Monday, January 31, 2011

The one that got away

Earlier this week, a coworker alerted me to the expected arrival of an Air New Zealand Airbus with special livery this weekend. I missed the arrival, but managed to catch this shot just after it parked at the gate. Due to yesterday's lousy weather and a confluence of other things going on at the time, I wasn't able to get any better pictures when it left an hour or so later. So I'm afraid this will have to do.

Here's another A320; this one is the first United Airbus I've seen wearing the Continental colors.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What I learned in Algebra class

I happened to take this shot whilst playing with the camera the other day. Seeing it later, I was reminded of an awful joke told by my high school algebra teacher about a million years ago:

There was a snail who, tired of always being kidded for being slow, went to the car dealer and got a fast little sports car. Then he had a bright letter "S" painted on the side. And now, whenever he goes racing around town, all the people say . . .

(wait for it . . . )

"Look at that little escargot!"

With thanks (and apologies) to Harold McManus, HSPVA

LAX aircraft spotters' guide: Boeing 747-300

I'm overdue for another entry in the Spotters' Guide series, and a recent reader comment asking about B747-300s at LAX is as good an excuse as any to bring you this one.

The Boeing 747-300 is not a commonly-seen aircraft at LAX; the only one I've seen within the last year has been operated by cargo carrier Southern Air. Even in its heyday, the B743 was not a common aircraft: Boeing only built 81 of the model. The big difference between the -300 and earlier -200 and -100 models is the -300's extended "hump" for the upper deck, which is over 23 feet (7 meters) longer than the previous models'. Dimensions, maximum weights and engines remained pretty much the same between the -200 and -300 models, but improved aerodynamics allowed a slightly higher cruise speed, and the longer upper deck allowed for an additional forty to fifty seats. The -200 continued in production concurrently with the -300, and curiously the -200 was even built for a year or so after -300 production ended in 1990. The -300, which first flew in 1983, was soon replaced by the -400, which was introduced in 1985 and retained the extended upper deck but added wing extensions with winglets. The long hump distinguishes the -300 from the earlier models, and the winglets distinguish the -400 from the -300. Nearly all the B747s seen at LAX these days are -400s, although we do see a few -200s brought in by cargo operators.

Southern Air's new paint scheme, already looking a bit weathered on this B747-300 as it departs off Runway 25 Right. The curious thing is that their website makes no mention of their having a B743; their fleet list shows B742s and B772s, with B744s on the way. That's a United B757-200 being towed in the foreground.

Here is an earlier view of what I believe to be the same aircraft (the registration is not visible in this shot) in its previous Cargo 360 livery. Southern Air was bought by the holding company that owned Cargo 360, and the two operations were merged into the Southern Air that we see today.

Qantas was the last passenger carrier to bring B743's into LAX, and in fact their last B743 revenue flight was a flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles in late December, 2008. One other distinguishing characteristic about the Qantas B747s is that the engine cowlings on their -300s were bare metal, while the -400 cowlings are painted.

This is the only other B747-300 that I've photographed (or recall seeing) at LAX, flown by Saudi Arabian Airlines. These photos were taken several years ago, as evidenced by the Ted Airbus seen in the second shot. Saudi isn't a scheduled operator at LAX, but we do see them from time to time; most recently (last week) in a B777-200. I've also seen them show up in a B747SP, MD11, and L-1011 (the same Tristar I showed you in civilian paint a month or two ago; the casino bought it from Saudi).

Update: Cargo carrier Atlas Air (callsign: Giant) showed up with a B743 a couple of months after this was originally published:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Axis of bedEvil

This isn't really an Axis so much as it is a Trio, so I probably should have instead titled this the "Terrible Trio". Or perhaps the "Three Ouch-keteers". But the published title came to me first, and once I had typed it in I liked the way it looked. You're welcome to dream up your own titles and proclaim them in the comments.

In any case, the three aircraft in the opening picture all bedevil the controllers at LAX. The cause is simple: These airplanes don't fit. The B777-300 and the Airbus A340-600, seen here modeled by Emirates and China Eastern, respectively, are so long that when one arrives on Runway 24 Right, it can not be held short of Runway 24 Left on the usual exit, Taxiway AA. Or rather it can be held there, but the controller still loses the use of Runway 24 Right because the tail of the aircraft is still sticking out over the runway. Taking the aircraft all the way to the end of the runway to Taxiway BB doesn't help, because it won't fit there either. So, when one of these shows up, the controller has to come up with a plan to get it across the departure runway with the least amount of inconvenience to himself and the other aircraft.

