGLL, no STAR or runway yet.

Back in my seat there was still a good 40 minutes to go until pushback, so I set up my airband radio, tuned JNB clearance and prepared the cameras for takeoff. The AF 744 had now pushed back, and a few minutes later a KLM 744 arrived and took its place. Photography was really very awkward, the cabin lights reflecting off both panes of glass so there was no point trying. Instead I read the Sawubona SAA inflight magazine. Interestingly, the A346 now seems to have become SAA’s flagship from the publicity point of view. There was a page of information on the fleet which, for a magazine dated October 2004, still had the 747-300 listed there. There was also the A319, which seemed to have sprouted winglets in this magazine.

Everyone seated, but we’re not going anywhere until 21:45.

At about 21:40 we requested clearance and then began the push at 21:45 as the captain had said. Being on the left hand side I was almost directly above the airbridge and I noticed it being retracted as the ISM called for all doors to automatic. We pushed back to face north. By this time both BA flights had left (BA can land earlier than 6am), while we, the first SA LHR-bound flight, were still on the ground without a working IFE. Not good for SAA’s “premier flight”! It seemed the Airshow screens had given up as well; the ISM conducted the safety demonstration over the PA system.

Soon the RB211s were whirring up and the crew requested taxi clearance from JNB Ground. With cabin lights dimmed, we taxied north onto Echo and then down Alpha, past the terminal complex, to the 03L holding point. There were no other aircraft around and the tower issued immediate line up and takeoff clearance, the wind 130 degrees 16 knots. That’s a very nasty wind to takeoff from a runway orientated 030 degrees, not only a crosswind but also against the runway direction. It would have been better to leave from 21R, and the effect of the wind was noticeable in the takeoff. As we turned onto 03L I saw the runway lights stretching into the distance: 03L is 4,418 metres long.

As usual the throttles were advanced to the engines stabilised point, and then all the way forward. Again, I was surprised how little noise there was on the upper deck. The very high elevation of JNB means long takeoff rolls and this was no exception: acceleration to the VR speed of 169 knots was to say the least modest. We were fully airborne with 4000 metres of strip used up, compared to under 3000 with ZS-SAW from CPT-LHR last year.

We climbed out over Sandton and the lights of the Johannesburg suburbs and soon made a left turn onto 310 degrees to intercept the 345 degree radial from the JSV VOR to the ELAND waypoint. After ELAND we routed directly to the Hartbees VOR and thence onwards towards Botswana.

Some 10 minutes after takeoff the cabin lights came on, seat belt signs were turned off and the FAs came around with drinks. They were really excellent, very relaxed and friendly and definitely the best I have had on SAA. They offered me two drinks, one to have with the meal  Smile.

About 20 minutes after take off, and with Gauteng far behind, the captain came on the PA. We were cruising at 31 000 feet and would soon be crossing the border into Botswana. He described the westerly routing in detail and then wished everyone an enjoyable night. Soon after the ISM came on to say he would be starting the IFE soon. Did this mean it would work after all? I was full of optimism but unfortunately this was unfounded. Supper was served about 45 minutes after take off, this time the choice was chicken or lamb and I chose chicken: the same sort of standard of Y class meal as SA235 with chicken breast, rice and carrots. As I was settling into the chocolate pudding the ISM came on again to “apologise to those passengers who were wanting in flight entertainment” but he was still trying to reboot the system. After supper he came on again to say they were giving up and further apologised. Infact it didn’t bother me too much as I wanted a good night’s sleep but what annoyed me was how deceptive he had been. 45 minutes before we left JNB he knew that the IFE wasn’t working, yet chose to pretend it was until the very last moment. Not good.

The handy compartment for those with window seats, very useful for stowing cameras/rucksack in.

It was now about 11:30pm SA time and after putting back my watch the two hours necessary for UK time I settled down to sleep. I slept for about 6 ½ hours awaking before breakfast to find the FAs coming round with refresher towels and orange juice. It was very refreshing. Soon, they came around with breakfast which was also tasty, very similar to the way out, and bread was handed out in a basket.

