Crash Course: How to man a plane

Now let’s take a look at your experience so far with the mean machines of travel: the road with a jeepney? The sea with a boat? That is some impressive practical knowledge you have there, but we cannot let you finish the course just yet.

Never proclaim the party over without the rock star: this is a plane we’re talking about! By meme-speak, we invite you to “Get in, loser. We’re going flying!”


Who is a pilot? To spot them is easy. It’s the exclusive garb. Whether it’s the army green flight suit or the captain’s white button-down, it is always paired perfectly with aviator’s shades. They look cool, breathing in the air of admiration. Appearance tells us what they do but it does not, however, tell us how they came to be qualified to do it.

Everyone can become a pilot, but not everyone is one. To be considered successful is to be in the sky flying, as a result of perseverance and hard work. By its demand for intelligence, attitude, and experience, the dream is kicked off by an education that itself requires a college degree.

The Philippines has, as a matter of fact, a profusion of competent flying schools all over the country, from Cagayan down to Davao, attracting aspirants all over the world for the schools’ quality training and decent fees. Since the 1 to 3 million peso tuition fee of budget establishments and high-end aviation schools are still a lot for most people, alternatives include directly entering the workforce, securing “fly now, pay later” programs of some carriers, and enlistment with the Philippine Air Force, where government funds make air education possible.

Regardless of the institution, flyers start in the classroom to study the science of flight, which includes physics, meteorology, and navigation, as well as a crucial understanding of air traffic – all of which are prerequisites to glorious flying time. After 150 to 200 hours in the air, graduation and licensing will bring you closer to joining the sky fleet where safety is their business.

That is exactly why the transition to a larger reality can harass you. Both the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines or the CAAP and your prospective employer will check on your suitability as long as you plan to stay in the flying game, possibly dismissing you and a handful of other dreamers for health technicalities.

The airline industry owes its generous compensation and rewards of a dual E nature – that is, ‘economic’ and ‘exciting.’ Airlines pay their pilots a pretty penny so that they will fly their planes, while also giving them the perks of free seating, hotel-quality accommodations, and allowances. Aside from the obvious thrill of flying a 105-ton bird, they get to visit different countries on a regular basis, experiencing the culture of the location, even if only for a short time.

(After that welcome diversion, we get on to the main article!)

Now that you had a glimpse of the industry and occupational aviation, does the vivacity of flying interest you? The Menagerie, with the help of Captain Franco C. Mendoza of Philippine Airlines, brings you a session in flying meant to satisfy your imagination. Ready, set, take off!


The Lesson

Before we start, let’s give you a general idea of what a plane looks like, or more specifically the parts that make it operate. A typical jetliner like the 747 would have four jet engines on the wings. The rudder, a dorsal fin-like flap located at the tail of the plane, steers the aircraft left and right. Now, at the back of each wing are these flaps that would extend; they bank the jet left or right.  Other key parts are inside the cockpit, such as the yoke, side stick and tiller that all act as the steering wheel of the aircraft. The yoke is what makes the plane go up or down, the side stick moves the flaps, while the tiller moves the rudder.

Now, let us join Capt. Mendoza as he goes on a typical flight:


1.5 hours before scheduled flight

Before boarding the plane, the pilots meet with their airline dispatchers in an office in the airport, called the dispatch area, to receive instructions. During this procedural meeting, they discuss the flight plan as pilots are given information regarding the destination (such as the state of the other airport’s runway), weather (always different, therefore specific in management), and airplane condition (determining how long it will take to fix the problem), which are unique to all journeys that subject the flight to delay or cancellation.


1 hour before actual flight

It is time for the pilots to get inside the aircraft and report to the cockpit, either through the tube the same way as passengers usually do or via the airport shuttle, to start the plane check procedure. Invariably, they go through a checklist that serves as their review prior to actually flying the plane.  Other things should be on hand, such as the certificates of the aircraft issued by the CAAP deeming the jet worthy to fly, along with the worthy pilot with a license and medical certificate. A reference manual should be available throughout the flight, and scanned for revisions from previous pilots, while the captain (or by his or her delegation), as the one primarily accountable for the plane, inspects the physical condition of the aircraft for necessary redundancy with the more technical ground maintenance, with whom the plane crew coordinates with using those cool headsets.


Sitting down

Inside the cockpit there would usually be four pilots (if not two; if flight time is more than eight hours, they need relievers to allow them rest), the captain, co-captain or first officer(s) and the second officer(s), each of them distinct by rank in accountability, experience, and pay rate – though all are addressable as “captain.” At the start, actual captains would be seated in front, and the rest of the officers would be behind them.


Take off

At this point, all passengers are seated and the doors are shut. The captain fires the Engine Selector that marks the beginning of the “engine start sequence.” By the grace of technology, the computer would be the one to do most of the work, like ignition and fuel control. The jet is then taken to the runway by a tram and is lined up for their turn upon taking off, all the while the first officer coordinates with air traffic control (as they would do throughout the trip for joint judgments). Once given the go signal, the captain pushes the thrust lever forward, and the plane starts to move. It starts to taxi and it gains speed as it rocket forwards in the runway. When the appropriate speed is achieved, the captain pulls the yoke, and the plane starts to climb. Woohoo!


Climb and Cruise

As the plane ascends, once it is above a certain level, the wheels of the plane are retracted. The aircraft has to reach a certain altitude before it reaches flight level to which a plane cruises (flies straight). Once it is at this state, the captains, who usually take turns during the flight would turn on the autopilot, which is actually not a joystick with a big red button like in the cartoons but an inconspicuous toggle among the many knobs in the flight deck.


Descend, Land, and Park

At the appropriate distance or as advised by the control tower, the pilots now proceed to descend. They would use the three-part steering wheel to bring the aircraft to a certain height in order for them to land the plane. When near the landing strip or runway, the landing gear (the wheels! the wheels!) would unfold from the jet’s belly and the yoke would be pulled back, and after a speedy landing, the plane is now on the ground taxiing to the end of the runway and to its designated terminal.


Congratulations, Captain Lasallian! You just flew your first airliner.

Indeed, the life of a pilot is a dangerous one. Flying over huge bodies of water, deserts, and other uninhabited places at heights of fifty thousand feet at high speeds, it is no walk in the park. It is, however, highly rewarding especially for airline pilots and for those who yearn for adventure and matchless sights. These men and women arm themselves with their alert wit, their calm, and their resoluteness every time they fly one of man’s greatest creations, the airplane.


Roy Loyola Jr.

By Roy Loyola Jr.

Andrea Mendoza

By Andrea Mendoza

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