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Full Circle – Zero/Zero Landings, Part One

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May 2012


Nothing jogs my memory about stories from the old days like getting a thoughtful letter from a copilot that I had once shared the cockpit with. While I’ve had a good number of really great copilots during my 36-plus-year airline flying career (and a scattering of not so good copilots too, but I’ll save those stories for another time), one of the all-time best to sit to my right was a prince of an aviator named Scott Reynolds. As another example of the journey of “time’s winged chariot,” Scott then went on to become a captain at U.S. Airways not long after this particular flight. After a number of years of running his own show, he has since retired from the airline.

In his fledgling days, Scott had come up through the ranks of several small and nonscheduled airlines, flying as copilot on a cross section of big equipment before he found himself in the International Division of U.S. Airways. The letter he recently sent to me was actually a copy of a letter to another fellow in answer to a particular question: did you ever do any real zero/zero landings?

First, the definition: a zero/zero landing would literally mean to land an airplane while the ceiling was absolutely zero and the visibility was absolutely zero, too—a condition we don’t hardly ever see. In practice, zero/zero means “hardly any” ceiling or visibility to work with.

Modern jetliners can do autolands regardless of what the cloud ceiling and the forward visibility might be, but the rules still require that the captain and crew have a slight chance of verifying that there really is a runway beneath them at least a few heartbeats before the wheels actually touch.

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