Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Okay, I've had it! All you wackos and mentally/emotionally disturbed people go find something besides airplanes to play with. This bombing/crashing/stealing airplanes thing is getting old. Might I suggest a completely different vehicle for you to exhibit your suicidal/homicidal/terrorist tendencies. Like, say, a wheelbarrow. No one's yet made the news by attempting to crash a hijacked wheelbarrow into a government building.

First, we had the September 11th hijackers. Then, a copycat in a Cessna tried the same thing in Florida. Don't forget the shoe bomber. After that, the underwear bomber. And then some guy sets his house on fire before crashing his airplane into an IRS building in Texas. Now I'm no more fond of the IRS than the next person, but that still seems a bit extreme.

One you might not have heard about took place the day after the IRS building incident, when a man stole a plane in San Diego after some sort of domestic dispute. He apparently had intentions of crashing it into the ocean, but subsequently changed his mind - perhaps because he couldn't find the ocean. He reportedly refueled in Palm Springs (about 125 miles inland) before getting caught on top of clouds around two in the morning. He called ATC for help, and was talked down to LAX - where he couldn't land on a 2-mile-long runway and had to circle around for another try. Airport police met the plane and reported that he appeared to be under the influence of something, although what I haven't heard.

Oh, and another that you may not have heard about, the so-called 'barefoot burglar', is a teenager in the northwest who likes to steal and crash small airplanes, along with boats and luxury cars.

Enough already!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Igloo cooler and dry ice: $50

Pilots License and Ratings: $25,000

Beech Baron: $75,000

Being able to enjoy Blue Bell ice cream in LA . . .

Well, you know!

With apologies to MasterCard: Just remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nifty Numbers

I can't explain it, but I have a certain affinity for numbers. In high school, I had a teacher who loved to proclaim that "algebra is neat!" I didn't think so at the time, but some years later, when I finally understood it, I found I agreed with him (unfortunately, by then I was in a calculus class, which escaped me utterly.)

I like numbers that have a pattern, or for which there is some interesting little coincidence. Here is an example of each:

Car odometers have an almost endless possibility for number patterns. I saw this one come up the other day.

This one is completely different, but it immediately caught my eye when it passed through my hands yesterday. Can you spot it?

For those who don't recognize this, it's a flight progress strip for a particular aircraft, in this case Southwest flight 713, from Los Angeles to Houston Hobby. We use these for outbound aircraft, first to issue the clearance, then for taxi and takeoff. Enroute controllers may use them for the portion of the route under their control. We don't need them in the tower for arriving aircraft because if we're talking to it, we know where they're going to land!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wake Turbulence: Part 4.1 - Exceptions addenda

In response to the entry wherein I discussed Boeing 757's and their wake turbulence considerations, a sharp-eyed reader noticed that I neglected to mention the aircraft flown by the former Northwest Airlines, now part of Delta. I had mentally already grouped the Northwest B757's with the Delta birds, but we'll take a look at them here. Call it an homage to another departed legacy carrier.

As I mentioned in the entry on Boeing heavy jets, the B757-300 is a heavy jet, no questions asked, all the time. UPDATE: Not any more. Go here. ATA, Continental, and Northwest are the only operators that have regularly brought them into LAX. Coincidentally, all three also operated -200 models. Continental still does, of course, and now also has some of the former ATA B753's.

None of the Northwest B752's were heavy jets (and they still aren't, even in Delta dress)

Here's an interesting pre-dawn shot I took recently, showing a quartet of Delta B757's. What's interesting about it is that while all of the B757's in the shot now fly for Delta, none of them started out that way. The one still wearing Northwest paint is obvious, as is the -300 directly behind it (also ex-NWA: Delta didn't have any B753's prior to the merger). The one in the lower left corner of the shot (at gate 61 - off the left wingtip of the NWA-paint ship), was previously an ATA aircraft, while the middle one on the right with winglets (at gate 54A - off the B753's left wingtip) formerly flew with TWA.

Another Delta former-TWA B752 lifts off from runway 25 right (not a heavy).

Here's an earlier photo of one of Delta's former-ATA B752's (in fact, it's the same ship as the one in the pre-dawn photo. It also appears in the daytime all-in-the-family shot above.) Another curious thing is that some of ATA's B752's were heavies, and in fact that was my first encounter with the "some are, some aren't" dichotomy of the B752. I don't know what happened to those airplanes; if they're among the ones Delta now flies, they're not heavies any more - which is conceivable (or if they are, Delta hasn't mentioned it - and I'm not asking!)

Link to next part: Heavy no more

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A funny thing happened . . .

It's another beautiful rainy day in LA. We're running east traffic, which essentially means that the airplanes are all moving in the opposite direction from what the airport was designed for. Couple that with a crucial taxiway being closed for construction, and you have the makings of a three-ring circus.

How not to start off your day: Leave your ID in the car. This is important because without your ID, you can't even get in the gate - much less the front door. Arriving back at the car, you discover that, for the first time in years, you've locked the keys inside. No problem, you've got an extra set stashed in your breakroom locker - except that said locker is in the building . . .

