So this is the moment. You have your few years Boeing 737 experience, and you logged some hours of Boeing 747 simulator training. But today you get to actually fly this icon, this legend.
When I walk into dispatch at this early morning hour, to the table with all the paperwork for my first flight, there are so many thoughts and emotions in my head. Flashes of previous 737 experience, flight training, moving all over the planet, Phoenix, Girona, Rome, Barcelona, Hong Kong, manuals, operating procedures and limitations. I see my name on the crew list, I sign in and read the flight plan, notams and weather. I try to push all the chaos in my head aside and focus on the task at hand: a base training flight in the Boeing 747!
I wrote earlier that becoming a pilot was never my childhood dream. I was well into my twenties when I made the switch to aviation. However, I do have some clear childhood memories, regarding the Boeing 747. I grew up close to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I remember driving past the airport, little me in the back seat, and how my eyes would widen as I spotted these majestic planes parked up next to the highway. I tried to imagine what kind of persons would fly in the jumbo. It was clear to me that the pilots of these planes were super special, and that they did something extraordinary. Flying the 747 was only for the very lucky and extremely talented few, is what I concluded as a child. Now I know jumbo pilots are just as talented as any other aviator, but it is safe to say that some of this childish admiration for the 747 is definitely still within me. I feel so very lucky.
Meeting the crew
‘Good morning Captain.’ At dispatch we meet the Base Training Captain, and a safety pilot, who will observe and assist on the jump seat. The flight today is a special training flight, without delivering any cargo. My training partner and myself have to make some landings and visual circuits, and we are cleared to do so at Clark Airport in the Philippines. ‘Who gets to fly first, did you guys decide yet?’ As my training partner is a gentleman, he gives me the choice. Obviously then, the first take-off in the Boeing 747 will be done by me, and not watching on the observation seat, so I say: ‘I will fly it up to Clark.’ We will later quickly change seats during the circuit training. After all preparations are done, we go out to pass security, and a bus takes us to the cargo apron of Hong Kong airport.
There she is. I have never been a passenger on the 747 and I was never close to one. Time to walk up the stairs and set her up for departure. I peek quickly at the empty belly, as I climb further up to the flight deck. I train on both the Boeing 747-8 and the Boeing 747-400ERF. Today’s training will be done on an ERF. The ground preparation needs to be done, and my head is still so full. I am simply too excited for what is ahead. I am behind the controls of the Boeing 747. I never imagined this would happen. Now is the time to be professional, and not the time to try and figure out how I got here, or why this means so much to me. I better believe it, and perform well today. Fast forward to push back complete and all four engines running: I need to taxi this beast to the holding point! First time taxiing a jet, another tick in the box today. How small do all the other planes look from where I am seated (almost 10 meters up), even my beloved 737 loses all its grandeur from here.
Cleared for takeoff!
‘Set thrust.’ There we go, rattling on runway 07R. We are very light without cargo, so in no time we reach the speed to rotate off the runway. It feels good to be back in the sky, and to be part of this whole world that makes aviation: ATC, engineers, dispatch, ground handling, all of it. I genuinely missed it. When a profession is more than a job, you made the right choice. I remember a moment on the 737: it was an extremely long 4-sector day with lots of delays, issues and returning from our last flight hours too late. Back at the gate I waved to the dispatcher, and opened my flight deck window to communicate the On Blocks Time to him. He laughed, shook his head and yelled: ‘Eva, I knew it was you! Only you would return from such a day and still have the happiest smile.’ I had not realised I had such a reputation, and it made me smile even more. Back to today: after a short flight over the South China Sea, we reach the Philippine coastline.
Cleared to land!
Descent briefing, approach briefing, and down we go. We are approaching Clark airport. The volcano on downwind, mount Arayat, is already visible. We come from the northwest, and fly over the airport before joining the righthand circuit of runway 02. The first approach I fly in via the ILS. It’s a hot and thermal day at the airport, firm updrafts on final, something you simply cannot simulate in the simulator. First landing is ‘good!’ Quickly take off thrust, and back in the air we go, flight directors off, and time for some visual circuits. Second landing, the flare would have been perfect for a 737, this means not enough for a jumbo! Ok, flare more, flare earlier. Next landings and circuits are good again, and so, an intense 20 minutes later, we extend upwind and I have to get out of my seat. My training partner gets to fly his circuits and fly back to Hong Kong, as I watch from the observation seat.
On the observation seat the adrenaline slowly starts to come down, and I feel so happy. I accomplished another step in my ever so short aviation career. This is also what I enjoy so much about this profession: you can always keep striving to be better, and there is no limit in how far you want to go in your career. There is always a next step; the step to learn to fly a new type, to become an experienced First Officer, Captain, trainer or examiner. You will have regular checks your whole career, your performance is always monitored, by your colleagues and the company, but mostly by yourself! I feel I am now in the perfect place to develop myself further. I fly with very experienced captains, with such various backgrounds, from bush flying to military, and decades of wide-body experience. I am certain every day I will learn tons from them, and with a positive mindset as always I now start the 747 training flights.
As I write this I had my first line training sectors, and I enjoy it tremendously. I keep comparing my days at my previous low cost passenger airline, and my first steps as a freighter pilot for a flag carrier. I always dreamed of long haul flying, and now I have layovers in Malaysia, India, Japan, Vietnam and London coming up, and that’s only the beginning! Most readers know I use my Instagram almost as a personal diary, and it’s great so many of you enjoy ‘tagging along’ a bit with my progress and adventures. I will also continue writing here, about the cargo operations and many other things, but my next article will be when I have completed the full training. Some hard work ahead, so many new experiences ahead: taking it one flight at a time.