After breakfast it was still pitch black outside the window. I guessed from the lights below that we were somewhere over the middle of France. I climbed out of my seat and walked to the back of the cabin to photograph it, and also down the stairs. The FAs didn’t mind at all.

Cabin in flight.

Down the stairs, looking towards the back of the biz cabin.

Back in my seat it was time to prepare for the approach and I was still guessing which runway we would use. I packed away all the overnight items and removed both cameras. Soon we passed the northern coast of France, inbound on the BIG3B STAR to LHR, and the captain came on the PA system to say we had started our descent. The weather in London had improved but there was still low cloud. He still expected to land at about 6:05am.

After another 10 minutes the ground was getting nearer and I saw the lights of the English coast passing by. There was a glimmer of light now on the horizon. Approaching the Biggin Hill VOR the captain was back on the PA system to say we would be holding for about 10 minutes, but still arriving ahead of schedule. Now I tuned Heathrow Director on 120.40. Director is the frequency that takes inbound aircraft in two streams, a southerly one from Ockham/Biggin holds and a northerly from Bovingdon/Lambourne holds and establishes them on the ILS for whichever runway in use. It’s the best frequency to listen out to if you are a little way away from LHR and want to find out the landing runway. Here, to my delight, I learnt that neither 27 was in use, but 09L. We would be landing from the west and for this I needed a right window seat. So, I swapped sides. I continued to monitor the approach frequencies although I did not know which was for the BIG hold. I did pick up Lambourne, which is for aircraft inbound from the east/north east, at this time of the morning mostly heavies from Asia.

Soon we entered the hold and began to orbit. It was now getting brighter, but there was full cloud cover as the captain had said and it looked to be at around 1500 feet, so we were very high above it, entering the hold at at least FL120 (12 000 feet). There were many other aircraft in the pattern and others visible in the distance. It became clear that we were in a tier and descending gradually with aircraft above and below at 1 000 feet separation.

Holding at Biggin. The two aircraft to the right are both in the hold as well at higher levels.

We made six orbits of Biggin in total, taking about 30 minutes which the captain later said was the longest holding time he had known for some years – it cost SAA around 3000 kg of fuel. When we eventually exited the hold we still had to fly downwind of LHR for a good 40 miles before turning for the 09L approach, being in a pattern to the south east of Heathrow that favours an easterly approach onto the 27s. Nonetheless it was all good fun for me and I was busy with the camera as the clouds grew nearer. The cabin lights were turned off and the cabin crew took their landing positions as I swapped back to Director.

Downwind of LHR, down go the leading edge slats.

Soon the leading edge slats were lowered and we turned north towards the final approach fix for 09L. Springbok 234 made contact with Director, and we made a series of turns and descents to align ourselves with the localiser and glideslope for 09L. There were five other aircraft on the same frequency, a CY 332 from Larnaca immediately behind us.

It was usual talk on Director, “right turn heading zero five zero to intercept localiser zero nine left, call me when established” sort of thing. With localiser intercepted the crew reported back and we descended on the ILS, with the standard instruction of maintaining 160 knots till 4 DME (4 nautical miles from 09L threshold) to keep the approach spacing. The rest of the flaps were lowered along with the gear and we descended into the thick cloud. It seemed to me that we were still in cloud when cleared to land by the tower with the wind 040 degrees at 5 knots.

Fully established on 09L with the flaps lowered. About to enter the thick cloud layer.

We emerged over the reservoirs west of LHR that you see when driving in on the M4, and then over some of the large building areas that I think are T5 remote building sites. Then, finally, over the M25 and down past the enormous construction area for T5 to hit the ground on 09L bang on the TDZE – this was a full CAT 3B autoland taking place and it must be said, the autoflight systems nailed it to perfection. We braked past a 747SP on 161 (a stand nowhere near T1 but part of the new inner taxiway on the northern edge of T5), and the Thai Star Alliance c/s 744 taxiing at T3. Most interesting of all was the new LHR tower in position at T3, of course very short at the moment but it will progressively be jacked up to its final height. Usual stuff on T3 and T1, with the Star Alliance 747 and an EK A332 taxiing in.

