Former British Airways pilot on flying iconic Boeing 747 jumbo jet
After nearly five decades of service and millions of miles, British Airways is retiring its fleet of jumbo jets.
Former BA pilot Alastair Rosenschein recalls his first time flying a 747 and says he remembers his heart rate going as “high as it could possibly go”.
Here are some more of his memories:
Today marks the end of an era. As British Airways announces that it is retiring its entire fleet of Boeing 747s I can look back at how extraordinarily lucky I was, as were many other pilots, to have been selected to operate this “queen of the skies”.
The 747 was like no other aircraft that had flown before. Its iconic design with its four large Rolls-Royce RB211 bypass engines and raised bump on the forward end of the fuselage made it instantly recognisable and distinct from all other aircraft.
I joined British Airways in February 1988 having flown the far smaller Boeing 737 for six years with Britannia Airways.
Given my flying experience, I was assigned to the 747 fleet and began my training at BA’s Cranebank training school.
Words cannot describe my excitement as a pilot to know that I would soon be flying the jumbo jet.
The ground school technical training was both complex and intense and was immediately followed by the lengthy and challenging simulator training, which covered all manner of systems failures.
In this respect, the 747 was no different from other jet aircraft of that era, but at the back of one’s mind was the inescapable fact that one was about to take on the awesome responsibility for the safety of 400 passengers and crew.
Finally the big day arrived and I, along with seven other newly trained pilots, walked out across the apron in the Spring sunshine of 1988 to this magnificent beast towering above us for our first flight.
As we boarded, the training captain told me that I would fly it first. The flight was from Heathrow to Shannon where I would then enter the circuit and fly three touch and go landings.
What I had not prepared myself for was the phenomenal performance of this aircraft when flown empty and with a low fuel load.
Whilst the famous test pilot and first American to break the sound barrier, General Chuck Yeager, would have been calm and relaxed at the controls, as I was thundering down Heathrow’s runway 27L my heart rate must have been as high as it could possibly go.
The calls of “V1 and rotate” were made and I hauled this glorious aircraft off the ground for the first time.
One week later was my first revenue flight over the pond from Heathrow to Anchorage in Alaska and then across the Pacific to Tokyo and Osaka, before completing the trip by returning along the same route with night stops at each destination.
Within two months I had flown the 747-100 and 200 series aircraft to five continents.
This was just the start of almost 20 years operating the 747. As an aircraft, the 747 flying controls functioned as they do on all aircraft.
However, the big difference was the enormous inertia that was the characteristic of such a large and heavy aircraft.
Every manoeuvre had to be considered and actioned just that much earlier in order to achieve an accurate and smooth flight path.
The design and dimensions of the 747 made it quite unique, for example the main wheels are located some 100 feet behind the pilot and at the point of touchdown, with the aircraft inclined nose upwards, the pilot is literally 100 feet above the ground as the aircraft touches down.
Within four months of starting to fly the 747-200 I received a phone call from the 747 chief pilot’s secretary to inform me that I was to join the first ever training course for the new B747-400 glass cockpit aircraft. All my Christmases had arrived in one day.
Thirty two years later we learn that BA’s 747s will never fly again. I look back with sadness, but also with immense pride and honour to have operated this special aircraft and, in its day, largest of all commercial airliners.
Goodbye my friend, we will miss you.
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