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Some rampie bits you don't normally get to see up close...

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For those of you who are curious about the bits are on an airliner that you don't normally get to see and what all your virtual GSx ramp agents are doing, here are some pics, with an explanation of what they are...


First a pic from inside the rear cargo hold of a Thomas Cook A321, which looks to me like it was on Stand 28 of C Pier at EGCC, you can see the remote stands in the distance with the cargo facility behind what looks like a TUI Boeing 757, To the rear of the door frame entrance you can see a shiny triangular access panel, behind which are the radar altimeter avionics. Here's some additional things to notice if you've never been in the hold of an aeroplane like this...

Two inches below the hold's ceiling, is a line with black and white chevrons on it. This goes all the way around the walls of the hold and is the load limit line. Bags are not allowed to be stacked above this line so that if the fire suppression system is activated, there will be room above for the fire suppressant to circulate above the cargo/bags. You can see that I've placed some bags behind the blue cargo net toward the rear of the hold, the net is loose at this point because loading is not yet completed and you'll notice that the yellow holdall is on top of a couple of suitcases, but is well below that limit line, usually you can get about five suitcases stacked and be clear of the line by a few inches, which gives you an idea of how small the hold is height-wise, although that is positively spacious compared to a 737 hold.

Typically in an A321 when you load it up, there will be 15 bags right up in the @ss of the hold up near the tail, then there'll be a canvas screen fastened across the width of the hold from floor to ceiling to stop those moving forward, i.e. behind this thing:


Airliner holds are typically full of bits that have fallen off bags and suitcases, so at the base of the this net, behind which the hold tapers and slopes 'uphill' since that part is under the tailplane, various bits and pieces have rolled down the slope and gathered where the floor becomes level. There'll be luggage straps, tags, castors that have fallen off suitcases, plastic bottles which have fallen out of suitcase side pockets and so on. If a bag comes open, or something of value has dropped out of a suitcase, we get someone else up in the hold to witness it and we take a photograph of it too. We have to do this to guard against the possibility of people thinking we might have gone through their bag if they retrieve it and find it unzipped or whatever (which we would never do, but there have in the past been occasions where some ramp agents have done this, not at my company I hasten to add) There'll be about forty suitcases stacked up in front of this canvas screen and they'll reach up to the cargo hold doorway, that's what you can see a bit of in the first picture. Something else on the above pic which you can see is the metal grills on the ceiling. These are blow out panels which can pop up if the aircraft loses pressure in one part but has pressure in another part. If that happens they'll pop out to equalise the pressure.


This (not great quality) pic is looking the other way toward the front of the hold, which goes all the way forward to the fuel tank bulkhead which is at the trailing edge of the wing, typically there'll be about forty suitcases stacked up in here against that bulkhead, and you can see that is in progress, then a net is fastened up to stop those bags from moving, then another forty will be stacked up and another net will be fastened up. Again you can see pressure blow out panels in the roof, the load limit line and the rails in the bottom which are used to secure ULD containers if they are used instead of loose baggage as is the case here

That leaves the remaining area where I am sat when I took these pics. Bags will also be stacked, in that doorway area, once that's done, it gets pretty tight in there, so you exit the hold and stand on the elevated conveyor to fit the last few in and then the last thing you do before closing the cargo door, is fasten up yet another net across the doorway exit to stop bags moving about and hitting the door. This is the bit of the hold where late check in bags, wheelchairs, pushchairs and priority baggage goes, since at the destination, they'd be the first things to come off the aircraft and would go onto a baggage cart and hopefully be at the baggage reclaim area on the carousel within about ten minutes of the aircraft having taxied onto stand. Up at the front of the airliner, in the other main hold, the procedure is fairly similar although most stuff in that hold tends to get stacked right against the bulkhead up against the leading edge of the wing so the CoG is balanced properly. Sometimes you have to load up the front first if there are a lot of bags going in the rear hold in order to prevent the aircraft from tipping onto its tail. The load sheet for all this is the same as the one which the crew sign to confirm that the aircraft is loaded correctly, and it's this which is the information that along with the passenger numbers and the fuel on board, determines the trim setting for the horizontal stabiliser and would, along with the weather conditions, runway condition, runway slope and wind direction, speed and ambient temperature, determine the power setting for TOGA.