We exited at link A5 and looking back I could see the runway lights stretching away into the fog. After a minute or two I saw the beautiful shape of the CY 332 which had landed braking to a halt with reverse and turning off at A7. I also saw that an SAA 744 had already arrived, presumably SA 220 from CPT, and was parked at 134. On instruction from Heathrow Ground we took Bravo back up and into Juliet to park on 125, just like ZS-SAW from CPT last year.

Approaching 125 at the end of hour 10 our 45 minute trip.

A few minutes later the CY 332, 5B-DBS, parked alongside us on 123. The A330 really is the most beautiful widebody. Here it is:

After a short delay due to the parking guidance system malfunctioning, the airbridge docked and everyone began to leave. Again, we waited to let everyone else out and then I headed for the flight deck where the relief pilot was busy filling in the remaining blanks of my forms. “That was 09L,” said the captain. He said usually when they come in at 6am there isn’t much around, “but today there were millions of them”. I think it may have something to do with Sunday being the day the clocks change: overnight heavies were timetabled to leave when the UK was still in BST and the time change occurred when they were in the air, so they all arrived very close to 6am and LHR became very crowded.

I briefly asked a little about a career as a pilot, A level subjects, university degrees etc, and he wished me good luck. Then they handed over the forms along with the wind/temperature summary, a detailed flightplan and some printed ACARS messages containing METARs and TAFs. I thanked all the crew for their help and then headed out of the aircraft, again using door 1 for deboarding.

Immigration in the UK was very quick and efficient, indeed the JNB customs officials should learn a thing or two from them. The passports were very quickly swiped through a machine and there were many more desks open. We collected the bags and were soon on our way out of LHR.

Thoughts on SAA

SA235 from a passenger point of view was a good flight: arrived early, decent food and IFE, relatively friendly crew and taking off from LHR just 30 minutes after scheduled departure, which believe me is very good for a Friday evening! SA234 from a passenger’s point of view was not satisfactory, there’s hot competition on that route and a flight that left 1 hour late and did not have working IFE would not rank very highly. However, the cabin crew were extremely friendly and some of the best I’ve had.

However, from an aviation enthusiast’s point of view, I couldn’t beat the arrangement we had: top deck seating, all the way across giving that very rare opportunity to swap sides for the best view on a widebody aircraft. Also I know that being on the top deck helped tremendously in getting into the flight deck (last year on the main deck, the FAs weren’t interested), and SAA is one of the only airlines you can do this in Y class.

Overall from a service point of view I would give SAA 8/10 based on my experiences: good IFE, decent food and sometimes, excellent cabin crew. They still don’t quite meet BA’s prestigious service levels. Nonetheless, in terms of cabin comfort the upper deck with SAA is surely the nicest Y class seating available on UK-South Africa flights, thinking about the seat pitch and noise reduction. Most of all, when we booked SAA were actually cheaper than BA and VS, and for the same price as normal Y class we received seating standards that are half way between economy and premium economy and a reduction in noise which neither WTP or PE can match.

From an aviation point of view, definitely 10/10. Interesting approaches and runways, fantastic opportunity for photography and film and visits to the flight deck before and after both flights. These were some of my most enjoyable flights for many years as an aviation enthusiast, now all I need is to fly in the light  Big grin. Look out for TRs of OA to ATH next February, and BA to FRA in April…

Movies – including sound!

These were what delayed the TR coming online. After some consideration I have decided just to include the approaches and JNB takeoff for the sake of my 100MB space limit on my server. I have the LHR takeoff to email if anyone wants it. To be honest it’s nothing special: pitch black with only lights flashing past. The JNB one is a bit easier to see and also, there’s the sound of a full blown RB211 takeoff  Smile. The best movie is the landing on 03L, the sun was fully risen then, and the LHR landing isn’t bad but out of focus at times, our 30 minutes holding had given the sun time to rise a little.

