Crossing Paths Over Canada

May 22, 2007

An extremely disconcerting view from an aircraft window is the full frontal view of a 747 heading your way. In the freezing cold air over Canada, on the way from London to Chicago I was watching our contrail shadow creep across the forests and lakes and was somewhat mesmerised by it when I lifted my gaze to find myself looking at a 747 blowing its own massive contrail. By the time I had grabbed the camera, powered it on and gotten the shot it was moving well below and past us. The crossing speeds were phenomenally fast and unfortunately that head on view was lost very quickly. Lost in the detail is the fact that it was a KAL flight, probably boring in from Korea and heading south to New York or somewhere similar. I grabbed a shot of the plane but also of our crossing shadows. In this photo the top frame catches the KAL flight. In the bottom frame the KAL shadow cuts from top to bottom. It is very faint but is about half way along our shadow which runs from right to left. Kind of neat but disconcerting at how quickly those aircraft were crossing. And that 1000’ of vertical separation did not feel like it for a heart-stopping moment.

400 Tonnes Gets Airborne

May 14, 2007

The 747 is roughly 200 tonnes of aircraft and 200 tonnes of fuel. Pretty amazing weight when their take off and flight it so elegant and graceful. They say fat people make the best dancers – sure on their feet and confident about handling their bulk. But I would be reluctant to label the 747 fat. Big boned maybe. Not fat.

I took this sequence of photos as we departed Sydney yesterday. If you take note of the leading edge in the top photo, taken while we were powering north along the runway, you can see how straight it is. As the aircraft lifts off and the weight is taken off the undercarriage (wheels) you can see what happens to the wings as the 400 tonnes is transferred to them – the leading edge takes on a decided curve upwards to the tips. If you are standing on the ground watching this, from behind and below, the fuselage appears to hang in the middle of the wings, as indeed it is designed to do. The engineering involved in this is endlessly amazing. Think about the compression of the top skin of the wing as this happens. And the stretching of the underwing skin. Then the reverse when the aircraft lands. Then think about the metallurgy involved. The internal plumbing. The fact that it is a wet wing – fuel is flooded through parts of it. A constant source of amazement.

747 Action Shot

April 8, 2007

And while we are mentioning the 747 here is a gratuitous shot that really stands out from the cloud of other excellent shots you can find on We used to look for “action shots” of aircraft when we were briefing the generals, and the rule of thumb was simply this: “It is not an action shot if the undercart is down.” Well, this is an action shot we would have been happy to have break that rule. Photo by Stuart Yates who clearly was in the right place at the right time.

The Brakes Were Glowing Red

April 8, 2007

I had just endured one of the least pleasant aspects of travelling from Australia to Europe with QANTAS – the stopover in Bangkok. It is a tired airport that offers poor respite. But we were back in the plane and thundering down the runway heading for Frankfurt when suddenly we were thrown forward in our seats as the reverse thrust came on and the brakes were applied. The complete inability to do anything except hang in the seatbelt was remarkable. The g-forces were probably not that great but were sufficiently strong to overcome any ability to sit upright or move your arms. Turns out the fuel pump on one of the engines had failed so the crew elected to stop and replace it.

We stopped at the end of the main runway and blocked it for an hour as the brakes cooled down.The Thai fire crews rushed out, seen here approaching the plane (the humidity had fogged up the windows), all jumping out of the vehicles and excitedly pointing in the area of the nose wheel and the main undercarriage. The Captain came through a few minutes later and explained the brakes were “glowing cherry red” and we would stay where we were until they had cooled down.

Five hours later we took off again. After enduring another painful four hours at Don Muang airport, Bangkok.