In the cockpit on a cargo flight

As previously stated here, I love flying. I recently got the opportunity to join on a flight that is typically not accessible to us civilians. It was a cargo flight where we transported mail from Stockholm to the town of Visby and back. I want to start by thanking my friend and former flight instructor Radek for making this possible. Radek works as a first officer at Amapola, a Swedish airline that flies cargo and some contracted passenger routes. Radek and Amapola were nice enough to host me in the cockpit one day. It wasn’t all that trivial, as I needed a special visitor permit issued by Swedavia, the nationally owned company that runs the biggest airports in Sweden, but Radek made sure I got one.

I met Radek at 3 am (and here we have the first drawback of the pilot life) at one of the gates where cargo enters the airport. There the pre-approved permit was printed and handed to me. At Terminal 2 we went through the staff security check (yes, personell working at the airport is screened when going airside). After the security check we exited out on the tarmac and walked to the office where Amapola operations is located. There I met our captain, Nils-Olof. I quickly found out that he worked for Croatia airlines in 1996 and lived in my birth-town of Zagreb! Both Nils-Olof and Radek are great ambassadors of the pilot profession, one could easily see that they are proud of what they do. They were also more than ready to answer my countless questions throughout the day, and gave me a detailed look into how their workday looks like. Thanks for this, I really appreciate it!

Around 4.30 we were driven to the plane, a 30 year old Fokker 50. Nils-Olof said that it is a modern plane and very comfortable to fly, despite its age. I sat with Radek in the cockpit as he was preparing for the flight while Nils-Olof was overlooking the mail being loaded onto the plane. My place was in the jump seat which when folded out blocks the exit from the cabin. So since I basically “owned” the way out, I was given a safety briefing by Radek on how to act in the case of an emergency.

Fokker 50 taxi at Arlanda aiport
Taxiing towards runway 08

Around 5.20 Radek requested clearance for an engine start and soon we were taxiing towards runway 08. We took of around 5.30. Usually when taking off from Arlanda on a commercial flight, I rarely pass by close enough to Stockholm for a good view, so I thought it would be the same this time. Only after Radek pointed out that we have Stockholm on our right, did I realize how near we were. But at that point we had already flown past most of the city. I guess I was just too excited to be able to pay attention to what was going on both inside and outside of the plane. Our cruising altitude was 14 000 feet (just over 4 kilometers). There is roughly 100 kilometers of sea between the coast and the island of Gotland which we passed very quickly. However, to my delight, the flight was not over just yet. Since the airport was under a patch of fog, we were ordered to hold (fly in a big circle :-)). After some 30 minutes the runway cleared enough, however not from the direction closest to us (runway 21), but from the opposite one (runway 03). Which was great, because we got a close view of the beautiful city of Visby on our way towards runway 03. Radek took us down safely and as soon as we parked we were met by personell from Postnord that unloaded the mail.

After having secured the plane, we exited the airport rather unglamorously – through a steel revolving door. We took Amapola’s crew car to a hotel in Visby where we had breakfast before we parted. Radek and Nils-Olof went to bed, while I went to town, still full of adrenaline and not nearly tired, despite having woken up at 1.30. Visby is a magical place that deserves its own article, which it has been given here. And I want to keep this text flying-centric :-).

Around 17.30 we were back at Visby airport. Here there was no security check dedicated only for staff as on Arlanda, but since there were no scheduled flights for the next few hours, we were alone through the regular security check. In fact, it needed to be opened especially for us. We were then escorted out to the apron. After having gotten the plane ready we expected the mail truck to come but due to a power-outage in Visby it came late and with only nine trolleys of as opposed to 27 on the way here (the plane can take 36 trolleys maximum).

We took of 15 minutes later than scheduled, from runway 03, so no view of Visby this time. But now I did pay attention when we were over Stockholm, where we got a nice view from 11 000 feet. We landed at Arlanda around 19.40 on runway 19L. As soon as we parked, Nils-Olof and Radek were informed by Amapola staff about a change of plans – instead of flying to Gothenburg in a few hours, they needed to leave for Malmö as soon as possible. I quickly said bye, thanked them for a great day and was escorted to Terminal 3 arrivals. The adrenaline had quickly worn off as I left Arlanda and I dozed off on the train to the city.

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