All movies zipped up, in WMV format (you’ll need Windows Media Player, and don’t forget to turn the speakers on)

Landing 03R 16th October 2004:
http://www.sleath.co.uk/aviation/tripreports/SA004/movies/ARRJNB03R.zip (15 MB)
Takeoff 03L 30th October 2004:
http://www.sleath.co.uk/aviation/tripreports/SA004/movies/DEPJNB03L.zip (7 MB)
Landing 09L 31st October 2004:
http://www.sleath.co.uk/aviation/tripreports/SA004/movies/ARRLHR09L.zip (9 MB)

Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
Topic Author
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Wed Nov 10, 2004 6:19 am

And the other pics that were the same:


Downwind of JNB
Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 6:33 am

Excellent report. Great pics and nice detail. The links for me are not working though.
Newark Airport...My Home Away From Home
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 6:47 am

Splendid report! One of the best on this forum, great photos and a lot of interesting info about your flights with South African.

Thank you for writing down this looooooong report!
"He was a wise man who invented beer"-Platon
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 6:54 am

great report - got to go and sit in a dark room now to let my eyes recover. Well written and great pics!!
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 7:13 am

Great report!! Good pics.

Videos dont work though.
Support the beer and soda can industry, your recycle old airplanes!
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 7:31 am

Excellent report Oliver!  Big thumbs up

That has to be one of the best reports I have ever read on this forum!

I liked the detail you went into, especially the technical data. I have flown into JNB quite a few times myself, and I agree its a pretty special airport.

Glad to see that you had a great holiday in South Africa! Big grin

Kind Regards
Topic Author
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Wed Nov 10, 2004 8:22 am

Thanks for the comments.

Movies, try these:




Again my apologies, there has just been so many links to keep track of. It seems I put the wrong folder name (SA004 when it should have been SA04).

Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 10:54 am

Wow, Oliver - what an incredible report. Some (ok, lots) of the technical references were a bit over my head, but really interesting nonetheless. Great writing as well. I'm sure you'll be a pilot someday - between your passion & knowledge and the young age you're starting to pursue it from. Good Luck!

··· [·] oooooooo [·] oooo oo ooooo [·] ooooooooooooooooooo [·]
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 11:28 am

Full Marks !!!

Well done. Took a long time to read, but well worth it  Smile

Andreas  Big thumbs up
I am so smart, i am so smart... S-M-R-T... i mean S-M-A-R-T
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 12:18 pm


Nice pics mate!!! i really enjoyed reading your TR! Glad to know that you got to travel in the top deck! I've always wanted to do that!

It took me about 15-20 minutes to read!
Leo/ORD -- Groetjes uit de VS! -- Heeft u laatst nog met KLM gevlogen?
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Wed Nov 10, 2004 12:22 pm

Excellent trip report, if you ask me to vote the best trip report ! I will vote for this one , why ? Complete details from technical , description and highlights of the flights. Enjoy reading your report very much, I wished I am as lucky as you to get cockpit visits ! I do have a fair share of cockpit visits and rejects but can't complain .  Smile
Airliners is the wings of my life.
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 12:27 pm

Fantastic trip report LHR27C.
Will look forward to your next one.
Regards, DS
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 3:01 pm

Nice read hope for another one some time!
He just ate the big one! Hog!...get away from that thing!! Just get away from it!
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 5:59 pm

Brilliant! Great report and fantastic pix ,hope u had fun!
cheers bAe146TOM Big thumbs up
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 9:51 pm

This is all very impressive, but it really annoys me that people think airline rules don't apply to them, particularly (in this case) regarding using electronic devices during takeoff / landing, and using an airband radio at various stages during the flight. Do you think you know better than the people that make the rules or something, or that because you're an aviation enthusiast they don't apply to you? The rules are there for a reason, it doesn't take that much effort to abide by them...
Topic Author
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 10:53 pm

Thanks to all those who have left positive comments, they're much appreciated Big grin.

