IFR Range

Position: 50 miles west of Billings, Mt
Altitude: 34,000 feet
Groundspeed: 480 mph (417 kts)
Pax-on-board: 150
Destination: KSEA (Sea-Tac)

Maximum landing weight is still 2,600 pounds away. That, in itself, is interesting since we have been airborne five hours. We rolled out of the sack at 0200 hrs. (circadian time) and will arrive, knock on wood, at 1100 hrs.

Fuel burn -vs- landing weight... Fi-Fi's powerful nav computers are whispering to me, "Don't worry captain, we've got this under control."

Maybe... All the same, my stubby No.#2 pencil and pocket calculator are in the stand-by mode.

The Electric Jet has an IFR (instrument flight rules) range of about 2,300 nautical miles, plus or minus a few. That means that she can fly a leg of 2,300 nautical miles, hold a few minutes (or make one approach), then bug out to an alternate 200 miles away. This morning, our leg is 2,250 miles with light winds. The performance engineers (bless 'em) add miles, instead of time, for headwinds. With light and variable winds at altitude, our fuel burn miles remain steady at 2,250.
Even so, we have to be very careful with the fuel load, since we are at the IFR limit. We fly these aircraft at the performance limits on a regular basis, something I would never do with a personal aircraft.

Imagine, if you will; I have won the lottery, i.e., the Big One... I can now afford my very own A320. I will have my wife's nick-name painted on the nose and hire my favorite flight attendants to crew the cabin (on their days off, of course...) at $500 per hour. Why don't we load my new A320 to max gross weight with friends and family and fly it to an exotic destination with a short runway at the end of the fuel range? How about some nasty weather at our arrival time; blowing sand and thunderstorms?

Say again, please... Uh, I don't think so. Not in my new airplane.

Back to reality... Well, we can all fantasize, right?

Air Traffic Control offers a more direct routing, but I decide to remain on the flight plan for the wind forecast. Believe it or not, a direct route will (sometimes) burn more fuel, something we cannot afford this morning.

How much do we actually weigh? No one really knows. The gross take-off weight is calculated using average pax and bag weights, plus cargo weights of unknown accuracy, so it is an educated guess. We could easily weigh plus or minus 2,000 pounds (or more) from calculated weight. The only thing that matters is the landing weight (zero fuel weight minus fuel burn) which is recorded on the optical disk, whether or not it has any basis in reality. Fi-Fi can actually sense her own weight, which can be 10,000 pounds (or more) different than our load sheet. Is that weight accurate? Depends on which expert you talk to... Our performance engineers seem to think theirs is closer to the mark, and I agree. Still, it is interesting to look deep into Fi-Fi's mind and see what her little electric brain cells are thinking. She is an amazing flying machine.

This is day number two of a four day trip. Early tomorrow morning, it is back to the eastern edge of the Empire.

Life on the Line continues...