When The Pilot Says It’s Normal

Ninety five percent of the time flights from John Wayne takeoff and land toward the south.  That’s where the rich folks live!  To appease the beach communities there are noise abatement procedures outbound from SNA.

Takeoffs are so unusual, the pilot usually briefs the passengers so they’ll know what they’re about to experience is OK!

Today Sully actually stood in the aisle holding the PA’s telephone handset upside down as he explained.  At the end he proclaimed, “God bless America.”   That got a round of applause, but somehow felt weirdly creepy. 

Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m all for God blessing America.  It just seemed an unusual setting.

We took off and climbed to 800 feet.  Then the pilot dropped the nose and pulled back on the throttle.  You hear and feel it right away.  The plane slowed as the engines spooled down.

Unless it’s your first flight, you instantly know it’s wrong.

Once we cleared the shore, up went the revs and nose.  It couldn’t have taken more than a minute or two.

This is a new route for me.  We headed north, just offshore, over the Pacific.  Then, around Silicon Valley turned inland flying by San Jose Airport and Stanford University’s football stadium.

I could see the San Francisco and Oakland skylines as we headed up the bay toward SFO.

We’re back in the air now, over the Sierras.  There’s a little snow below.  It’s the exception, not the rule.

There is WiFi on this flight, but the payment processor is broken.  No Internet for me. I’ll post this after we land from Milwaukee.

7 thoughts on “When The Pilot Says It’s Normal”

  1. I remember flying to and from LA with my Dad, Mom, and brother back in the 1970’s and experiencing what you did, Geoff. When I saw all the houses packed together, I figured it has to do with where we would fly over. It is quite strange and quite interesting.

  2. Having piloted jetliners for years in and out of SNA (Santa Ana), the “noise abatement” takeoff procedure to the South was designed to takeoff at maximum rated takeoff thrust (runway 19R is only 5700′ long) and gain maximum altitude in a very short distance so that the noise footprint overflying the residential areas just to the south of the airport are impacted minimally. You are correct in that at 800′, because the initial climb angle is so steep, the aircraft nose is lowered in order to maintain airspeed because of the abrupt reduction of thrust at that altitude. At the start of the takeoff roll, the engines are producing maximum rated thrust for the ambient conditions, and the power reduction that occurs at 800′ is approximately 90-92% of what was applied on initial power up. Airspeed decays rather quickly with such a significant power reduction which necessitates the lowering of the nose of the aircraft.
    This unusual noise abatement procedure is all done of course, in order for the airlines to be good neighbors to the wealthy Orange County residents who live right in the departure corridor. There are “noise sensors” strategically placed along the precise flight path the aircraft flys, and if the procedure is not flown precisely, the airline is subject to a noise violation fine which is substantial. That is why most pilots brief the passengers about the unusual departure procedure so that they won’t misconstrue the abrupt power reduction as something being wrong with the aircraft.
    It’s kind of like what they used to call in the old days “an E ticket ride” at Disneyland! How appropriate, because Disneyland is so near by as well.

      1. Hi Carole,

        Contrary to popular belief, IFR in pilot speak, does not mean “I follow roads”, but rather Instrument Flight Rules. Every major airport in the world, has at least one, if not several ILS transmitters (instrument landing system), and all airliners have ILS receivers on board which receive those signals and guide the aircraft to the runway in all weather conditions. So in answer to your question, no, we do not follow the 405 nor the Santa Ana Fwy to land at either airport. That would be very difficult to do in dense fog.
        With respect to the video link, I have flown that very approach thousands of times. It’s always enjoyable. Thanks.
        Sorry to have temporarily co-opted your blog Geoff. My apologies.

      2. My brother-in-law was a pilot for 38 yrs for a commercial airline. My sister also worked for the airlines. He tells me all kinds of stories about flying. It is very interesting.

  3. I’ve heard that about SNA takeoffs from several people, usually within the context of warning me not to fly out of there if I can at all avoid it. :} That would totally freak me out, as many times as I’ve flown my brain would know instantly it wasn’t right!!

    A similarly weird airport to fly out of is Fayetteville, AR. The runway is bookended by mountains, so basically the takeoff needs to be as close to vertical as possible. Probably the closest to rocket travel most people will ever come. It’s freaky, too.

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