Today’s Flight Plan
I joined the Aviation Geek Fest 2015 in Washington State. In Everett, Boeing Field and Renton, we say a lot of amazing aviation specific things: VIP Tours, Simulators, Boeing Factory, Museums, and more.
During the process, we saw the Everett Factory where Boeing makes the 777, 787, 747, and 767. We also visited the Future of Flight Museum, next door to the Everett Factory. A talk from a Boeing Test Pilot, a great dinner with other avgeeks, and amazing giveaways.
On the second day, we saw the Renton Factory, where the 737 goes through final assembly. Additionally, we saw an area where airlines pick their interiors in life-size mockups of aircraft.
If that wasn’t enough, I was able to visit the Alaska Airlines Flight Training Center with Mike Swanigan (AviatorCast 17). What an amazing experience that was! Talk about a cool look into the history of airliner simulation.
All these experiences I share in more detail during this podcast.
Can you spot my wife and I in these pictures?
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Big jets or little jets, if it ain’t Boeing, it ain’t going. This is AviatorCast episode 60!
Calling all aviators, pilots, flight sim enthusiasts and aviation lovers, you’ve landed at AviatorCast! Join us weekly in our efforts to become better masters of the air through interviews, refreshers, lessons, training topics, simulator set-up, hangar talk, news and more! Buckle up and prepare yourself for this week’s episode of AviatorCast! Preflight complete, fuel on board and flight plan filed. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires!
Here’s your humble host, Chris Palmer!
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators, you’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. Oh, the challenge of flight, to touch the air and long to return, the hum of a prop-turning motor, the wish or the air rushing by and the world of possibilities aloft. If you didn’t guess it already, I love flying. I am the founder of Angle of Attack, a flight training company which is bringing you this podcast today. We bring you AviatorCast weekly. We talk about flight simulation and flight training topics and overall just inspiring aviation topics. We generally try to get a great person on the show and an inspiring person in the simulation or the flight industry and we get a lot of great aviators here at AviatorCast to share their passion each and every week.
Now this week, I don’t have an interview for you guys but I do have some really cool experiences with some other aviators, aviators that have actually been on the show that I definitely I want to share with you guys. So we’re going to get into that a little bit later. But join us every week on AviatorCast. This is a great and fantastic podcast. Again, we try to get some cool people on the show. Also, we get some people reviewing us on iTunes and I like to read your reviews on the show to just show that other people out there are enjoying it as well. This one comes from UndergroundATL from the USA, I’m guessing he’s probably from Atlanta, and he gives us five stars.
He says “Thankful for guys like you. Currently a military helicopter pilot and love the show. I am thankful to have found a relevant aviation podcast that is current and up-to-date. Keep up the good work.” Thank you UndergroundATL and as you all know, if you get a review read on the show, I am going to send you an AviatorCast t-shirt. These are exclusive t-shirts. You’re not going to be able to buy these anywhere else. You are not gonna be able to get them anywhere else other than right here on the show. So go ahead and leave us a review on iTunes if you do enjoy the show. It really goes a long way to make sure that our podcast can get some better visibility out there in the community and that we can keep sharing these great aviator stories that we have almost every week and just keep sharing this passion and keep things goings. So that would really help us out if you’d go to iTunes and leave a review there, and in exchange for doing that, we will also send you an exclusive AviatorCast t-shirt, so we really, really appreciate that.
So on this week’s podcast, I am going to get into my aviation trip the Pacific Northwest. Now, the main component of this was the Aviation Geek Weekend which was put on by airlinereporter.com. This was a great and a fantastic time. We had a lot of cool experiences at several other Boeing locations and I was also able to meet many cool, cool people, and then there are some other things speckled in there as well. I know you’re going to want to hear about this. In addition to that Aviation Geek Weekend, I went and met Karlene Petitt and I also went and hung out at the Alaska Airlines Flight Training Facility which was very enlightening. I have a lot of cool stuff to share there as well. So we’re going to get into that here in just a couple seconds but first, there are just a few news items from the flight simulation space, so let’s get those out of the way and then we’re going to talk about what cool things I saw and experienced at this Aviation Geek weekend.
Now, flight simulation industry news…
Chris: Alright, so just two news items today. The first one is very exciting for you X-Plane out there. This is PMDG’s first product for X-Plane and that is the DC6B for X-Plane. So this is a very exciting development. This is the first time that PMDG which is a very reputable manufacturer or software company that creates this aircraft has come in and they’ve done an older aircraft. So generally PMDG does some popular aircraft like the 737 and 777 which they are very well known for, and they also have some other well-known models in MD-11 and the 747 but those are very, very well-known models and they’ve never really gone to these older models like the DC6B. So this is very exciting, and not only that, it is the first PMDG product for X-Plane so you guys ought to check that out.