I was walking through WallyworldMartland a few days ago, and while passing through the furniture area glanced at a desk with what looked like some books on one of the shelves. We've probably all see this on furniture displays: a cardboard box with a label that gives it the appearance of a stereo, vcr (remember those?), or a collection of books. Why it caught my eye, besides the fact that I'm kind of looking for a small writing desk (what was once called a secretary, I believe), was because the front cover of the first 'book' looked slightly familiar:

Now to most people, I don't expect that a faux-book entitled "Dressage Basics" would mean anything at all. But I grew up in a horse household - and that has made all the difference (bonus points: From whence does that last line come?) Now, having stopped to look, not at the furniture, but instead the display props, I idly glanced at some of the other titles. Check out some of these great literary works, no doubt intended to impress the WallyworldMartland clientele and inspire sales:

A Tale of Two Kitties - Pickens
At the Prome - Wharty
Ben Nur - Wallace
Book of Good Furniture, Vol. 1
The Drapes of Wrath - Spinebeck
The Dwarf of the Springs - Molekin
Elementary English, Third Year
The Good Girth - Cluck (this could be a diet book, or another horse book)
Great Exceptions - Dockery
The History and Civilization of the Great Black Swamp, Revised (Revised, no less!)
Lester Greedwood's guide to Deer Farming (a best-seller in Los Angeles, to be sure)
The Young Fawn - Howlings

How is it that a secretary used to be a piece of furniture, and is now a person (excuse me, Administrative Technician), while a dishwasher used to be a person, and is now an appliance?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wake Turbulence: Part 4 - Exceptions

In this on-going series on wake turbulence, I've been showing you the various heavy jets that we see at LAX. But for every rule, there's at least one exception (it's a rule). This time around, we're going to look at the exceptions. There are two that affect us here at LAX, and each of them features a different model of aircraft.

First is the 525-passenger Airbus A380, the largest passenger airliner in the world. Compare its maximum takeoff weight of 1,200,000 lb (560,000 kg) to that of the freighters in the previous entry in the series, and the next-largest airliner, the Boeing B747-400.
This airplane's huge weight disparity with everything else has earned it a separate moniker. Whereas we refer to all the other heavy jets as "heavies", the A380 is referred to as a "Super". Examples:

"Qantas 94 Super"

"Super Airbus 380"
Besides the uprated terminology, the A380 also imposes additional separation requirements. Similar to the Heavy wake turbulence spacing requirements, the mileage required behind the Super is determined by the size of the following aircraft. Another Super only needs four (4) miles in trail, while a heavy jet requires six (6) miles behind a Super. A "Large" aircraft, which is is defined in Appendix A of the 7110.65 as one weighing more than 41,000 lbs and up to 255,000 lbs, has to be at least eight (8) miles behind a Super. Typical Larges include B737's, MD-80's, the A320 series, and regional jets. An aircraft of less than 41,000 lbs is considered a "Small", and must have at least ten (10) miles of separation behind a Super. At LAX right now, the most common Smalls are the United Express E-120 Brasilias, along with most of the corporate aircraft such as Learjets, Citations, and King Airs. Operationally, the Super poses other difficulties at LAX: When one is on a taxiway, the wings overhang the vehicle service roads, thus requiring any Super movement to be accompanied by airport operations escorts, who block off the service roads in much the same manner as funeral escorts. And, like its smaller A340-600 cousin, there are only certain taxiways and intersections that the A380 can use - Except that the A380 can use even fewer than the A346 (and B773). There aren't as many gates that can accommodate the A380 either; I think we have six right now, and only two of those at a terminal. Fortunately, Qantas is the only carrier bringing them into LAX at present, and so far I don't think we've had more than two here at once. We do keep hearing rumors of other carriers with plans to start using them here; Singapore, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic are the names I've heard mentioned most often. And if all that isn't enough, Airbus has plans for a stretched model, which would have a standard (3-class) seating capacity of 650!

UPDATE:  The wake turbulence spacing behind a Super has been revised to six (6) miles in trail for another Super or a Heavy; seven (7) miles in trail for a Large, and eight (8) miles for a small. See this post for a quick reference.

One of my best shots: A Qantas A380 touches down on runway 24 left.

Mutt and Jeff: the largest and smallest of the airliners at LAX. An Emirates A380, here on a publicity tour, and a United Express (Skywest) E-120 Brasilia.

UPDATE: The following section is now obsolete; the B757, regardless of model or weight, is no longer considered a Heavy. See this entry.

