Day #2 of a 4 day
Position: Overnight hotel facilities, Sacramento, Ca.
Time: 3:00 A.M.
We departed the east coast of the Empire in the early hours of darkness, after a two hour weather delay caused by torrential rain. The night's route took us to Sin City for a quick stop. During the post-flight inspection, my co-pilot spotted a gash in #1 main gear tire (first tire on left side of aircraft). We must have hit something on take-off or landing. Our Sin City night crew of mechanics responded instantly with heavy hydraulic jacks and a new main gear tire. They jacked the left side of the aircraft three inches off the ground and changed the tire within 30 minutes; our second take-off was only 1 hour and 10 minutes behind schedule.
Level at 28,000 feet, we poked at our crew meals and made a routine check of the Sacramento weather while we ate our company provided cold chicken. The mini-printer spit out my weather request after only two minutes. I can eat and read in the flight deck at the same time, something the wife of my youth will not allow at home. She can't stand food stained paper at the table. So, holding a chicken wing and the weather report in my left hand, I installed the mandatory geezer glasses with my right.
Suddenly, I lost my appetite: 1/4 mile visibility, fog, and low cloud cover. My eyes went to the fuel tank quantities... 12,800 pounds. That would be enough for one approach attempt, then a bingo fuel run to a close-by alternate airport. Obviously, the good weather forecast was blown. As expected, the email alert light started flashing... A message from Mother. KSMF wx down. What is FOB? (translates: Sacramento airport weather going down. How much fuel on board?)After several more emails, we decided Reno would be a good landing alternate for our fuel situation.
At 100 miles distance, we listened to the updated weather report directly from the airport. Visibility was down to 1,000 feet (i.e., how far down the runway you could see if you were standing on the runway surface. This sounds like adequate visibility, but at 160 m.p.h., it is not a lot). Air traffic control asked us, "How many cats you got onboard?" (Cat stands for category, which describes the low visibility landing capability of a particular aircraft. Airliners, typically, are Cat 3 capable, which translates to very little or no forward visibility requirements.) I answered, "We've got three cats onboard."
Most airlines, including mine, do not trust co-pilots below 1800 feet runway visibility, so I was legally bound to take over flying pilot duties. This is a rule that puzzles me... In the right seat is a 27 year old hot shot with perfect vision, perfect hearing, quick reflexes, and an agile mind capable of multi-tasking. Instead, the old guy with geezer vision, ears ringing from 30+ years of aircraft engines, so-so reflexes, and a not as agile mind, gets to do the flying in extreme low visibility. The theory is that the Captain's experience makes up for less than perfect physiology. OK, I'll buy that, but the Captain should be the deciding authority on who flys the approach.
I reminded the co-pilot, that I would have to fly the approach. He graciously offered the controls to me 75 miles from the outer marker, but I told him to take us to the outer marker and I would take over from that point (the outer marker, a radio beacon underneath the approach path, is about where the approach procedure begins...). Entering Sacramento airspace, the approach controller told us the visibility was holding at 1,000 feet. I was feeling better about the fuel situation. At 10,000 feet, the co-pilot extended the speed brakes shedding energy into the night sky. Sacramento was a glowing blob of yellow light beneath the low clouds. Flaps were extended to 10 degrees at 240 m.p.h.; 15 degrees at 225 m.p.h.; landing gear down/flaps 20 degrees at 210 m.p.h. Approaching the outer marker, I took over the flying pilot duties. I called for flaps to 40 degrees at 190 m.p.h.; the co-pilot announced that the landing checklist was complete. We checked in with the control tower crossing the outer marker, they in turn cleared us to land. Life was good... Briefly.
In the fog, gear down, full flaps, engine power stable, all lights illuminated; at 1200 feet above the rice fields, our landing lights illuminated a V-flight of geese, flying IFR, on a compass heading of about 180 degrees. The A320, moving at 160 m.p.h., overtook them from four o'clock high. We penetrated their V formation before they, or I, could react.
WHUMPWHUMPWHUMPWHUMP!! The strikes were incredibly loud in the flight deck and we could feel each and every impact, in extremely rapid succession. The co-pilot said something like, "We hit 'em!" I looked at the engine gauges for any sign of ingestion...Nothing. No compressor stalling; I made a blanket statement of, "We're OK. Engines are fine. We did not ingest any. Thank God! We'll continue the approach."
A minute or so later, the main gear tires smoked on the touchdown zone markers. I taxied slowly in the fog until we approached the terminal building, where we could no longer see ahead of the aircraft. Our ramp personnel came out to the aircraft with their flashlights and walked us in to the gate. I moved the engine master switches to the OFF position and told the co-pilot, "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for a little nap." It was 2:30 A.M. I called Mother and reported the bird strikes, then started on the paper work, an evil necessity.
A few minutes later, the co-pilot and I walked around the aircraft looking for damage. It was so foggy, that our flashlight beams looked like phasers. On the left side of the aircraft, underneath the wing and the engine pylon, were large areas of blood splatters, tiny pieces of body parts, and feathers. Embedded in the landing gear, other body parts. It was a mess... A mechanic, also piercing the fog with his flashlight, yelled, "Hey Cap, you got a goose hunting license?"
A fair question, considering...