The second is Ultimate Terrain Europe 2.0. So this is a great product that gives you some new scenery in that area. It’s what they call a vector product. So what it essentially does is shapes the landscape much more realistically than you would get with the default simulator. Now, this is a similar product to that which you would get with Orbx and their global series, FTX Global that is. So those are kind of two competing products but this is the new 2.0 version of Europe from Ultimate Terrain. Pretty good, worth looking at. So those are the two big things that I saw coming out of the flight simulation community that I wanted to bring all of your attention to.
That is it. We don’t have any flight training news for this week so we are going to get right into the Aviation Geek Weekend and all of the other things I experienced while I was in the Pacific Northwest, so here we go.
Finally, after a long journey down from Alaska, we arrived in the Pacific Northwest SETAC to be exact at around 11 p.m. We made our way north to Everett Airfield to the Hill and Garden Inn where we stayed. Now, the Hill and Garden Inn is right next to the future of flight museum where we would be the next day for the Aviation Geek Conference. And from this perspective, you can see the entire flight line at Boeing. You can see all the new airplanes that are out in front. You got tons of 787s, you got a few 747s and definitely a lot of 777s as well, so this is the factory where they do all the heavy aircraft and you definitely see a whole heck of a lot of them out there. It’s a really impressive site and so this is kind of a nice welcome for us to the area to see that flight line all lit up late at night.
Now, quickly it became apparent that I left my laptop on the airplane. So that was kind of a bummer to start the trip as I found out that I didn’t know where my MacBook Air was, so that’s the kind of laptop I have. Kind of a bummer. But we were still excited and ready for the next day and so that’s kind of how things started off in this trip. Now, the Aviation Geek Weekend is something where they do a lot of cool VIP tours, you get a lot of behind the scenes look, a lot of access to much of the Boeing things, and then several other things that you’re able to do as well. I mentioned that there is the future of flight museum right there and then there a lot of other facilities that we got to see that I’ll talk about.
But this is a very popular event. I was primed and ready to sign up for this event this year. It’s sold out about 200 tickets in 30 seconds. So tickets went super, super fast. My wife and I got what they called full tickets which is we got to see everything over the weekend but I had a couple friends go that weren’t able to secure those full tickets and so they only got to see some of the things although they did get to see some very cool things. So again, as I mentioned, this was the Aviation Geek Fest or Aviation Geek Weekend. It’s better known as the Aviation Geek Fest put on by airlinereporter.com.
So day one was kind of the big Everett day, the big day at the big factory. So first off, we started out the future of flight museum where we got to see a lot of the cool things there. This is more of kind of a younger generation discovery kind of science sort of museum where kids can get pretty excited about aviation and of course as an aviation geek, the kid came out of me and I was very excited about a lot of the things I saw. It’s not that it’s only geared towards kids. It’s just it’s more geared toward I guess scientific and engineering, learning and things like that but it is still very cool. So you walk in the door and there are flags from every nation hung up on the ceiling. They had a sign-up area where they gave up some cool giveaways and a gift card to the Boeing store. The kind of things you see in the future of flight museum, they have life-size engines, like a 787 and a 777 engine in there. They also have a gigantic life-sized tail of the 747. I’m pretty sure it’s an actual tail of a 747 painted in the new 748-i or is it -8i, I’m not too sure, but one of the large orange tails for the 747s is sitting there.
So you start to get a perspective of the size of some of these things. They have various cockpits laid throughout. There’s a 727 cockpit in there. There are some full motion, kind of 3D simulator-type things but they’re more kind of the play movie type ride simulators than they are where you can actually manipulate the controls. They have some different cool things just spread throughout. We took a little bit of time to check out and it was a lot of fun. Of course, it’s always fun to go to the Boeing store and try to find some swag that you can take back home. I found a cool B-17 shirt that I got, so I was really excited about that. I kind of like that vintage era. Didn’t find really too much, also I like this stuff for a notepad, but we came away with some good swag there and that was really cool.
So after we got an hour or so right there at the Future of Flight museum, we have to give up our cameras which was essentially everyone’s cellphones and you couldn’t take cameras on this store, and then we were going to go on a tour at the actual Boeing factory. Now, some facts about the Boeing factors itself which is essentially just right across the street, you take a tour bus and you go down there. They call this Boeing City and it is literally a city. I mean, they have their own fire department. I don’t think they necessary need a police department but maybe they do. They obviously have some sort of large security department. They have five coffee shops. It just literally is like a mini-city. It’s pretty crazy how big it is. It is the size of Disneyland so you can fit Disneyland inside. It is the largest building on Earth so the thing is huge. They are doing the 777, the 787B-17 shirt that I got, so I was really excited about that. I kind of like that vintage era. Didn’t find really too much, also I like this stuff for a notepad, but we came away with some good swag there and that was really cool.
