Very Interesting Article to share with you guys!
New York to Hong Kong
When United Airlines Flight 821 rises above the runway at Kennedy International Airport this Sunday morning, it will begin the longest daily nonstop flight in the world, from one side of the globe to the other, New York to Hong Kong.
The flight is planned at 8,439 miles, edging out the next longest contender, Continental's flight to Hong Kong from Newark, at a mere 8,437 miles. (In fairness, Continental did beat United to the punch, starting its flights on March 1.)
To get a United jet weighing 418,000 pounds (and that's when it's empty) all the way from New York to Hong Kong without its touching the ground anywhere in between entails many unusual requirements. Among the most important are these:
The flight attendants must wear very, very comfortable shoes.
The jet must be the largest one in commercial service — a 747-400 model — and it must fly almost directly over the roof of planet Earth, passing close enough to the North Pole to see the elves.
The plane's gas tanks must be topped off, with more than 57,000 gallons of jet fuel, weighing almost as much as the plane itself, about 389,000 pounds. (When it gets to Hong Kong, it is supposed to have only about 5,000 gallons left.)
Fuel must be tested to determine the exact freezing point of the load for each flight. (A typical freezing point, at which the fuel becomes like wax, is about 44 degrees below zero. Near the North Pole, temperatures can drop to 70 below.) The pilots keep an eye on the fuel temperature using an electronic readout in the cockpit. If the plane is approaching what weather forecasters call domes of supercold air, the pilots can speed up the jet to increase the air friction against the fuselage, which prevents the fuel temperature from dropping as fast.
"We literally go blowing right through those domes," said Capt. Bob Whitman, who will be the pilot on Sunday's flight. Chuck Smith, the co- pilot, added, "We don't hang around and enjoy the weather."
United must determine how many passengers and how much cargo it can probably take on each flight, using computers and complex weather forecast models that tell how heavy the plane can be and still make it. United officials expect the passenger load to be somewhere between 270 and 340. "We are the extreme end of the service capacity of these airplanes," said Eugene Cameron, a long-haul flight expert for United. A good thing about the polar routes, which were only recently opened up for commercial flights, is that there are virtually no headwinds near the pole, and turbulence is rare.
Before leaving, the airline must pack in about 7,000 pounds of food and drinks (or 11,000 pounds if meal carts, silverware, plates and other service equipment is included). It must include 2,500 pounds of other amenities, like blankets, pillows and magazines. And 2,700 pounds of water. (Annie Chin-Corio, a flight attendant who will work on the Hong Kong flights, said the airline would probably not need to pack more alcohol than on other long-haul flights because Asian passengers, who will make up a large portion of those taking the flight, usually drink less than Americans and Europeans.)
As the plane approaches the North Pole, the pilots must switch off the automatic pilot and take the controls. This is an extra precaution because even sophisticated navigation gyros must work harder to pinpoint a plane's location near the pole, as longitude and latitude lines converge and all directions become south.
The planes will not fly directly over the pole, Mr. Cameron said. If they did, he said, "the gyros for a second would say, `Whoa, where am I?' " United does not want that to happen. As Captain Whitman puts it, "We don't want the plane flying up its own tail."
The airline must pay Russia about $8,000 per flight — about the price of one and a half one-way first-class tickets, at $5,608 per ticket — for crossing over Russian airspace.
On most of United's long-haul flights, two movies are shown in economy class. There will be time enough (15 hours, 40 minutes, give or take) for three movies to be shown on the way to Hong Kong. For the first flight on Sunday, which gets into Hong Kong at 2:30 p.m. Monday, the sleepless can watch "Red Planet" with Val Kilmer, "Vertical Limit" with Chris O'Donnell and "102 Dalmatians," with Glenn Close reprising her role as Cruella De Vil.
The pilots and flight attendants must bunk down for the "night" — actually, the sun will probably dip behind the horizon for only about 45 minutes, depending on the time of year. There will be four pilots, two of whom will spell Captain Whitman and Captain Smith, the first officer, when they duck into a two-bunk dormitory behind the cockpit to get some sleep. Then, the two relief pilots will sleep — or become what the crew calls "bunkies" — when Captain Whitman and Captain Smith take over again.
The 18 flight attendants will take turns sleeping in their own dormitory, above the aft galley, where there are six small bunks. The flight attendants must change sheets for the next sleeper. They can bring pajamas if they want to.
"I sleep like a baby," said Patricia Suhoza, who will work on the Hong Kong route. "It's very cozy."
En route, the pilots must rely on 11 flight charts, the most that Captain Whitman and Captain Smith have ever used. On flights from New York to Tokyo, for example, they generally use four. In the cockpit of a 747-400 the other day, they unfolded one North Pole map to show the route they would take Sunday. They had to point off the map to show where New York and Hong Kong would be.
Because of contractual rules, the pilots who fly the route will end up working only 12 days a month. They will fly from New York to Hong Kong, then from Hong Kong to Singapore, back to Hong Kong and then back to New York, with rest stops between each flight. They will do this route once again and then not fly again until the next month.
Captain Smith stressed that this only sounded like a comfy life. "Boy, when you get back home, you have to hang upside down in the garage for a couple of days before you're normal again," he said. "You don't operate any heavy machinery."
Some things won't change. Captain Whitman and Captain Smith will still be carrying their plastic coke-bottle- lens gag glasses, the ones that make them look like Jerry Lewis in "The Nutty Professor." For a laugh, they like to pull them out of their jackets, put them on and say, "These are our landing glasses."
By RANDY KENNEDY, NY Times, 30/03/2001