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The First Flight Of The Day In A CRJ-700

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What does it take to get a CRJ airborne for its first flight of the day? Quite a bit, actually.

The Start: A Tow To The Gate

At Atlanta Hartsfield, the busiest airport in the world, the first flight of the day often starts on a ramp far away from any of the gates.

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Why? Because Atlanta is so busy, very few airplanes are allowed to park at a gate overnight. Where do they go? A large number of jets are towed to an overnight ramp.

But at the crack of dawn, tugs start towing airplanes back to their gates, getting them ready for their first flight.

Arrival At The Gate

When the aircraft arrives at the gate, it's typically met by a gate agent and ground crew. First, the agent pulls the jet bridge up to the aircraft for the flight crew and passengers.

The ground crew has several things they need to prepare as well. First, they connect ground power. This gives the aircraft's cabin and flight deck power for preflight.

Next, if the ground crew doesn't plan to use the APU for heating or air conditioning right away, they connect an air conditioning cart to the plane. This provides conditioned air to the cabin and flight deck, without having to turn on the APU and burn fuel for what can be a very long time before the aircraft is ready to depart.

Preflight

Next up is preflight, which is typically done by the First Officer. Preflighting a CRJ is a lot like preflighting a Cessna 172. Except for one thing: you don't carry a checklist with you.

Preflighting the CRJ starts with a walk-around. Pilots check the exterior for visible damage, making sure that the pitot tubes, angle-of-attack indicators, and antennas are attached and undamaged.

Tires and landing gear are hot-list item. Tires on jets take a beating. They have to spin up for landings that happen upwards of 140 knots, and their brakes need to bring thousands of pounds of aircraft to a stop in a short distance.

So when pilots check the tires, they're looking for a lot of the same things you do on your aircraft. Cracks, excessive wear, and low tread. And for the brakes? They check those too. There's a pin on each of the CRJ's main gear that indicate if the brakes are in good condition, or if they need to be replaced. If the pin is flush with the housing, the brakes need to be replaced:

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Panels are another thing the pilot is looking for. There are a lot of hinged panels on the CRJ's exterior, and they need to make sure all of them are closed before push-back.

Once the First Officer has completed the walk-around, they head back to the flight deck to finish setting up the aircraft for the flight.

Fueling

Fueling is a little different on a CRJ than it is on a Cessna. First off, the pilots don't do it. Ever. But second, fueling a CRJ is accomplished through something called a single-point fueling system.

To fuel the aircraft, a fueler programs the amount of fuel that needs to be loaded on to the aircraft through a control panel. Then, they hook up the hose, and let the system do its job.

Once the fuel is on board, they turn off the panel, disconnect the hose, and close up the panels.

Flight Deck

There's a lot happening on the flight deck for the first flight. Checklist items, systems checks, IFR clearances, and a lot more.

The Captain and First Officer both have several tasks that need to happen independent of each other. They review the aircraft logs, load the flight plan in the FMS, and test the aircraft's warning systems (we'll have more on the cockpit setup in a future article).

Once that's done, the pilots start running through something called "flows". Flows are a way of completing checklist items by memory. Once the flows are complete, one pilot calls out each of the checklist items, and the other pilot confirms that each checklist item was completed.

Baggage

While the pilots and flight attendants are getting the cabin ready, the baggage handlers are loading bags. And they don't often have a lot of extra time to get the bags on board.

Most airlines allow you to check bags as little as 45 minutes from your flight time. And when you think about it, your bag has to make a long trek from the check-in desk to the CRJ's cargo bay in that 45 minute window.

Push Back And Taxi Out

Finally, once all the bags are loaded, the passengers are buckled in, and the flight crew is ready to go, the crew calls for a push-back.

They do it by calling ramp control - the controllers in charge of the areas by the gates - and letting them know the aircraft is ready for push-back.

Once the crew gets clearance from ramp control, they tell the tug operator they're ready for push back. The tug pushes the aircraft back, and in this case, positioned the aircraft with "mains on the line", which means the main gear are positioned on a painted line on the concrete.

After the push is complete and the tug is disconnected from the CRJ, the crew calls ramp again for their initial taxi clearance.

Ramp control gives the crew their initial taxi instructions, and tells them to contact ground control on 121.9. After that, it's just like what you do on any flight at a controlled airport: taxi with ground, get cleared for takeoff from tower, and climb out with departure.

After all of that, including a safe landing at the destination - Destin Fort Walton Beach - the first flight of the day is complete.

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