Exception number two: The Boeing 757-200. This particular aircraft is an anomaly (and a pain in the @$ for controllers); it's not a heavy, and yet it has its own wake turbulence requirements. Whereas a Large aircraft behind another Large aircraft requires three (3) miles of spacing, a Large behind a B752 needs four (4) miles. That same Large needs five (5) miles behind a heavy jet. However, it gets even better: As I mentioned early on, the FAA defines any aircraft capable of operating at a weight of more than 255,000 lbs as a Heavy. There is one variant of the B757-200 that has a maximum weight of 255,500 lbs, and thus is a heavy. As far as I know, there is no visible differentiation between a heavy B757 and one that isn't a heavy. The paperwork is the only way to tell the difference. Fortunately for us, only two airlines at LAX operate the "heavy" version; unfortunately, both also have non-heavies. Oh, and there's one other minor detail: A quirk of our flight plan computer keeps the airlines from correctly filing the heavy B752's as "Heavies"; it just won't let them do it. Controllers can put it in as an amendment though, and so the Clearance Delivery controller gets to play a question-and-answer game with all the pilots of the out-going B757-200 flights for US Air and American: "Are you a heavy today?" Sort of like going to McDonald's: "Would you like to supersize today?" It doesn't take much imagination to see the possibility for this system to go awry. There have been cross-country separation errors caused by an aircraft's heavy status being missed at the departure point; a solution is in the works, which I've heard will be effective this spring.

Is it a heavy, or isn't it? In this case, a definite 'yes' for the B762 on the taxiway; and 'maybe, maybe not' for the B752 on the runway: American has both.
The flight crew knows, and hopefully so do we . . .

Is it a heavy, or isn't it? In this case, 'yes' for the gray B763; and 'no' for the white B752.
United doesn't operate heavy B757-200's.

Continental's B752's are not heavies.

Nor are Delta's.

But this one might be: US Air has a few B752's that qualify as heavies.

Link to next part: Exceptions addenda

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Old habits die hard

It's a funny thing how you get used to doing things a certain way all the time, to the point that you're operating on autopilot. Case in point:

I went to answer the phones at KCRW yesterday morning before the crack of dawn. I've been there before, as I usually am able to manage at least one or two sessions each pledge drive. The station (on the campus of Santa Monica College) isn't too far away from LAX, so it's easy to head over after work and answer phones for a while. Yesterday, though, found me on the freeway at five in the morning, heading straight for the station from the house. Except that I wasn't - about halfway there, I discovered that I wasn't actually on I-10 going to the station in Santa Monica, but had instead automatically headed north up I-5. As I caught myself doing this, I wondered 'Where did I think I was going?' It took me a minute of cogitating to figure out that usually when I pass through that area my destination is the place where I go to get parts for the Rover - which is up in Valencia.

What brought this to mind was something that's happening today at work. First, a bit of background: We're in the process of remodeling the tower cab. New lower counters and consoles are going to take the place of our current equipment, which will make it easier for those of us who aren't on the Lakers back-up squad to see out the windows. Along with the new cabinetry, position and equipment locations are be shifted to improve controller access and the supervisors' ability to monitor the operation. Part of this shifting around is the stairs leading up into the cab. Currently, they come up right behind the Clearance Delivery position, which creates a real bottle neck of people at the top of the stairs. The renovation will place the stair entry along the west wall, where it will not be in the primary flow of ground and clearance controllers. Most of the actual remodeling work is being done on the mid-shifts, when traffic and controller count is down. To accommodate the contractors, the controllers on the mid-shift have been working in the old control tower while the noisiest work gets done. Last night, they finally moved the top of the stairs to the new position along the west wall. The cabinetry part of the job hasn't begun yet, so the old stairway is still there in the middle of the floor. Today, it's been very entertaining to watch as each of us tries to go down the old stairs, only to discover that we can't. The best part is that each time it happens, we laugh at the current victim, only to then repeat the process again even though we all watched and laughed at somebody else. Finally, one wag implemented a fix:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wake Turbulence: Part 3.4 - Other Heavy Jets

Reading my previous entries, one could get the impression that all the heavy jets were built by Boeing and Airbus. Even with all the mergers, take-overs, and consolidations in the aerospace industry, that isn't (yet) quite the case. Here are a few other heavy jets that have put in appearances at LAX:

The Antonov AN-124 is a Russian (and Ukrainian) -built aircraft with a greater cargo capacity (330,000 lb / 150,000 kg) than the comparable US-built airplanes. Takeoff weight 893,000 lb (405,000 kg). These behemoths have been used to transport whales and elephants, along with more mundane cargo such as jet engines (for the B777 and A380), rockets and satellites, and pieces of airliners (for Boeing and Airbus). One operational quirk is that the airplane has to sit in takeoff position on the runway for several minutes before it can begin rolling for takeoff. So far I've been unable to get a coherent explanation from anyone on why this is so.

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy has a maximum takeoff weight of 840,000 lb (381,000 kg). Unlike the AN-124, which has civilian operators, the C-5 is only flown by the US military. Payload capacity is 270,000 lb (122,470 kg).

The C-17 Globemaster III is built at the former McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) plant in Long Beach, California; I get to see them fly over the house when they depart. With a takeoff weight of 585,000 lb (265,350 kg) and payload of 170,900 lb (77,519 kg), the C-17 is a good bit smaller than the C-5. Besides the US military, C-17s are also flown by the forces of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, NATO, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Boeing offered a commercial version for a while, but there were no buyers.

Link to previous part: Airbus Heavy Jets

Link to next part: Exceptions