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Senior First Officer: A Day As A Lufthansa 747 Pilot

Senior First Officer: A day as a Lufthansa 747 Pilot

Post Series: Stories from the Flight Deck!

Hi guys. My name is Phil. I am a senior first officer on Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-400 and 747-8i. Today, I will take you on my flight from Frankfurt am Main airport to the Seattle Tacoma airport on board Lufthansa Boeing 747-8i.

This long-haul flight is one of our earlier ones, so I have to be at the airport at 08:50 am. I know, you guys get up a lot earlier. On short haul, there are briefing times even way earlier. But long haul is never that early as Lufthansa has a lot of feeding flights.

That means that people are coming to Frankfurt (LH’s main hub) from all over the European continent to get onto one of our long-haul flights. Hence, it wouldn’t make any sense if we depart at 6 a.m. and everyone would then be unable to catch his or her connecting flight.

Senior First Officer – The Early Bird Catches the Worm!

Anyway, I am usually at the airport, more precisely the Lufthansa base, a little earlier, since I don’t like stress in the morning. By doing so, I can perform all my updates and check if there are any news which is important for my next flight. Our flight documents are usually available a little earlier as well, so I can check them before the official briefing time commences.

At 08:50, I meet today’s captain and the first officer. I am the Senior First officer. I explain what being a senior first officer means to you later. Today is a rather foggy day in Frankfurt, so some flights are delayed, but our aeroplane is already on the ground. That is why we do not expect any delay.

We check the weather en route. We now get closer to winter, so many airports across the Atlantic are snowy or icy and of course, it is very cold there. As a consequence, we have to properly check where we could land in case something goes wrong. Our routing today is quite far in the north. We fly between the UK and Norway, north of Iceland, all across Greenland where we just stay south of Thule Airbase (BGTL/ THU), which means N76° for us today. Then we continue all across Northern Canada, towards Calgary and pass Vancouver towards Seattle.

Flying the 1.500th Boeing 747 ever built!

Enroute the weather looks quite nice, we don’t expect and turbulence and a planned flight time of 9h44mins. That’s pretty much the standard flight time. Basically, if we leave on time, we will be in Seattle on time. So fingers crossed. Our aircraft today is a special one. At least to me. It is the so-called D-ABYP, this is the 1500th 747 which was built! More than 1500 747s have been built in total. That’s quite an impressive number. Lufthansa put a sticker on this special jumbojet to celebrate and congratulate Boeing on this achievement.

D-ABYP 1500th boeing 747

D-ABYP is the 1.500th Boeing 747 ever built!

The aircraft is in good shape, nothing is broken, nothing needs to be repaired, so we are ready to meet the Cabin Crew. We have a so-called briefing room where we meet each other, introduce ourselves and discuss the specials for the flight. Today there are no real specials. It sounds to be a nice and smooth flight.

So, let’s go to find our aeroplane. We go through the security checks and take a bus which brings us to our 747. And there she is! The beautiful Boeing 747-8i D-ABYP, less than 4 years old. She stands there in all her glory and pride. Now the hardest part of the job. Walking up the stairs! There is no escalator. We board the plane from door 5L, the last door on the left and then we have to walk up the stairs to get to the upper deck and then up to the front to the flight deck. Long walk, isn’t it?

Captain, First Officer and Senior First Officer: Three Men on the Flight Deck!

I will be the 3rd pilot, namely the senior first officer, today and the FO will be Pilot Flying and the Captain Pilot monitoring. So I don’t have much to do during that phase. The Captain does the outside check and the FO does all the cockpit preparation. I check if we have all the emergency equipment on the flight deck and see if the FO is doing everything properly. Nothing to complain today, good job. Our cabin crew is preparing and checking everything in the cabin. See if all the emergency equipment is on board and working and check if enough food is on board for our passengers in all classes. First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy class.

Around 30 minutes prior departure the passengers can start to board. While that happens, we perform our last preparations, we calculate our takeoff performance, our departure route and we discuss what happens if an engine fails after being airborne. Additionally, we discuss what we do if we have to abort the takeoff. This maybe sounds scary to some of you, but it is just that we are prepared when this actually happens. We train for such emergency 5 times a year in a full flight simulator. Always be prepared.

Shortly prior our departure all passengers are on board and luggage and cargo is loaded and we are ready to go – but Frankfurt airport thinks differently. Of course! We ask for pushback, but ATC (air traffic control) says, we have to hold position, inbound and outbound traffic. So that means, no on-time departure. That’s why we sit there and wait until we finally get our pushback clearance by ATC – today 14 minutes late. 🙁

Start-Up and Taxi to the Runway!

Lufthansa Boeing 747 CockpitDuring pushback, we start our engines, The magnificent Genx2b engines. We start #3 and #4 at the same time and then #2 and #1 as well at the same time. The engines are running, the pushback truck is disconnected and we receive the ‘thumbs up’ signal by our ground staff that the aircraft is ready to taxi. We call for taxi and ATC clears us to taxi to runway 07C via N8, L and L21. So here we go. We are taxiing slowly towards our takeoff runway.

During taxi, we look out for other traffic and cars on the ground (they are like ants, the drive around everywhere). We follow an Air Canada 777 and China Airlines 777 towards runway 07C. So we are number 3 for taking off today. We receive the ‘cabin ready’ signal from our cabin crew, means all passengers are sitting, the cabin is secured and the cabin crew is sitting in their seats as well. So we are ready to go.