The south side of the airport doesn't have this problem so much because the runways are farther apart and there is Taxiway H between them. This allows the aircraft to be held between the 25s without it having to be perpendicular to the runways (It must be said, however, that if for some reason the aircraft does end up on one of the perpendicular taxiways, it is too long to hold it there and still use both runways). The other reason the south side doesn't have this problem is that most of the A346s and B773s arrive from across the Pacific, and most of the usual arrival routes deliver them to the north side of the airport.

Besides the carriers already mentioned, we see A346s from Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic. B773's are brought in by Air France, All Nippon, EVA, Japan Air, Korean, and V Australia.

The third member of the Axis of Bedevilment is the Airbus 380, which is even worse. As I recently mentioned, Runway 24 Right is the preferred arrival runway for the A380 because there are less ground handling considerations for getting it to Gate 123 than there are for the other terminal gate that can accommodate it. Once the A380 turns onto AA, both of the 24s become unusable. Holding it on Taxiway BB is an option to allow the controller to continue using Runway 24 Left, but the Right is still unavailable. And those are the only taxiways that aircraft is allowed to use. In fact, if the A380 lines up on Runway 24 Left for departure and is then unable to begin takeoff for some reason, the first allowable taxiway for the aircraft to exit the runway is AA, about a mile and a half down the runway. It takes an A380 about five minutes to taxi from one end of that runway to the other. I got to learn this first-hand a year or so ago. Which would have been fine if it had been the only aircraft wanting to use that runway. But it wasn't.

The south side of the airport doesn't fare any better with the A380. Unlike the north side, where it can use either of the runways, on the south side there is only one runway approved for the A380: Runway 25 Left. If the A380 has exited 25 Left onto Taxiway H, both of the 25s become unusable. If the A380 holds perpendicular to the runways, the one behind the aircraft is still unusable. If the A380 exits onto Taxiway B, then Runway 25 Right is still unusable. Because of ground obstructions, the A380 can't use Runway 25 Right for arrival or departure; instead it either uses Runway 25 Left, which can only be reached by crossing both runways and taxiing on Taxiway A. As I've already related, crossing runways is a hassle because if you can't get the aircraft across both runways at one time, you lose the use of the runway behind the A380 while it's holding. And so the preferred departure runway is 24 Left, even if the A380 was parked at Gate 101 on the south end of the International Terminal. Which means that it has to taxi all the way to the other side of the airport, which requires a squad of escort vehicles to clear the access roads. And then once the A380 has departed off Runway 24 Left, we still can't use it for other aircraft until the airport operations guys have inspected the length of the runway for damage caused by the A380's departure. We've lost a number of runway signs due to the jet blast from its outboard engines, and the debris created is then a hazard to subsequent aircraft.

So far, Qantas is the only regular A380 operator at LAX. We've been hearing rumblings about Korean, Singapore, Lufthansa, Emirates, and Virgin Atlantic; at the moment it sounds as if Korean may be the next.

All of these considerations are not limited to the Local Controller, who manages the runways (normally thought of as the 'tower' controller by pilots); the Ground Controller has to be aware of them as well. One of the many things a new ground controller at LAX has to learn is to recognize when one of these aircraft (A346/B773/A380) is on final, because the local controller is not likely to hold the aircraft between the runways if it can be helped. So the ground controller has to be prepared to get that aircraft almost immediately, and needs to have a plan for fitting it into the rest of his ground traffic - even while not yet knowing exactly where it needs to go on the airport.

Air New Zealand is the latest to bring in B777-300s; I saw my first just this past week. By itself, it's hard to get a good feel for how large this aircraft really is. So try this:

That's an Alaska B737-400 on the runway as the New Zealand B777-300 taxis in.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Unfinished Business

As has happened before, I got a better daylight shot of an airplane shortly after showing you an awful nighttime photo because at the time it was the only one I'd been able to get. This time around, it was one of Virgin Atlantic's Airbus 340-300s:

Here's another shot of old and new:

An arriving Continental B737-800 rolls past a B727 and a B707


That white speck near the top, slightly left of center, isn't a star - it's the airplane seen in the first photo, now flying back over the airport eastbound about two miles up


The full moon rising over LA. No stars in these shots either - those are all aircraft on final to LAX

Friday, January 21, 2011

Flower Power!

Here's something I'd never seen before today:

Swiss International Airlines introduced this special livery last summer to inaugurate their new service to San Francisco. They posted a YouTube video of the paint process:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Then and Now

This shot gives you an idea of how much the size of airliners has changed. A Boeing 707, Boeing's first jetliner, parked next to a 747, their largest model to date. Despite the 707 being dwarfed by its larger kin, it's still considered a "heavy" jet for wake turbulence separaton.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Find the plane

From your comments and questions, I suspect that a few of you have a passing interest in airplanes and air traffic control. So here's a Monday morning puzzle for you. In the picture above, there are two American Eagle E135s. Can you spot both of them?

