Rob wrote in his email to ask: When the autopilot is engaged after take off? When do I take over the flight prior to landing? I thought it would be fun to narrate a Boeing 777 flight I undertook to Kansai, Japan, last weekend (10th Sep). Not only will I answer his question, I will also cover areas that visitors have frequently asked me.
Well, I departed for Kansai Airport just after Saturday midnight (sorry, airline and departure airport will not be disclosed). In view of the spate of air accidents (6 disasters within a spell of less than 2 months!) I somehow (by instinct) gave a thorough briefing to my First Officer, ending with a quick review on the issues of "man, machine and environment" a reminder that one should not overlook before embarking on a safe flight.
As soon as the take off clearance was given, I lined up the plane, advanced the thrust levers gently - noting normal engines response before I depressed the magic take-off button (TOGA switch). The engine roared - we accelerated and lifted off at the correct rotate speed. As soon as a positive rate of climb was observed, the gears were retracted. Passing above 200 feet above the ground level, I engaged the autopilot.
Prior to the departure, we observed that typhoon "Khanun" (September is the worst month for typhoons) was moving on a Northwesterly direction across our track. Good, I thought, we would miss it by the time we crossed it.
Our initial cruising level was 37,000 feet and the wind shear factor on our computerized flight plan was only a "2" - ah, not so bad, so I thought. Indeed, it was not to be when we approached the tail-spinning end of the typhoon. It was something like a "4" or "5". We then requested a climb to 41,000 feet. Luckily, clearance was given by Naha Control to change our level to a comfortable one. We were glad that the turbulence subsided thereafter.
Our estimated time of arrival at Kansai airport was 6.25 am and sunrise was supposed to be at 5.39 am. Good and bad... Good that we would land after sunrise, bad that we would land against the glaring rising sun on my eyes if runway 06 were used.
To preclude last minute preparation, I briefed my co-pilot on both procedures - a normal manual landing as well as the auto landing - way before we commenced the approach. Sure enough, runway 06 was given when we established contact with Kansai.
In the end, at 800 feet, I disengaged the autopilot and landed the Boeing 777 safely on the runway ? built on the world?s first ocean airport ? a landfill island in Osaka Bay; I need not have to auto land the plane because a layer of cloud had blocked the rising sun!
To recapitulate for Rob's sake, the autopilot is normally engaged at 200 feet after airborne and disengaged any time the pilot wishes to hone his manipulative skill on hand flying an instrument approach and landing - an exercise that he is tested on during his 6-monthly check. Otherwise, if the landing is carried out by the autopilot, it is not disengaged until after the safe landing on the runway.