Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Off we go... no, wait... okay, off we go, into the wild blue yonder...

We have a short time to wait for our first flight.

Orange County / John Wayne Airport has a large-windowed lounge area overlooking the runways – it’s where we ate lunch when we arrived eight days ago. It happens to be right next to our gate, so we can sit and watch the planes come and go. As an aviation buff, I used to do this for hours at various airports, before the post-9/11 security restrictions.

Just before 10:30 we see a United 757 land. I bet that’s our plane. Sure enough, a few minutes later it’s turning into our gate. And not much longer after that, it’s time for us to board.

We’re away on time. The pilot announces that we’ll be taking off to the southwest, and asks us not to be alarmed by their noise abatement procedures at this airport, which require them to throttle back after reaching only 1000 feet! Fun. Then once the plane is out over the ocean (it’s only five miles to the west) he’ll throttle up and climb as we turn back to the east.

Visibility out of these little side windows is not great, but I still like to follow the taxiway markings and see when we are about to turn for takeoff. John Wayne Airport has two parallel runways: 19R/34L, which is the longer, wider one used by the airliners, and the 19L/34R, a smaller runway used by general aviation planes. I wouldn’t normally note this, except that our jet turns onto 19L – the smaller one. Why? I’m trying to remember the times I’ve looked at the layout of the airport on Google Earth, but I don’t recall that it’s necessary to turn down the small runway to get to the big one. Hmm.

The situation gets more interesting – the plane turns on a taxiway pointed back at the terminal building and comes to a stop. What’s going on? I daresay most of the passengers haven’t even noticed anything out of the ordinary, but I’m confused.

Within a few moments we hear our captain’s voice with an explanation. One of the flight management computers is showing an error message. It’s one of three redundant systems, so there wouldn’t be a major safety issue if it went out, but they don’t want to depart without it like this, just in case. They are trying to reboot the system to see if that clears the error. Okay.

We sit for about five minutes and then start moving again – the captain tells us everything is up and working fine now, and a tail wind on our way to Denver should make up for the delay here on the ground.

We line up behind a couple of other jets, and shortly we are turning onto the runway – 19R this time! Down the runway we go, and up into the air. I love flying! I barely even notice the engine reduction, even though I’m listening for it, and then in a matter of seconds we are over the ocean and banking to the left. The ocean and the beach look beautiful from above.

I plug my headphones into the plane’s audio system, and find that on this plane there is a dedicated channel for the cockpit’s radio transmissions. For a wannabe pilot like me, that’s a wonderful thing. I tune in and am able to follow all of the altitude clearances, heading changes, everything.

The flight goes really fast when I’m able to listen in like this. We cross Arizona, Utah, back into Colorado. I keep Becky and Benjamin informed as to when we are cleared to begin our descent – the cabin PA announcement comes right after I tell them – and when we’re cleared to land. It’s a great deal of fun for me.

Once we’re on the ground in Denver, we taxi to our gate – with no delay this time – and grab our carry-ons and head into the terminal. We’re here before 2:30 (Mountain time now), and our flight doesn’t leave until almost 4:00, so we have time for a decent lunch.

Hang on – the information screens are showing our homeward flight is delayed for an additional hour. Okay, so I guess we have time for a really relaxed lunch!

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