Okay, here's another one: The pictures above and below both show the south side (runway 25 complex) with a modest amount of departure traffic. Which one is busier?

For the sake of covering both sides of the airport, here's one of the north side with a little traffic:

Did you find the second Eagle jet in the first photo? Here's another shot, taken a few seconds later:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Super Returns

After a two-month hiatus, Qantas has brought the Airbus 380 back to LAX: Flight 93 from Melbourne arrived on runway 24 right about 7:30 this morning. I know some of you were hoping for a runway 25 arrival so that you might see it on the Cargo City webcam. Sorry to disappoint, but the arrival runway for the A380 is determined by where the aircraft is going to park on the airport. This is because there are only certain runways and taxiways that can accommodate the behemoth, and it also requires several vehicle escorts anytime it's on the move. Said escorts have to be in position prior to the airplane arriving, and so the whole process is planned out about an hour before the target even shows up on our radar. The preferred gate for the A380 is 123, at the north end of the International Terminal. This is because it's the easiest operation for all concerned: more direct taxi route, fewer vehicle access roads that have to be blocked, and that's the closest gate to the ramp where the airplane will subsequently be towed to spend the day. Gate 101, at the south end of the TBIT, is the second-choice gate, and is usually only used if we have two A380s on the ground at the same time. Since Qantas is reintroducing the A380 on the LAX flights only on a limited basis, I don't expect we'll have to worry about that for a while.

Sorry about that shadow in the middle of the shot - it's the control tower!

And now for something completely different:

This is the first Chevrolet Volt that I've seen outside of an auto show, seen today while parked at the electric vehicle charging station at Terminal One - and yes, there are already two chargers that a Volt can plug into installed here. LAX is a great place to see electric cars; behind the Volt is an electric Toyota RAV4. We also see a number of MINI-Es and Teslas:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Clean windows!

We had clear skies today, and visibility was pretty good until this happened:

This was going to be my excuse for any bad calls I might make, but they finished up before I could get away with anything!

I took this lousy shot yesterday - before they cleaned the windows - and I wish I could blame the dirty windows for the poor quality, but the fact that it was dark is more to blame. Virgin Atlantic used to bring in Airbus 340-300s like this one all the time, but now we usually get A346s.

Speaking of yesterday, the power outage at Terminal One created quite a line of people - all the way to Terminal Two

Departing VIP

Friday, January 14, 2011

One step at a time . . .

It's been said that there's nothing like a little exercise to start your day. Try climbing 20 flights of stairs! Thanks to a blown transformer, a good chunk of LAX was without power this afternoon when I arrived at the tower. When I came in, they had just freed a guy who'd been trapped in the elevator for about a half hour as he was leaving for the day. At that moment, the power was back on, and I was told that the elevator was okay to use. I had one small chore to tend to before I headed up, and while I was getting that done the power went out again. Good thing I needed to make a copy, or else I'd have been the next one stuck in the elevator!

While we were still in the air traffic business thanks to back-up generators, things were pretty much at a standstill in some parts of the airport: Terminals One, Six, Seven, and Eight all were affected by the power outage. Aircraft on the ground couldn't be unloaded because the jetways couldn't be moved up to the doors. Passengers couldn't go through screening because the x-rays. scanners, and metal detectors were all out of service. Southwest, United, Skywest, and Continental all had airplanes delayed or diverted.

By sundown, things were more or less back to normal, and so we were able to appreciate a beautiful sunset:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Qantas A380s to return

Before you get excited - No, the A380s are not back at LAX. Yet. At least one reader has asked when they will be, and it sounds like next week. Qantas has already put their A380s back into service on other routes, so the airplanes can be seen coming and going elsewhere in the world - just lately not in North America.

AP article

Australian Business Traveler article

Huffington Post article

Qantas to resume A380 service - Yahoo News

Air Distances between LA and foreign cities

Long-haul flights - Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


We had Southwest 1 arrive a couple of weeks ago from St. Louis. Kinda curious, since we don't normally see flight 1 from Southwest, although we do have flight 1 from a number of other carriers. And St. Louis to LA? Although St. Louis is a recently-added destination from LA for Southwest, it isn't that recent. In any case, I've only seen SWA1 here once.

Here's another flight 1: THT001 seen departing for Papeete. Most LAX controllers don't like Tahiti's Airbus 340s, but this one did make a nice photo.

A formation of Boeings! Well, for an instant anyway - the B727 is departing while the B737 is landing

I noticed a while back that someone came to the blog via a search for Southern Air's new paint scheme. I imagine that they've since found it; but just in case, here it is, as seen on a B747-300.