Above is a pic from a different load up, again from the doorway of an A321, which is on the other side of Pier C on Stand 23. This aircraft is LY-VED, which is leased by Thomas Cook for the summer period, but is owned by Avion Express based in Lithuania, but the aircraft itself has both English and Russian stenciling on it since it used to be operated by Aeroflot and it still retains its Aeroflot base colour scheme with temporary Thomas Cook makings over the Aeroflot ones.If you live near Manchester airport, you might have seen this one, it is blue and silver with a red pinstripe which sweeps up to the tail, which is grey with a yellow TC logo on it, so it looks a bit of a mess paint scheme-wise. It also retains the cargo pallet floor lugs and fittings which have been plated over to allow it to carry loose bags. You can tell this because if you look at the bottom of the door entrance, you can see some flip up lugs, these are to stop ULD cargo cans rolling out when they are pushed to the doorway and they are a pain when you load or unload bags because everything snags on those things. This is why we have elevated the conveyor up so high so that bags coming up the belt can ride past those lugs.

On the ramp you can see a curtain trailer baggage cart with a few bags on it, but at the time this photo was taken, I was waiting for another three baggage trailers to show up so we could continue loading it up (each baggage cart can carry approximately 40 suitcases, so there's usually about five of them for the bags on an A321). You can also see the cone placed at the wingtip. The area marked by the broken white lines and broken zig zagged lines is the bit where you can leave equipment. Not visible in this pic, there is also a red line on those markings, which is the limit of wingtip projection for any airliner cleared to use that stand. Most airliners, including those EasyJet Airbuses you can see, have five cones placed around them; one placed 1m from each wingtip, one placed 1m from the tail projection, and one placed 1m in front of each of the engine inlets. These are to prevent service vehicles from driving under the tail and wings, or hitting the engines, but also to stop passengers from going near the engines if they disembark onto the ramp via stairs instead of an air bridge. The fuel pump truck howerver, is allowed to drive under the wing since that is where the filler cap is.


This pic above was taken after I'd finished in the rear hold and is again that same A321, registration LY-VED with its red silver and blue Aeroflot paint job visible, it's about 5am and we are getting ready to push the aircraft out. I am sat on the step for the door of the pushback tractor and you can just make out the letter T on the door which is the TCR logo, that's the company which leases equipment to service agent companies such as Menzies, Swissport, and Aviator, as in the case of this one. You can see the dayglow green Peltor headset hooked over the tractor's door mirror, the wire is connected to a jack socket located in a hatch just in front of the nose gear. About 5 mins before its scheduled push time, I'll do a walkaround check of the aircraft and then get on the headset and start talking to the crew, directing the pushback and the engine start ups. The walkaround check starts at the tug, I'll check the towbar is connected to the tug properly and level, check it is connected to the landing gear lug and that the retaining pin is in place on the connection mechanism, and I'll check the steering bypass pin is in place which disengages the hydraulic steering from the tiller in the cockpit so the tug can steer the aircraft. To fit the bypass pin, you pull a little spring-loaded lever forward until the hole in it lines up with the one on the main gear and then slide the bypass pin through the two holes, this acts as a switch to bypass the cockpit's steering tiller. After the pushback is completed, you pull this out and the lever springs back to re-engage the steering tiller. The bypass pin has a large 'remove before flight' banner attached to it and this is what you hold up and show to the flight crew once the tug and equipment is clear so they know they are clear to taxi and their steering will work again!

After that bar and pin is checked, I'll go back to the nose and start a walkaround check of the entire aircraft from the nose, all the way around the right side of it, and along the front and back of the right wing, then back along the left side of it doing the same thing. I'm looking for hatches being properly closed, no damage to the aircraft, no equipment or tools left near the thing, lights, probes, intakes, antennas, static wicks, etc in good condition, no gear pins left in, tires in good condition, hydraulic lines okay and no leaks from them, control surfaces and housings okay, etc.

