Just an irk…

1345/21st August 2021

No extra excuses are needed for me to pay close attention to the sky which, I think you know, I do anyway.

We were told to expect a hurricane on Sunday-Monday.

Then it was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Then it skirted past us and made a few nearby towns very wet instead.

How is it these storms always coincide with full moon?

Saturday evening, the dense humidity caused mist to form in the valleys. Atmospheric, but not very comfortable if you had to be outdoors.

Even if the stifling air didn’t prohibit outdoor activity, mosquitoes did. When I whipped out to do my rounds, the little perishers were in my ears and up my nose.

Did I say there was a place for everything in this world?

Maybe not mosquitoes.

Waking early yesterday, I went to glance at the sky which certainly looked ominous.

The pink hue was a bit of a surprise, I must say.

Clearly, when I had my five-minute course on meteorology, from British Airways, there was a lot I missed. It was one of those on-the-job training situations, when the company decided to use Customer Service staff in Operations. Those were the people who talked by radio to arriving and departing aeroplanes and they also produced weather charts and route information to brief the pilots.

There’s nothing quite as demeaning as finding yourself working beside properly trained, highly experienced staff and being expected to do the same job. It made me feel a right twit. On top of which, some of the highly skilled staff were none too pleased with having to train little irks like us. We were going to bring down the reputation of the department, jeopardize jobs and raises, etc etc. All quite true, of course, but we were just doing what we were told.

Fortunately for us low-life’s, most of the OPS gang were very helpful, so there came a time when we could at least perform basic tasks fairly confidently. The above document had to be supplied for all trans-Atlantic Concorde flights. The flags denote “points of no return”, in the event one engine was shut down, above the line and two engines shut down beneath the line.

The codes on the flags denote the airport that would be reachable with the remaining fuel on board. Sometimes it meant continuing the flight but landing in Shannon. Sometimes it meant turning back and depending where the aircraft was, it might not be JFK, it could be Halifax or Gander.

On this particular day, once the flight arrived at approximately 53 West, it could still make it to London on three engines. These points had to be calculated for each flight, using that days wind components that you had to figure out using charts.

Bear in mind, our function was dealing with the travelling public and all that entailed. Winds and clouds and weather forecasts were Greek to us. Then there was the air-to-ground radio.

You’d be sitting there biting your nails, hoping everything would go according to plan because only experience could teach you what to do if it didn’t.

In the good old days, any of the BA fleet could call in to the professionals at JFK for advice if the weather was bad. JFK would shut down because of snow, for example and you’d get a call:

“SPEEDBIRD 175 – SPEEDBIRD KENNEDY”: (“Speedbird” was our call-sign) You’d respond in the conventional way and then “SPEEDBIRD KENNEDY, we have to divert, where would you like us to go?”

In my case, I would make a face and think “How the hell should I know?” but I would say : “Stand by SPEEDBIRD 175!” and scream “JOE!” (or “JIM!”) and hope he was in the office.

Joe/Jim would have been looking up the weather in all the possible airports up and down the coast and would have worked out which option was going to work best. This involved crew flight time limitations, passenger handling facilities, weather outlook….Joe always had all of the info and could make sound recommendations. The rest of us? We didn’t have a chance, because it wasn’t as if we worked in OPS five days a week. If you were lucky you were there twice a week, but it could be twice a month, which is no way to learn a new job!

What happened, of course, was that our pilots stopped relying on JFK to offer useful information. Modern aircraft had a raft of computers and our crews became self-reliant.

Not that anyone cared about our opinion, but it was a slipshod way of cutting costs and a fairly harsh way of treating one’s employees.

My nerves had been severely stressed before I ever went to work at JFK. The amazing thing is that it was my spine that collapsed, causing me to retire early and not my nerves!

One thing I will never regret though, are the years I spent handling Concorde flights. Not because of the wealthy and famous passengers she carried, but because of the deeply professional people who were devoted to her, from flight crew to cabin crew to engineering staff and yes, the professionals at JFK OPS. They were not only professional. They were nice, they were funny and they were kind.

She was a special aeroplane that attracted very special people. I am blessed to have known them.

4 thoughts on “Just an irk…

  1. I must admit … that map makes me a little bit nervous 😳. My stress levels would have gone through the window!
    Love the sky photos (and you’re right … mosquitoes are the intruders in this world!!

  2. Very interesting post. I loved seeing those “ports” – Halifax and Gander. Ports where I actually landed on my Flying Tiger flight from New York to Shannon and on to London in 1959. A 14 hour flight instead of going by ship which I would have preferred.

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