So after we got an hour or so right there at the future of flight museum, we have to give up our cameras which was essentially everyone’s cellphones and you couldn’t take cameras on this store, and then we were going to go on a tour at the actual Boeing factory. Now, some facts about the Boeing factors itself which is essentially just right across the street, you take a tour bus and you go down there. They call this Boeing City and it is literally a city. I mean, they have their own fire department. I don’t think they necessary need a police department but maybe they do. They obviously have some sort of large security department. They have five coffee shops. It just literally is like a mini-city. It’s pretty crazy how big it is. It is the size of Disneyland so you can fit Disneyland inside. It is the largest building on Earth so the thing is huge. They are doing the 777, the 787, the 747 are all being produced in this one factory that is all connected.
It has the largest mural in the world so in the sliding doors that they have out front, the hangar doors in you will that they have out front, they always have a really cool mural of their aircraft line, so 787, 777, 747, really cool images. Definitely iconic. I’m sure you guys have seen that before. Now, you can also fit 55 football fields inside of the Boeing Factory which is crazy to believe. They mentioned some sort of fact that you could play the entire NFL season in one day in this factory, like all the simultaneous games all at once or something like that. Pretty wild to think about but just some crazy facts there. For you guys that are in Europe, you can fit three Wembley Stadiums inside the Boeing Factory and there are one million light bulbs. So those are just some of the few of the facts that kind of give you some perspective on the size of this Boeing factory.
Now, as general public, when you go through the tour at the Boeing factory, generally, you go over there and you go up to kind of more of an overlooked area where you can see the factory. Definitely still worth it if you’re ever in that area to go. But what we got to do as the Aviation Geek Fest, we got to get down on the ground floor, the ground level and we had a VIP tour. So they bussed us over there, they told us some things along the way. They drove by some of the airplanes on the way, told us about the paint hangars and some of the other airplanes that were out, some cool facts about the building, and then they pulled us around next to the 777-X area that is currently under construction, and this is where they are actually going to do their own in-house building of the 777-X wings from what I understand. So it will be an all carbon fiber wing, pretty impressive, so they’re having to add on to the factory in order to build that out. So all of that’s happening right now.
We kind of pulled up to that area. We all scurried out of the bus. They gave us these little headsets that we could listen to our tour guide with and then we walked the floor of the Boeing factory for hours, a couple hours to be exact. We walked through the 787 area and you could see how from right to left the parts come in for the different pieces of the fuselage and the tails and the wings, and as it moves on down the line, things are connected together and eventually what comes out the other side of the factory in that area is a 787 that is ready to go be painted. It has the engines on it. It is ready to go pretty much. Has almost everything already done to it.
Now there are instances where they won’t have the seats in them because the airline will do that in their own country, but for the most part, all of the seats and everything are put into the airplane and it’s just going to go to the paint and it will essentially be ready for service at that point ready for delivery. So pretty impressive. I believe, if I’m not mistaken, I believe they’re rolling out a 747 every four days or something like that and I could be wrong there but it is a very fast process. So from what I understand, that’s about how quickly they’re coming out of the factory and then from the second they start building one to when it comes out of the factory is something like 40 days.
Now for those of you who know about the 787, you know that a lot of the parts come from all over the world so they ship in the fuselage, they ship in the wings, the tail, all that stuff comes in on the Dreamlifter which is the modified 747 and then it comes together and goes down the assembly line. So you get to see that entire process kind of taking place. They have the 787-8 and -9 there. Very cool to see. I love the 787. I’ve always loved the look of it. It’s a very cool airplane and it’s just kind of at the beginning of its career if you will and I hope it has a very long life. It seems like a great airplane. They had a few kinks that they worked out there at Boeing and it looks beautiful. It’s an amazing airplane.
So that’s the first area that we saw. And then we got to the 777 area. Now, as you know with the 777, this is a proven platform. This is an aircraft that has been around for a long time. It’s hard to believe that it’s been around for 20 years now I believe is what we’re coming to, but it’s still a viable platform. They’re mostly building 777-300s these days, 300-ERs and so we got to see that process. Same process. A lot of the stuff comes in from the right and they’re constantly connecting it and it’s moving in down the line.