JAXpax/Star_world - I had hoped this wouldn't turn into a thread about the implications of using electronic devices in the air. There are many, many TRs on here with photos of takeoff and landing, plenty of airport overviews taken like that on the a.net photo database. There are a huge number of enthusiasts I know who take photos and movies like this. As for the airband radio, the signal I pick up is weakened anyway by the aircraft's fuselage, it certainly won't have any great effect on aircraft systems. I have for several years used airband radios and cameras on takeoff/landing and the cabin crew have never objected because I make clear I'm an aviation enthusiast. Sometimes, it isn't necessary to abide by every letter of the law. Until I hear a shred of evidence about aircraft being damaged by electronic interference, or indeed until a member of the cabin crew tells me not to, I don't see why I shouldn't use these devices. Look what I gained: great photo opportunities/movies and the radio was really useful to determine what runway we landed on.

Now, can we change the subject please? Did anyone like the movies  Smile?

Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Wed Nov 10, 2004 11:33 pm

Could someone confirm if JNB is the busiest airport in the southern hemisphere?

I would think SYD has alot more aircraft/passenger movements than JNB.
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 2:11 am

A very good trip report, very detailed, fascinating and easy to read!

Unfortunately though I do have to agree that it's very naughty to listen to a scanner in flight/on take off/landing etc. It may not cause any damage, but the point is that it is specifically forbidden to do so.

You never hear of aircraft being damaged by people smoking on board - but if someone did and got found out they would be in an awful lot of trouble.

Unfortunately the rules that are there have to be obeyed - and I must admit it really gets my back up when myself and many other people follow the rules and don't use radios/camcorders, which gets very annoying when you want to record your landing, and then someone comes along having flaunted all the rules and bragging about it!

The videos still don't work I'm afraid - I'm getting a corrupt file error when I try to open them.
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 4:00 am

Nice work mate Big thumbs up

Sam Big thumbs up
Despite the name I am a Boeing man through and through!
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 4:43 am

Hey Oliver great report indeed. That cockpit photo which you leaned on the captains chair could be accepted on a.net.

Anyways great.

Hey guys, we all brake the rules here and there, whether it be driving, at work etc, gives this guy a break.


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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 5:12 am

This is one STUNNING trip report! Wow is all i can say.

Was by far the best read I had on this forum since several months! Congratulations, your images are very nice, too!

cheers, thank you again!

Jet Visuals
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 5:26 am

What a fantastic report!! I know this might sound patronising - I certainly don't mean it to be - but your use of English, punctuation etc. is excellent! It makes what is already an interesting report so easy to read. I'm sure that if your career as a pilot doesn't come about for whatever reason, you'd certainly have a bright future as a writer.

All the best, and good luck in your chosen career.

Ladies & gentlemen this is Captain Tobias Wilcock welcoming you aboard Coconut Airways flight 372 to Bridgetown Barb
Topic Author
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Thu Nov 11, 2004 6:10 am

Hi everyone,

First, thanks again for the very nice comments. I'll try to answer a few questions:

Horus - it took about a week overall including processing images, this in my spare time, but hey it's all fun  Smile.
Zak - you knew our captain on the way out? He was certainly very friendly and helpful. Hope to meet up with you sometime in the future.
Beno - I read this on an a.net photo. I confess I was slightly dubious, thinking about SYD. Maybe it is in terms of aircraft movements, there's a LOT of domestic activity at JNB, and not just scheduled flights.
NoelG - I've voiced my opinion on this subject. I guess it's just a matter of personal preference, and I can to a certain extent understand your point of view. If I see a TR of yours in the future, I promise I won't complain about no movies!
KL808 - thanks very much. The photo is in the a.net queue at the moment. I'll wait and see.
BAViscount - thanks for your kind words too.

Finally, it hasn't been my lucky day with movies  Sad. Absolutely right, they were corrupted by the Windows XP ZIP folder interface. As I type I'm trying to get a solution. Maybe they'll be up by tomorrow - Thursday - evening (GMT). It is particularly hard when I'm still on a 56k connection. Sorry!

Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 7:25 am

amazing report and pics!
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 10:57 am

Fabulous! Enjoy reading it profoundly as if I was taking it.
2 questions
1. How do you believe if the weather in JNB is as same as you got from BA777?
2. I am wondering why you can use the radio during flight. It is prohabited, it is illegal to use it.