If all that is okay, I'll call up the flight crew and report that the check has been done and tell them I'm standing by for their clearance to push and check they have the parking brake set and also check that they want either a standard or non standard push, then I'll confirm with the tug driver which pushback we're doing. When they have their clearance, I'll actually hear it on the tug's radio but the flight crew will tell me anyway. I'll confirm it and get them to release the parking brake whilst I give the tug driver a hand signal to put his brake on, I'll then signal the banksman with his illuminated marshaling wands, who has been waiting in position near the tail and off to the right side, to stop traffic behind the aircraft and then I'll  look to see if it is clear, if it is, I'll give the driver the brake release signal and tell the flight deck crew we're commencing the push and that I'll advise them when they can start their engines. As we clear the road when pushing back, I'll signal the banksman that he's clear to leave and when the aircraft is getting in line with the taxiway markers and is clear of other obstructions, I'll tell the crew they are clear to crank 1 and 2 at their discretion, they'll start an engine as we continue pushing them and I'll watch to see if its a good start, if it is, they'll tell me from their gauges and I'll confirm it looks okay from outside because they cannot see their engine and I'll know about a fire before they do!  Then I'll clear them to start the other one. When we get to the stand's designated TRP (tug release point), I'll tell them the push is complete and to set the parking brake and confirm they have it set, the tug driver will also signal me that he has his brake on. I'll take a chock off the tug and stick it on the nose wheel, then pump the hydraulic lever on the towbar to lower its towing wheels (you can see these small wheels on the pic above, they are raised when the push is in progress and lowered to tow the bar on its own), then I disconnect the towbar from the tug, the tug will back away to where the crew can see it, then I'll disconnect the bar from the aircraft and push it clear, the tug driver will grab it off me and connect it to the back of the tug. I'll tell the crew I'll be going off headset and will see them on the left for the wave off in a second or two and then I'll remove the headset jack and close the panel it is in, then I'll remove the bypass pin and the chock and hand the chock to the tug driver, he'll sling it on the back of the tug and then drive the tug clear of the wingtip and I'll walk clear of the wingtip and when I can see I and the tug are both clear of the wingtip, I'll hold up the bypass pin with the remove before flight flag stretched out so the crew can see it and give them a wave, and that's the pushback done and the aircraft is then over to the ground frequency to commence taxying for the runway. That's what your GSX pushback guys are simulating in FSX and P3D.


Edited by Chock
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Alan Bradbury

Check out my youtube flight sim videos: Here

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54 minutes ago, Chock said:

Avion Express

Funny, you should mention this, because as I was helping a friend get his flight/boarding information on a recent holiday to Antalya, that was precisely the leased aircraft I told him about and had to assuage him he was still on a Thomas Cook flight, albeit not in a pukka Thomas Cook A321.

Rick Almeida

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Very informative post, something you do not hear about every day even if you are an aviation enthusiast.


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I spent a good part of my life in those cargo bins.


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I would love to see the Flight Sim become a far more immersive 3D World than it has been as we are limited to camera views in the FSX/P3D engine. Would be great to walk around a PMDG type airliner and interact with it far more.

Great post Chock

Matthew Kane


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Thank you very much for this great post.  This made my work commute one exciting read 🙂


FSX User / Into Addons with deeper Systems Modeling / Love planes and airports and ATC



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Nice post Alan. Reminds me of my ramp days in the 90s working for Canadian Airlines which eventually got swallowed up by Air Canada. Lots of things have changed since then with pushback tractors, but clearly alot remains the same with freeloading and belt loaders.  The A320s we had were with cans, but so many others that came in like hammered 757s from the states for the cruises packed with heavy bags. My favorite was backing out a 747 in reverse and pull forward on the line. They were only allowed 2 engine starts then as the tugs were limited in power.  Cool to see the hydraulic nose gear lifts they have today though. Also werent very many 777s then. Alot of DC10s/MD11s and 747s. Loved the job but it took a tole on me being 6'8 and trying to stand in the cargo holds pushing 10,000 pallets when the drive wheels wouldnt turn. But operating the commanders were alot of fun. 


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Dave Seminchuk  CYVR LSZH 


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For those that are not lucky enough to get up close and personal with a turnround,it makes an interesting read there are a few things that i would take exception to,but not knowing your qualifications I will not say further.

Pete Little

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