Why this British Airways A380 pilot filmed his take-off from Heathrow

The Independent
Julia Buckley

The Independent 30th December 2017
If you thought watching the largest plane in the world land was something special, wait till you see the take-off.

Dave Wallsworth, an Airbus A380 captain for British Airways, went viral earlier this month when he posted a video from the flight deck of a landing at Johannesburg.

His mission: to defuse passengers’ fear of flying by showing them just how relaxed the atmosphere is in the cockpit on typical commercial flights.

Now, he’s released another video: a take-off from London’s Heathrow airport. Shot in July on a plane nicknamed “The Princess” (real code-name G-XLEA) it shows the take-off for the same flight whose landing we’ve already seen.

This time, instead of swooping in over Sandton and Soweto, we see the plane limbering up on taxi, gathering speed along the runway and soaring into the air – over landmarks like the M25, Wraysbury reservoir and Wentworth Golf Club, near Heathrow – before heading across the countryside to the coast around Brighton.

Again, Senior First Officer Jeremy Goodson is at the controls, overseen by Wallsworth and accompanied by Senior First Officer Philip Gillespie (for flights of 8-12 hours, three pilots have to be onboard). And as before, Wallsworth has annotated the video to point out what’s happening at every turn.

As with the take-off video, the film – which shows the three pilots getting the plane into the sky as calmly as if they’re pulling pints – will be a boon to nervous passengers. (At one point they agree that they’ve “done really well” with their air traffic slot.)

Does Wallsworth ever get nervous on take-off? It’s a resounding no.

“According to the heart rate monitor on my watch, my pulse during take-off is lower than it is when driving to work on the M25,” he says.

One of my main reasons for producing these videos is to show how relaxed our working environment is.

I hope that our more nervous passengers will see we are totally at ease when flying.”

Having said that, “relaxed” doesn’t necessarily mean laid-back.

“We are mentally quite busy making sure all the systems are working properly,” he tells The Independent.

“Before take-off we will have conducted a briefing to confirm what we are each going to do in the event of a potential problem, such as an engine failure.

“We also have an intensive simulator check every six months where we often cover exactly this situation, so we’re well practised at it.” Wallsworth completed his latest simulator check only this week.

Viewers of his films won’t be surprised to hear that he passed with flying colours.

So what’s so special about a Heathrow take-off, other than the fact that it’s Wallsworth’s home base? “The views – I never tire of the views around London,” he says. Then there’s the crowded airspace around London – some might call it challenging, though he prefers “interesting”, noting that the video shows “almost continual radio communications between air traffic control and aircraft”.

“Pilots [at Heathrow] become quite proficient at hearing their own call-sign and also building up a mental model of where the other aircraft are based on these transmissions,” he adds.

The full video is almost 10 minutes long – ending when they reach 10,000 feet, and turn off both their headlights and the fasten seatbelt sign. But Wallsworth says the bits to skip to are at the beginning: “The part right at the start of the take-off roll when the engines give us a push in the back; and also just after take-off, when you get the greatest feeling of speed over the ground.”

Wallsworth is planning a series of videos showing take-off and landing at the six airports to which BA currently flies the A380, but he wanted Heathrow to be the first, he says, because it’s the one British Airways passengers will know best. Plus, it’s a daylight take-off – relatively unusual for his routes.

Part of the reason for filming is his desire to demystify the flying process and allay passenger fears – especially about take-off and landing. “Some people don’t like the noise and sensation on take-off, although an A380 is a very quiet and ‘relaxed’ aircraft,” he says. “But experienced pilots will have carried out thousands of take-offs and landings, so there really isn’t anything to worry about.” As for his own stats, he’s flown 7,800 flights since joining BA in 1993.

Is there a point at which nearly 8,000 take-offs get boring? “Absolutely not,” he says. “It’s always a wonderful feeling accelerating down the runway and taking such an amazing aircraft into the air.”

See the full video on YouTube

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