Sydney to Copenhagen, 2001
I went to Europe in July 2001 in quest of the perfect cup of coffee.
From the cockpit of a 767 at 39,000 feet to subterranean German Bunkers. I saw many a strange and wonderful thing along the way. But did I ever find that holy grail?
Photos from my trip to the Kingdom of Denmark in 2001.
Travelling to Denmark
Fun at Sydney Airport
I arrived in plenty of time for my flight and pretty quickly worked out that this place was organised! Arrivals, Departures, and more importantly changes in departures were being announced constantly over the public address system.
Feeling like a seasoned traveller I made my way to the lounge and waited for the other passengers to show up. Well I was early!
First to show up was a charming young lady toting a voluminous white wedding gown and a ton of hand luggage. And I had sweated to get under the 5 kg limit! Maybe she knew something I didn't. No.... they'd have to be strict on luggage weight surely. I mean to carry 1 kilogram of luggage 20,000 kilometres would burn about... ummm..... anyway a lot of kerosene, I was sure of that. The train on her wedding dress alone must have weighed in at 5 kilos.
It turned out that she was heading off to Morocco to get married. The charming gentlemen accomanying her was not her husband to be but her father. She had met a Moroccan boxer during the Sydney Olympics 2000. How romantic! A great story!
The next to arrive was a young woman studying English Literature. She was off to China to rendezvous with the boyfriend and then to teach English in a quite remote Chinese Village. I've forgotten her name so let's call her "Madame X".
Departure was set at 2120 hours (9.20 p.m.) At 8.50 only 21 or so passengers had fronted.
By 9.00 there was no sign of the boarding staff of other passengers. Nothing to worry about, I reassured my co-travellers. I must have some leadership charm because nobody outright panicked. A few shifted uneasily in their seats. "Any changes of departure gate will be announced", I said confidently.
I knew this for a fact as I had been an international traveller all of ... mmm... 60 minutes or so. At about 2115 "Madama X" came back breathlessly from a recce -
"They've changed the gate - it's 2 gates along!"
Wedding dress and related tackle was swooped up and we flew breathlessly over to the new gate and straight on to the plane. Not even time to stop and berate the airport staff!
Ahem... live and learn. Obviously the old "eternal vigilance" was going to be necesary to survive in the airport jungle. He he he - the adventure had started and I wasn't off the ground yet!
Sydney to Melbourne
After rushing onto the plane and stowing my 4.99 kg hand luggage (the limit is 5 kg), I found my seat and strapped in. The view out the window was black.
Meanwhile, on the inside I was snug and warm and still trying to figure out the video screen controls! Each seat on this Malaysian Airlines 747 had a controller in the armrest tethered by a cable. It looked like a game console controller on one side and a mobile phone on the other. In fact it was a game controller and mobile phone! You inserted a credit card to make long distance calls ... or high altitude calls... and the 'game' side controlled the LCD video screen embedded in the headrest of the seat in front.
After 15 minutes of fiddling about I realised that the screens weren't turned on yet. Then they were on and I was surfing! The setup was something like cable TV, with channels showing movies in various languages, a collection of video games - no flight sims, info screens about Malaysia and the Flight Information Screen. This was cool!
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 747 in Microsoft Flight Simulator 98.
As well as showing our position on a map it gave such useful information as:
Time to destination: 22 minutes
Altitude: 31 K (that's 31 thousand feet)
Ground speed: 536 mph
Outside temp: - 50 deg Centigrade.
Catering to Muslims, the screen also showed the direction to Mecca. There was a prayer room upstairs.
Going to Melbourne was a bonus, more take-off and landings! (Melbourne is South of Sydney - Europe is North).
Cockpit Tour 747
About 4 hours into the flight - just as we left the coast of Western Australia and I prepared to watch Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality" again! - I went up to the cockpit. Up the spiral staircase and into a world of flashing lights and more MFD's than a Eurofighter Typhoon!
I was fortunate enough to see the captain and co-pilot perform a climb from 37K to 39K. None of the passengers would have noticed the climb which was performed with a combination of autopilot and a feather touch on the throttle quadrants. Very smooth!
I asked the co-pilot the reason for the climb - "Well Air Traffic Control wanted to de-conflict us with another flight coming South at Flight Level 37." That sounded like a good idea. The captain turned the cabin lights off and we peered into the void but there was no sign of the oncoming flight. Just as well anyway, with a closing velocity of over 1,000 knots it would have been a short glimpse!