Now, as you know with all the facts that I named about the factory, everything here is done at a different scale. I mean, if they need to rotate a fuselage or pick it up with a crane and move it or whatever, this is a huge, huge place, and they have the machinery that can pick that stuff up and move it. Now, one thing that really impressed me as we went along the factory and they’re sharing the facts about things and how everything comes together which is all very impressive, what really impresses me is how amazing the project management is and the lane manufacturing and all that stuff coming together right there along the factory floor. I mean, the fact that all of these stuff comes together in one place and people put it together on time and on schedule and it gets out the door per the customer requirements, it’s just absolutely amazing. So it’s really cool to see and it’s especially cool to see from a perspective low on the ground where you’re actually walking through all of that rather than the topical Boeing tour which is just kind of a bird’s eye view of the entire factory. Again, both of them impressive but this VIP tour was definitely amazing because you got to be right there, kind of as if you are a factory worker which is really impressive.
So we saw all the 777s moving through. On each of the 777s you could see, or really any of the airplanes, it would say what airline it was for, what number of aircraft that was for that line, and then in the factory doors right in front of where the airplanes have come out, they have tails of the different liveries that were delivered. So in order of the costumers that took that livery on those aircraft, those are located on the doors, so that’s pretty cool to see how many airlines have taken delivery of those specific types of airplane.
Then we got to the 747 area. Now this area is a lot different because the 747 doesn’t have a ton of orders right now. It isn’t necessarily a popular airplane anymore. There are still a few orders in for it, mostly cargo operations. So it’s really not as fast of a process as the other 787 and 777 lines. I think they turned out one that’s much less frequent, one every few weeks or one a month or something like that. It’s definitely not at the frequency that you’re seeing with the other platforms. The 777 and the 787 are hot items and they are trying to build them as fast as I can and they are only accelerating that process so it’s just going to get faster.
So to kind of wrap it all up, really, really cool tour of the floor there are Boeing. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience which is exactly why we wanted to go on this Aviation Geek Fest Weekend, so that was really cool to see. We went from there and again passed some other cool aircraft and cool buildings on the way to what is called the customer delivery center. Now this is the delivery center where the customer will get their completed airplane and much of the time, they will actually have a group of, whether they’d be employees or executives or just people from the airline that are able to take an inaugural flight from Boeing to their home location, wherever that is. So it’s kind of a ceremonial place, a place where the hand-off is taken from Boeing to this new customer and they take their brand new airplane.
This is much like a terminal. So there are actual gates here. There is an operating TSA that will run security for this small terminal, there are only two gates, and then out front of this, you see a big line of airplanes. In this area, they’re mostly 787s. I mean, there are so many airplanes out here that they kind of span for a few miles around and you can’t see all the airplanes that are brand new and kind of sitting out in the ramp but they are everywhere. But this is the delivery center. So it’s pretty cool, very nice place, and it’s cool that Boeing takes the time and the effort to make kind of the ceremonial hand-off of their aircraft. It’s a big celebration for these airlines when they take these brand new airplanes especially when they’re taking something like their first 777 or 787 and I can imagine that some of them really enjoy taking delivery of their new 747-8i or -8f or whatever it is. Very cool. Very cool delivery center, very nice. Definitely more of a customer center than anything.
So after that, we had a few hours to browse around, get a small snack or something like that, spend a little more time at the future of flight, and then it was dinner time with the airplanes there are the future of flight. So there is a big floor in front of what was a screen and a stage and a bunch of giveaways that were going to happen later. We had a very nice dinner. We sat down to a table with strangers, got to know each other, talked about our passion for aviation and then just kind of got excited about the night ahead. We had a great meal again. A test pilot from Boeing got up and spoke for about an hour, his name was Chad Lundy. He shared a lot of really cool facts about the Boeing test flight process and the things that they go through. Shared some cool videos. Seem like a great guy. Engineering background which is pretty typical of Boeing pilots, and just really, really cool.
So that was enjoyable and then they got into a raffle drawing. Now they had a lot of cool prizes. They had all these executive airline models that people were kind of lusting after. They had a lot of cool airline giveaways that people wanted, and the biggest thing that everyone wanted was tickets to Cutter Airlines. Anywhere in Cutters Network, you could get these two business class tickets. So they were a couple tickets for a couple or something like that and you could go anywhere in the network. Unfortunately, we waited and waited and waited and my wife and I didn’t really win anything. We did get some other giveaways that they gave out like some amenity kits, some first class amenity kits from United Airlines and some other things. Some fun stuff that we enjoyed, some Alaska Airlines trading cards or something like that.
So we got a lot of different cool stuff. It was just overall and enjoyable evening, a good end to that day. A very cool day of seeing all of that behind the scenes stuff at the Boeing factory there in Everett. Just really impressive and a great day. Definitely if it was only this one day, it would’ve been worth the trip but we had a second day coming up the next day.
