As I drove down our neighborhood hill at 05:30, a rust-orange glow interrupted my lethargic trance. The glow wasn’t the rising sun. It was actually the moon, a very bright blue moon, to be exact. Its larger relative size made it appear as though it would sink into the waters of our lake with a searing hiss. I smiled.
The only appropriate thought that immediately came to my head was, “Way cool.” Later, I would have a revelation … as would many other people: How appropriate that the phenomenon of a blue moon would occur on the same day that we honor the first human who set foot on its surface. Nothing else needed to be said.
I followed that blue moon for two days. As had been my routine for months, I was flying to London. But on this occasion, the flight left in the morning, as opposed to a standard evening departure. Through our trip-trade procedure at the airline, I had done some schedule reshuffling.
The wonderful aspect of the morning London trip was that it consumed only two days of work for the same pay. Scheduled departure was at 09:40, with a return on the second day at 20:10. The five-hour difference between the United Kingdom and the U.S. East Coast tortures the body’s circadian rhythm. But the two-day trip almost completely eliminates the issue. I can remain synchronized on normal body time the entire trip.
Why not fly this trip all the time? Unfortunately, the trip is a favorite among pilots senior to me. I lose the initial monthly schedule bidding war but win the occasional trade battle.
Because the 777 has a small fleet size relative to other airplanes at my New York crew base, the same pilots and flight attendants gravitate toward the same trips. Informal clubs are created. In that regard, I was an outsider. I remained on my best behavior.
When I began the process of retrieving the flight plan paperwork in Operations, I was pleasantly surprised by another bonus of the trip. A relief pilot was included. The evening trips I typically flew in the summer were crewed with only two pilots. I hadn’t realized that the seasonal schedule change had occurred in anticipation of the jet stream sagging to the south. Soon, greater headwinds across the North Atlantic would be experienced on the return home. The FAA’s eight-hour flying rule had the possibility of being exceeded.
Our relief pilot, Tom, was a seasoned veteran. Steve, the first officer, was of similar seniority vintage but was relatively new to the 777. Steve had been a Super 80 captain at our Boston crew base. When the Super 80 was eliminated from the Boston bid schedule, Steve elected to commute to New York from his home in Vermont. He returned to the right seat as a 777 copilot. The transition back to three stripes afforded him more control of his schedule.
As per customary protocol for the relief pilot, Tom excused himself to perform the walk-around inspection and the cockpit set-up procedure. Before he strode away, I gestured at our airplane parked at the gate. The gate was immediately below Operations. The entire airplane was visible from above. The top of the fuselage gleamed against the morning sun. Tongue-in-cheek, I suggested to Tom that he could complete the walk-around through the picture windows. Tom nodded with a sly grin, his eyes indicating that he would preflight in traditional fashion.
A short time later, Steve and I arrived at the forward entry door of the airplane. We introduced ourselves to a handful of the flight attendants who were scattered about the first-class cabin. As per my typical routine, I requested that the purser gather all 11 flight attendants for a quick briefing.
Although the primary purpose of my briefings is to discuss emergency procedures and contingencies, it also is a friendly form of introduction. Without the introduction, it’s not unusual for the cockpit crew to make the acquaintance of the coach cabin flight attendants on the bus that drives us to the layover hotel. And in this particular circumstance, I was the new kid. I wanted to make a favorable first impression.
With the briefing complete and the wary looks transforming into guarded smiles, I shuffled my bags into the cockpit. My first order of business was to review the maintenance logbook. Unusual for the 777, the logbook contained numerous MEL (minimum equipment list) items. One of the items involved a bleed valve. This particular bleed valve controlled the supplemental power for one of the hydraulic systems. Bleed air was the drive for these particular hydraulic pumps. The pumps operated during peak demand to move the landing gear and the flaps, primarily during takeoff and landing. Specific operating procedures were required to compensate for the non-normal function of this valve. Part of the procedure required the APU to operate as a back-up source of air.