"Check out the moon!" said the captain, and we did.
Awesome...... poetic. How can I describe it? The brilliant white globe hung glowing off the port bow amidst a sea of sparkling diamonds. Below, a fairytale carpet of milky white clouds. Cotton wool, surely, and looking more like a Hollywood set than reality.
For a moment we hung motionless.
No one said a word.
Then it was lights on and back to business. I floated back to my seat and watched Michael Caine try and teach Sandra Bullock how to walk like a lady.
NOTE: My cockpit visitations were organised well in advance and through official channels. I feel it is particularly important to make this point in light of the tragic events of September 11th 2001
Cockpit Tour 747 - factoids
I had time for a few quick questions before leaving the crew to their work:
Yes, 3 digital representations of the ADI, Altitude and Airspeed indicators, each house in their own little nacelle. Neat!
Inertial Navigation System?
6 Laser ring Gyros.
All and everything... Altitude hold, Attitude hold, Great Circle Navigation etc etc..
Sure... this HUGE control lever and a spilt flap system.... check it out on landing
Kuala Lumpur Airport
Inside Kuala Lumpur's ultra modern terminal
I arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport in the morning and had about 5 hours to kill.
The airport terminal has jungle vegetation growing in the centre in a glass atrium. This is a nice idea as it lets in light and makes the terminal feel less antiseptic, as well as giving a taste of the tropics.
Check out the size of that engine! The aircraft was a hive of activity with luggage loading vehicles that looked like they had sprung from the belly of Thunderbird 2 - come to think of it the 747 looked a little like Thunderbird 2!
Don't you think so? There may be some family resemblance.
Take Off from Kuala Lumpur Airport
This time I had a window seat. And it was daylight. The wing seemed to go on F O R E V E R !
A huge wing! I was surprised to see the wing flexing up and down as we started the take-off run. I don't usually think of metal as being plastic but here it was flexing away. The wing tip must move about 2 metres vertically.
The outer part of the wing started flying some time before the rest, so the outer engine was actually flying and bobbing about in the turbulence while the inner engine / wing and the fuselage remained firmly planted on the tarmac.
The acceleration was great, pressing me back into my seat. It occured to me that I would have to drag out my sub-woofer cushion when I got home. The rumbling sensation and noise really adds to the realism of a takeoff.
Up we go - the 74 climbs like a demon.
Schipol Airport, Amsterdam
After winging high over central Asia, Afghanistan and on to western Europe we arrived in Holland. We headed over the sea to begin the approach. Here we are banking left to final.
My first impression was - wow! - there are a lot of planes here. As we rounded each corner I had to modify my estimate upward.... how big is this place?
I eventually worked out the answer "Damn big!" Check out the 'pedestrian map' of Schipol.
The red numbers with the pedestrian symbol indicate walking time in minutes for each section of the airport terminal.
Landing at Copenhagen - in the cockpit!
As I ate my bread roll and jelly I saw the symbol of Holland - windmills - dotted over an intricate patchwork landscape. I made my from my seat at the very back of the plane to the cockpit and said to the crew.
"So this is the Netherlands eh?".
The copilot looked at me bemusedly and said:
"No.... this is Denmark!"
As an Aussie and sometime history buff I had certainly read about the geographical compactness of Western Europe but it was going to take some time to adjust to the reality of it. Denmark for example - you can cross the country by train in 3 hours.
To cross Australia by train takes 3 days!
Anyway back to the cockpit - this was a buzz... sitting strapped in like a fighter jock with 2 lap straps, a groin strap and 2 shoulder straps going into a circular quick release buckle I had the best seat in the house.
We had contacts on the radar - yes there was a radar-like a display which would be familiar to all jet combat sim fans. It looked like something out of an F-22 or Eurofighter with symbols for contacts displaying target's altitude and their rate of ascent or descent. The information was gleaned from the transponders on board what turned out to be 3 hot air balloons way below us and a Cessna landing to the right, 90 degrees off boresight.
The landing was awesome! It was fast, and with the million dollar view my adrenaline levels were peaking by the time we braked to a halt.
On this occasion I saw that VFR (Visual Flight Rules) can mean steering between towering mountains of cloud thousands of metres high.