So that gets us into day two. Now, day two started out a little different. As you remember, prior to this podcast, at least a couple podcasts back, I talked to Karlene Petitt who is an international airline pilot and author of Flight to Success. Very cool interview. I really enjoyed that. And during that interview and that podcast I said “Hey, there’s this Northwest Aviation Conference coming up Karlene. I’m going to do my best to get there” and that’s exactly what I did. So there were some things going on for the Aviation Geek Fest or the Aviation Geek Weekend in the morning where you could go and you could tour some of the museum of flight which is different from the future of flight, I’ll tell you a little bit about it later, but I wanted to spend that time in the morning to go and meet Karlene so that exactly what my wife and I did.
We rushed down to where this place was because it was kind of out of the way. We got in there five bucks a piece and we had 30 minutes to go through the entire conference. Ten minutes of that was spent with Karlene. It was really great to meet her and her husband Dick. She had a bunch of books out. She was selling them pretty well. A bunch of cool signs. A very great person. I got a signed copy of her book Flight to Success so I’m looking forward to reading that, and just overall a really, really great thing.
Now, there’s a little lesson here, a little background lesson that I want to give you guys if you’ll take it, and that is that I really didn’t have to go out of my way to go down there. I could’ve made every excuse, say “I came down here for the Aviation Geek Weekend, I spent money on it, I’m gonna spend my time there.” But I went out of my way because I wanted to make this connection with Karlene and in a way to say thank you for her joining us on the podcast.
So it just so happened that Karlene new someone at Alaska Airlines who worked at the airport and what eventually happened was this woman went down to the lost baggage area and she found laptop for me. So if I wouldn’t have gone to meet Karlene, I would’ve never made that connection to getting my laptop in a timely manner. So I was only without it for a couple days. Definitely worth the trip to go down there and see Karlene. But you know, getting the laptop, I was going to get the laptop eventually, mostly it was about just getting to meet her. So it was really cool to meet her.
My wife and I, we buzzed around the entire conference, met with a few people, grabbed some pens, that kind of stuff. One really interesting thing that happened there that I wanted to point out to you guys was this is one of the main sources where Alaska Airlines does its interviews for their pilots. So there was this little corner at the conference where there was a line of 20 guys lined up in really nice suits and they are looking really sharp, and this is where you could get a face to face interview with Alaska Airlines. And that is pretty atypical of an airline where you can actually go to a place, you know you can go to a place and get an interview. Essentially usually it’s who you know.
And from what I understand, Alaska Airlines hired 400 pilots from this conference last year. So it’s a really important place to go and definitely worth it. So it’s cool to see those guys kind of lined up there and see them interviewing there just right there in the conference floor. I saw a lot of other great things. I wish I could’ve spent more time there but it’s great to see aviation strong in a place like that. Now this was only a couple hours in the morning. This is day two. There are still a lot more to go. So my wife and I, we had to rush back to the museum of flight because we had to make the buses to go to the other tours for the day.
So we rushed back to the museum of flight. We literally ran in the doors and ran to get on the tour bus and we barely made it on, and then we were going to see the things for that day. So a couple of things we are going to see this day were the customer experience center and the Renton factory. So the customer experience center came first and this is a really unique place because this is not open to the public at all, there are no public tours. Actually both tours this day aren’t open to the public but this one especially isn’t open to the public. This is a place where the airlines come to choose seating for their aircraft, to get more familiar with the seat lay-outs of the aircraft. So it’s kind of in this inconspicuous business park and you don’t really think that something like this would be there but they do have a Boeing building there and you go inside and inside, there is a full Cabin mock-up of the 787 and the 737 and a partial mock-up of the 747, part of the lower deck and also the upper deck of that 747.
And in these areas, you get the first class seats which are really amazing. You get business class cabins. You get the regular kind of economy seats. So really cool. You get to see the sky interior, the 787 and also how that’ s going into the other models. They do have a 777 one there that’s not done yet. We didn’t get to see that quiet yet but very cool to see the seat lay-outs and to sit in first class if you will, go to the upper deck of the 747 and enjoy that, really cool.
So we just wandered around there for an hour or so, I think about an hour and a half and just really enjoyed that. Now, they also had kind of a back area which was some of the more technological stuff that Boeing was showing off. So they had what was essentially kind of a level C simulator there. It means it didn’t have motion or anything. I’m not sure if that’s level C but it didn’t have motion or anything but it is a full mock-up of the 787 cockpit and so you could sit down and fly the 787 so of course I wanted to do that. So I got in line and waited about 50 minutes and then it came up my turn and that was a lot of fun. I’ll be awkward because we were flying the airplane from outside the airplane. It’s like this outside perspective of the airplane and I didn’t know why they hadn’t set it up to be inside the cockpit but it pretty much made the landing weird and impossible.