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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 6:00 pm

Hi Oliver

I wasn't complaining about the movies (honest!) I just couldn't get them to work!

Maybe it's my computer having problems then...


 Big thumbs up
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 6:20 pm

Excellent report and pic's keep them coming Oliver  Big thumbs up

thank god i was not born a bird. this type of flying is much better
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Thu Nov 11, 2004 6:53 pm

More than a perfect trip report!

Thank you very much
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 8:44 pm

I can not see the pics.
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Thu Nov 11, 2004 9:38 pm

Quite simply a fantastic report. Well done  Big thumbs up
Topic Author
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Fri Nov 12, 2004 5:21 am

**Movies hopefully working now**

Once again, thanks for the feedback which is most appreciated.

Noel - you misunderstood me, I've emailed you.
1. The WX I obtained from BA777 is a TAF, a very accurate weather forecast for the next 12 hours for JNB.
2. I answered this in reply 26.
(Not sure why you can't see the pics, they are there. Try refreshing the page)

Some good news, the movies are now on a different server, not zipped up. (Thanks to BA777 for this). I recommend that they are downloaded using Download Accelerator Plus if you have it, typing in the address, otherwise right click "Save target as" on the links. Please don't try running them straight into Windows Media Player as this didn't seem to work when we were trying earlier, just save them onto your hard drive and then load them up locally.

New URLs:

I really hope these work, they've caused enough trouble already!

Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Fri Nov 12, 2004 5:59 am

OK Oliver I can reply now, it's all seemingly working!

A flippin' fantastic report, packed full of detail and stunning photos  Big thumbs up Keep up the good work mate and I'm lookin forward to our upcoming trip to FRA!

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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Fri Nov 12, 2004 12:51 pm

WOOOOW!!! That's all I can say. EXCELLENT!
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Fri Nov 12, 2004 5:00 pm

Great report! The new links to the movies work just fine here, even on a Macintosh  Smile

International Homo of Mystery
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Fri Nov 12, 2004 11:17 pm

Good to hear the movies are working now, about time too!

Hennerz - here's to some fun on our FRA trip, I'm sure we'll be in safe hands with BA and the 757! I'm pleased the TR's now worthy of your response  Smile.


Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Sat Nov 13, 2004 12:05 am

What they said! lol...excellent..I think it's one of the best trip reports i've ever read.

KLM | Journeys of Inspiration
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Sat Nov 13, 2004 6:16 am

What a brilliant trip report  Wow!

It took me about 15 minutes to ready everything very carefully!  Smile/happy/getting dizzy But I enjoyed those 15 minutes, as the trip report is just excellent!

Making reports more detailed than this one will be VERY difficult I think.

Thanks for the efforts to write it!

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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Sat Nov 13, 2004 10:02 pm

That really was a fantastically detailed and written report.

I wholeheartedly agree with BAViscount.

Good luck Oliver in your pursuit of a flying career.
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Sat Nov 13, 2004 10:03 pm

Great report!! Absolutely amazing!! So um, what forms did you ge the captain to fill in?? (i'd love to get some to get filled in on my next flights!)

QANTAS-- The Spirit of Australia
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,long

Sat Nov 13, 2004 11:45 pm

Oliver , The videos don't seem to work for me...I sometimes have problems with downloads on this computer...

Could you send them to my g-mail? You have the address  Big grin

Proudly South African
Topic Author
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RE: SAA 744 Top Deck: LHR-JNB-LHR, Photos+movies,l

Sun Nov 14, 2004 5:02 am

Thanks Frederic, Travis and Ringway for your feedback.

FlyingKangaroo - forms: basically just a sheet of A4 forms for the captain and F/O to fill in requesting the technical data I put before each flight (note they aren't identical, occasionally the pilots leave certain parts out). There's also a covering note explaining it all and asking about the possibility of flight deck visits, and keeping flight documentation not needed at the end of the flight. If you mail me via my profile I'll send you a template. They provide a lot of very useful data not just for my logbook but also to use when recreating the flight in FS.

Zak - I've mailed you about this  Smile.

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