The tower instructs us to ‘line up and wait runway 07C’. In the cockpit, we are now fully focused and the captain manoeuvres the mighty queen onto the runway. The FO performs his last tasks prior take off and the ‘Before takeoff checklist’ is read. I am sitting on the jumpseat and observing that everything is done and nothing was forgotten. But all is well.

Lufthansa 490 heavy, wind 020 at 5 knots, runway 07C cleared for takeoff!

And here it comes: ‘Lufthansa 490 heavy, wind 020 at 5 knots, runway 07C cleared for takeoff!’ I love that moment. Everything is set, everyone is ready, the runway is clear and here we go! The engines are spooling up and you feel the power of these engines accelerating the 747 to our lift-off speed. The engines are so powerful to accelerate almost 400 tons to reach a speed of 165 knots in about 3000m of runway (if necessary even less)!

Then the captain gives the ‘rotate’ command and the first officer pulls on the yoke and 400 tons lift off the ground as there is no gravity. After the positive climb signal, we are retracting the gear and once we reached a specific altitude we start retracting the flaps as well. We call that a clean airplane – no gear no flaps. Aerodynamically the best for cruise flight. Initial climb today is 32.000 feet. Later, when we have burnt some fuel, we climb even further to be close to the optimum altitude where we fly more efficient to save fuel.

Cruising Across the Atlantic!

Now, we are 3 pilots, because the flight is quite long and we have a break on that flight. The first break today is for the Captain. That’s why I am the senior first officer. During the time the captain is on his break, I am taking his seat and performing his duties. He will still be the commander and in charge, so if anything would go wrong, he needs to decide. For the position as Senior First officer, you receive additional training.

The captain is gone, I am sitting in the left seat and am now pilot monitoring and the FO still pilot flying. Now we have to ask for our “Oceanic Clearance”. The Oceanic airspace is quite special. Many aeroplanes want to fly across the ocean and these need to be coordinated. We do that via ACARS. That’s basically a Fax where we can communicate with the ATC units. Today we want to cross the Atlantic at 34.000 feet and at Mach 0.86 (a little faster than usual, but we need to catch up a few minutes, because we left a little later and want to be on time in SEA).

A couple of minutes later we received our clearance, exactly as requested. From now on the workload for us is rather low. We are not doing a lot actively, many things are just in our mind. We think where we could land if something happens or if there is anything special to be observed where we are right now. Also, we check the weather for our alternate airports and what type of approach we can expect there if there is a hospital if we have a sick passenger on board etc.

Senior First Officer – Time for a Break!

Thank god, today we haven’t had any problems. It was a totally uneventful flight- that’ how I like it. Now it’s time for the break of the FO. So the captain takes his seat again and I take the seat of the FO and now I am Pilot flying for that time and the captain is again Pilot monitoring.

The sun is setting now. It is middle of the day, but because we are flying so far in the north and it is wintertime, the sun is setting. It drops just below the horizon and then it comes back up as we are landing 12:50 pm at Seattle. That’s quite a sight. Sunset and sunrise within few hours!

Lufthansa 747 senior first officer

We couldn’t see any northern lights as it was still too bright for it. But we saw the moon rising and the earlier mentioned Thule Airbase. Quite a sight as there is not a lot around Thule, all dark, only a few lights of Thule. 😉

And now, the best part of the flight comes. My break! 😉 I vacate the FO seat and the FO gets back in his seat and he takes over the pilot flying duties. Obviously, there is not a lot I can tell you during my break. I was taking a nap, was watching ‘Stranger things’ 😉 About 30-40 minutes prior landing I am back in the cockpit on the jumpseat, time for approach, descend and landing preparation.

ILS 16L – Approaching Seattle!

Lights off, done for today. Another day as a senior first officer on the 747 has ended. Feierabend!

Today runway 16 is in use and Seattle has 3 runways. 16R/C/L. 16R is rather short. We could land on it, but why land on the shortest runway if you have longer runways? 16C is longer, long enough, but why land on that runway if you have even a longer runway? So we expect runway 16L, ILS approach.

Unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy during descend, so we couldn’t see a lot of the beautiful scenery of the Pacific Northwest. We followed the GLASR1 arrival and then received radar vectors towards the final approach by ATC. At around 900 feet above the ground, we could see the 3 runways of Seattle and we heard: ‘Lufthansa 490 heavy, wind 140 at 5, runway 16L cleared to land’.

Only a few more seconds and the mighty 747-8 touches down at Seattle. The FO did a great job and landed smoothly on the runway and we slowed down. The weather wasn’t the best, it was raining and it wasn’t too warm. But ah well, you cannot have it all.

We vacated the runway to the left and our taxi time was only 3 minutes as the runway exit was basically right at our gate. So, the captain taxied us to gate S15 while the FO does all the switching of switches and moving of levers again. 3 minutes later we were at our gate, parking brake set! Engines off! And guess what, we made up some time, so instead of being 15 minutes late, we were only 4 minutes later. Not too bad, don’t you think?

Time for “Feierabend”

That’s the time we say ‘Feierabend’ in German. There is no word for it in English, it basically means: that’s it, we are done, let’s go home (or to the hotel in our case). We switched off all the systems of the aeroplane and waited until the passengers were all disembarked. Now it’s our time to leave the aeroplane as well and head to the hotel. Enjoying the City of Seattle and of course visiting the Boeing factory at KPAE Airport.

I hope you enjoyed the short insight of my flight as a senior first officer to Seattle. If you want to see more pictures of my flights and enjoy stories as well, follow me on Instagram: @wilco737. If you want to read more pilotstories from the cockpit, feel free to browse the “from the cockpit section”.

Many thanks for reading


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