But it was still cool to be at the controls of a 787. Those big, big displays were really neat to see and man, I would love to have one at my own home but I also want to stay married so I don’t think I’m going to be doing that. Just really cool. Just really cool to be able to fly that. It was only for a minute and a half but a lot of fun. The whole customer experience center was very cool. I enjoyed that immensely. And then from there, we went over the Renton factory. Now the Renton factory is where they build the 737s and as many of you know, the 737 is by far the most popular Boeing jet there is. It is still popular to this day which kind of surprises me. I mean, it’s this little 737 that is very economical and has a great mission that accomplishes a lot of things for a lot of airlines and so a lot of people are still ordering it.
So again, no public tours allowed here at Renton. They do do it for private parties like this Aviation Geek Weekend. So, really cool to go through that. This was a little different. We didn’t get to go down on the factory floor. We did have kind of that skywalk view of that factory but still really neat. So this was impressive. A 737 comes off the factory floor. They have 1-1/2 average 737s come off the factory floor every single day. So this is a very quick process. These airplanes come in, they’re going through basically a stage day and there are four stages I believe. So in four days, they typically put together the entire airplane. So we saw jets from some Chinese airlines, we saw Delta Airlines 737 there. Really cool. They paint the rudders before much like some of the other heavier aircraft, they actually paint the rudders before. I think on the 787, they’re actually painting the entire vertical stabilizer which is interesting. It’s some sort of weight and balance issues with the 787-9 that they do it that way now.
But anyway, they also have a revolving N number so this is a cool little fact. There is only one N number for every 737 that flies out of Renton up to Boeing field. Now, they are painted at Boeing Field so Boeing Field is where the Museum of Flight is and also the painting facility and other Boeing facilities but the painting facility of the 737. So there is only on N number for those aircraft. I don’t know what the exact N number is but it flies out of Renton and lands in Boeing Field and then they paint it and then it has its different identification number. And it’s not always going to be an N number then, more likely than not it won’t be. It will be something else because of the international nature of the 737 that it’s all over the world. So it’s kind of cool. It’s like a new N number every single time that flies that flight, or the N number is not a new airplane every single time so I thought that was pretty cool.
On the side of every 737 is the number 737 and there is like 5300 something or other pretty cool. To see the frequency here at the 737 factory and the fact that they’re putting 1-1/2 per day is just amazing. It’s still an amazingly popular airplane. Obviously they have the 737 Max coming out as well soon so it’s not going away. This is an aircraft that’s going to be around for a long time. I fly on Alaska Airlines a lot and I think the 737 is a great airplane and it’s doing well so why not keep selling them instead of creating something new. I think it’s a great airplane.
So that was really fun and enjoyable. From there, we went back to the Museum of Flight which was where we were supposed to start our day but we kind of sacrificed that to go to the Northwest Aviation Conference and see Karlene. And here there were a lot of great airplanes. The Museum of Flight is one of the better flight museums in the world. It is a very, very good museum. So they had the Concorde there which is very cool to see, I’ve never seen a Concorde before. I know you Brits out there are just so proud of that airplane and it’s a beautiful airplane. I have to say, it’s really, really cool so I took some great pictures of that. And then onto the 787, they have the first test 787 I believe, it’s the first or the third. It’s one of the test 787s that they had and that is out there and then they have Air Force One and this was Air Force One for John F. Kennedy, Lindon Johnson, Richard Nixon, so several different US presidents, they have Air Force One.
It’s a 707 so it’s not a 747 but really cool. So we got to see all that. We got to tour the museum. We didn’t get to see it all but we saw enough to make us happy and then we kind of took the rest of our time there to say goodbye to new friends and wrap things up at this entire Aviation Geek Weekend. A very cool and a very fun time, enlightening. It was just amazing to see how cool all of these manufacturing behind the scenes is. And it’s great to meet other like-minded people too. This is a fun conference to see how many people from different walks of life and different parts of the world. We’re here to take part with aviation geekery is what it boil down to.
So I really enjoyed that. Now, I know that we’re still going on here. This is possibly one of the longer monologues I’ve ever had but I still have some more cool, cool stuff to share with you guys and another cool experience. So that kind of wraps up the Aviation Geek Weekend experience but about a week later, I was invited to go to the Alaska Airlines Flight Training Facility and our good friend Mike Swanigan or Swani as many call him from episode 17 of AviatorCast was kind enough to show my wife and I around the flight training facility and introduce us to people and see a lot of the cool, cool things that we’re going to talk a little bit about that.
Swani is an awesome guy. He’s just as funny in real life as he was in the podcast. He is an awesome person. He is also on commercials. He is like this popular guy. I didn’t really even know this, but he’s also on commercials with Russell Wilson for Alaska Airlines and you can see why because he’s just such a cool and personable guy. I really enjoyed our time with him there and it was so great to meet him. That was our main purpose for going. The rest of what I’m about to talk about was just icing on the cake.
