As I mentioned in the previous Fear of Flying story, the folks at Flight Experience Melbourne are running a competition for their 737 flight simulator. Write up your scary flying story and you could win a free session in the sim. Woo hoo.
Here’s the second of my scary stories and it relates to heavy aircraft taking off short runways – always a “fun” time :)
My other “scary flight moment” was when flying from Buenos Aires to Australia back in the late 90’s. At that time Aerolineas Argentinas had exclusive rights to the trans-polar route between Auckland & Buenos Aires and were using their 747-200 aircraft.
With the prevailing winds behind them, they were able to go from Auckland to Buenos Aires non-stop but couldn’t make it in the other direction with those same winds slowing them down. To make the flight to Auckland, the aircraft would fly south from Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos way down at the bottom of Argentina. From here they would load up with fuel and continue their journey to Auckland. Due to being full of fuel, they couldn’t take on a full passenger load so you sometimes got some extra space. That was about the only benefit to the flight.
The first time I ever flew back to Australia from Argentina, I had a window seat and was watching the stark, rugged approach as we neared the airport. The screen on the wall was showing our progress and as I looked out the window, I saw a runway that looked a bit short for a 747. Sure enough, we turned final and landed on it. Oh great.
After an hour or two hanging out in the terminal waiting for fueling to be completed, we trooped back aboard and the real fun began. I couldn’t get the image of the runway out of my mind. It really did appear rather short.
Being too big & heavy to use the taxiway, we went onto the runway, turned right and headed to the end where we did a 180 and lined up to take off. The pilots stood on the brakes and ran up the engines, first to check they were running OK then beyond to much higher thrust levels. The aircraft was straining against the brakes with the engines howling when, finally, the pilots released and applied full power.
Rumbling down the runway, I split my attention between the view outside and the screen on the wall at the front of the cabin that was showing speed, altitude, temperature, etc. With the aircraft shaking along the runway, we’d gone past the mid-point where the terminal was and still weren’t near what I figured was VR.
Oh crap :(
Subconsciously my hands went to the arm rests of my seat and began pulling up on them as I thought “Come on you fat pig, lift! Fly!”
I was really starting to get concerned when I felt the nose lift and then the rumbling ceased as the mains left the ground. WHEW!
When you take off from a major runway in most large airports, the gear is probably already retracted before you’ve passed the end of the runway. Not this time. I’d only had a second to start relaxing when the end of the runway flashed by and the gear started to retract. Wow!
Once we were in the air and on our way I started breathing again and realised I was still holding the arm rests. Letting go I looked out the window, wondering how they ever got approval to operate fully loaded 747’s from Rio Gallegos. I wished I could have experienced it from the cockpit – the view would have been incredible.
I only did the Buenos Aires -> Rio Gallegos -> Auckland trip twice and both times I was stressing about getting off the ground before the runway ran out. Eventually QANTAS started flying the route and their 747-400’s could go non-stop between Buenos Aires & Auckland. Aerolineas Argentinas soon upgraded to A340s and Rio Gallegos was no longer required on the trans-polar route. These days QANTAS are using their 747-400ERs which can make it non-stop from Buenos Aires to Sydney so you don’t even have to stop in Auckland if you don’t want to.
I’ve got to say, there are some things from the “good old days” of flying that I really just don’t miss :)
It’s interesting that QANTAS are using their 747-400ERs on the Buenos Aires route. I guess with the A380 on the SYD <-> LAX and MLB <-> LAX routes the -400ER’s were available to fly additional routes. It certainly makes getting to Buenos Aires a lot more comfortable :)