So soon after we got there, after we walked in, it’s all secure and so Mike had to let us in. I don’t think we had to sign as guests or anything but anyway, he showed us around. We soon met Mika Storer. Now Mika Storter. Now, Mika is the simulation guy there on staff for the day and he knows everything about the simulator. So as you can imagine with the flight training facility, Alaska Airlines had a line of level D flight simulators, full motion, full cockpit, great visuals and it’s like flying the actual airplane. And I believe they have four simulators if I’m not mistaken.
So what was really cool and what I kind of didn’t expect from this visit was Mika took us through the history of flight simulation as it pertained to this large airlines. So initially, we went to one of their models which was this old 1990s model. It was a room full of computers and he would open up a big rack of computers with a bunch of circuit boards and a bunch of connections and he would say “Okay, this is the display unit. This is what we’ve got here that’s driving the display or this is what is driving the displays.” And by display I mean the actual visual display of the outside environment and then he would say “These two racks are for what drives the displays in the actual aircraft, the avionics.” And so one by one he took us through these all huge racks and this big room. You got the old computers with the black screen with the green text on them, I mean old school sort of stuff.
And he took us through the history, the progression of this was like. So then we got into another simulator that they took probably in the early 2000s. There were fewer racks. It looked a lot better, more efficient. Definitely you could see the technology getting better. The simulator itself was better as far as visuals and things like that. Not as many rudimentary old school computing things going on. And then we got into their newest simulator which they are most proud of which is the simulator from CAE, has Rockwell Collins visuals, and this thing is the bee’s knees.
So what was rooms of computers before for that 1990s model, now for this newer amazing visuals, perfect simulator, no hydraulics by the way in the motion platform, it was all electronic jack screws so they didn’t have that stuff to deal with. But this thing, it only had a few racks of computers and even then, there were only just a few modules inside each of those racks and this thing didn’t have hardly any hardware that was attached to it. You could just see how much better the computer technology has gotten over the years and oh by the way, the visuals on this thing are amazing.
So because flight crews were in the simulators at that point, we couldn’t go in and we’re going to wait until they got on break which was soon coming up. So Mika took us into kind of their development room for the visuals. And so in this area, he explained to me that they had gotten a few of the airports from Rockwell Collins for the visuals but they weren’t able to get a very special airport which only Alaska Airlines basically flies into which is Juno. Now, I think another airline flies in there now, I think Delta flies in there now but primarily in the past, only Alaska has flown in here. So there was no reason for Rockwell Collins to make this airport so they had to do it on their own.
So I stood there as Mika sat down to this machine where they had essentially created all their own visuals for the Juno Airport and this was amazing, amazing quality. We’re talking about Orbx quality stuff here and Orbx is a flight simulation developer that does great sceneries. We’re talking about amazing stuff. These guys did it all in house and it matches that quality. It’s just incredible. So I was really blown away. They had marshallers outside, all the scenery looked realistic. They had what was called patchy wet which was really impressive. It’s like if it just rain and you have kind of standing puddles on the ramp, you can see those puddles and you can also see the reflection in those puddles. It just looked amazing.
And what Mike Swanigan and I got in a small conversation about was that this is what makes simulation really truly amazing and believable because if as a pilot you believe that you’re there even for an instant, then you have fully immersed yourself in the training environment and when you forget you’re there, you can truly learn as though you were there. And so that’s what a great simulation does whether we’re talking about an airline style one here or whether we’re talking about one that you have at home. That’s what you really want to accomplish, is those moments where you forget that you’re not actually flying.
So very, very cool. It was so impressive to see Mika because he would just type in a few lines of code and he would just isolate to show us the buildings or to show us just the runway markings or something like that. I mean, this guy was a wiz. He really knew what he was doing. Very professional. You could just tell this guy was top notch.
So then, the crews were on break, we got to go out and actually fly in one of the simulators, I believe it was a 700, probably an 800, it might have been a 700. Anyway, we got to fly in one. We didn’t have any motion because we didn’t want to mess with what the previous crew had done. We didn’t want to bring up the bridge or anything like that. So I was able to do a takeoff which was pretty fun and even though you don’t have motion, it really feels like you’re there. It’s unbelievable. We came back around and then Mike had set me up for an HGS. I had him bump the visibility down, I just wanted something challenging for the few minutes that I had in this sim.
So I brought up the HUD and I did a HUD approach and that was super fun. I went down the minimums, landed pretty well, and I was excited about that. My wife got to fly for a little bit too. Not as much as me but she took the controls and turned it around a little bit and sat in the right seat. She’s my best co-pilot. So we really enjoyed experiencing that together. And that was one of the old simulators. So then we went over to that new simulator that CAE had made with the Rockwell Collins visuals and we just looked inside and saw the visuals because the crew had set it up and they didn’t want it messed with or anything.
So we got to see the visuals in there and then we actually got to open up the doors on the side and looked into that big kind of, that canopy you see that is meant to be the screen that the pilots look at for the outside visuals, and you get to see the technology in there. So it’s dealing with projectors and mirrors and material and all sorts of crazy things that project those visuals and so we kind of got to see behind there what that looks like and that was really neat as well.
And then some of the intangible parts of just walking around the Alaska Airlines Training Facility, getting to meet the wonderful people there. You got the sense that this was a family more than an airline. People knew each other well and Swani is always with everyone. He has specific compliments just for them. He was kind enough to introduce me and the AviatorCast podcast, he is very complimentary of it, to many of his colleagues around there, one of which was this first officer, this woman first officer that was going through her recurring training and I actually saw her on the airplane a few days later when we left Seattle so it was like “Hey, how you doing?” and she said she was going to listen to the podcast so that was pretty cool.
It became very apparent that Swani is a very influential guy around Alaska Airlines. There is no doubt why he was part of their commercials, why they love him so much because you can see his, you can’t actually see it, but Swani won the customer service award before they started putting up plaques on the wall, and then he won the Ace award and the Ace award is the top award at Alaska Airlines. From what I saw, there were only about 20 people in the history of Alaska Airlines that had won this Ace award so he was one of those, just a top, top notch guy.
And then to kind of polish it all off, icing on the cake if you will, tucked behind some plants that were sitting there, some decorative plants where Swani’s speed records that he had set in the 727 and I didn’t get a ton of time to actually read what they said. I did take pictures of them but I’ll make sure to put a lot of the pictures from this event on the actual podcast page so you guys can see all of that stuff. I got to take a lot of pictures at the Alaska Airlines Training Facility so you will be able to see all those. I took a lot of pictures, the computers that Mika showed us and some of the visuals and things like that, so make sure to go to Aviatorcast.com and check that out.
But that was my experience at Aviation Geek Weekend and with Alaska Airlines. I really want to thank Mike Swanigan for showing us around. Really, really appreciate that. It was so nice to get to see him and meet him in person. He is going to be retiring soon from Alaska Airlines so this was kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity and in addition, it was really great to be at the Aviation Geek Weekend. I get to be around like-minded people and on top of all that, get to meet Karlene Petitt in a few short moments at the Northwest Aviation Conference as well. So tis ended up being a very productive time down there in the Pacific Northwest and it inspired me to, as Mike Swanigan puts it, be excellent to each other. That is a phrase that he has coined and I really love that.
And it just showed me that aviation more and more is about relationships and that’s what this conference and all of this time that I spent down there was all about. It was about relationships. It was about sharing that with the people, the contacts I had made already with Mike and Karlene and some of the new friends I met at the Aviation Geek Weekend and also being able to share that with my wife and my friends. It was a great fun time, gave me some energy for this aviation thing and I just enjoyed the heck out of it.
So that’s it guys, that’s all I have to say for this week. We have a very great podcast coming up next week. I’m going to have a few messages here and then we’ll get into the closing thoughts.
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Chris: Alright everybody, thank you for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. A final big thank you to Mike Swanigan from Alaska Airlines and Alaska Airlines themselves for not only allowing us in their flight training facility, but also getting my laptop back to me so quickly. Also, a big thanks to Karlene Petitt. I’m really looking forward to reading your book and I’m sure it is absolutely awesome. And a big thanks to airlinereporter for putting together this great Aviation Geek Fest Weekend which I’m sure I speak for many when I say it was very enjoyable and something that I would like to do again and I’ll remember those things for the rest of my life. So just really, really cool. I really appreciate it.
I also want to thank the Angle of Attack crew for all that they do to make AviatorCast possible each and every week. These guys really do a lot of great work behind the scenes. And thank you to our listeners who are out there evangelizing AviatorCast and helping us grow. We really appreciate you. If you do enjoy this episode of AviatorCast and AviatorCast in general, we do ask that you go and review us on iTunes. That would mean a whole heck of a lot. If we read that review on the show, I will send you an exclusive AviatorCast t-shirt and I’m sure that you will love it. I will send that to wherever you are in the world.
Alright guys, so thank you so much for joining on this episode of AviatorCast. Next week, we are going to have Austin Myer from X-Plane on the show. He is the founder and the main guy there at X-Plane so it should be a really, really cool episode. So I’ll see you then. Until next time, throttle on!
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