Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Share Your Story: Jeff Ashburn, Boeing 777-200/300 Pilot

Welcome to the 15th "Share Your Story" post. Pilots from around the world write in featuring their flight experiences, promoting their blogs, websites, social media, novels, etc. These posts show future aviators the diverse range of careers available to them. More details + how to participate can be found via the following: Click Here and Get Involved

I am happy to welcome Jeff Ashburn to the "Share Your Story" section of the blog. Jeff is currently an international pilot onboard the 777-200 and 777-300 with a major airline in the United States. After having flown in the Air Force and onboard DC10's, 757's, and 767's, he has now achieved something that many can only dream of. Jeff has the opportunity to fly Boeing 777 class aircraft around the world for a career. In this post Jeff describes how he got to where he is today and what it's like flying around the world for a major airline.


Putting American Airlines Back on Top

I have been asked to describe my journey into aviation.  Something I've never put to paper, or even given much thought.  I think that it was Woody Allen who said "eighty percent of success is in just showing up."  I can certainly relate to that.  Showing up for those first flying lessons.  Showing up at Air Force Officer Training School, at Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training and, eventually, showing up for my new hire class at American Airlines were all important milestones along the journey.  But perhaps it is the remaining twenty percent of the story that would be more interesting.

My father was a fighter pilot during the "Big War," flying Corsairs for the Navy in the Pacific.  My mother was a stewardess for Delta, in the late 1950's.  I grew up as the beneficiary of great stories from both sides.  Harrowing and colorful tales of pilotage from Dad and stories of the glamorous age of air travel from my mother.  It all sounded good to me!

I began flying in 1979, when I was 19 and about halfway through college.  I'll never forget that first 'orientation' flight, in a Beechcraft Sport:  N5193M

I ended up soloing in that very same aircraft, and had my private license by the time I graduated from college in 1981.  I had no plan.  After wandering around trying to 'find' myself, for a year or so, I 'found' myself standing in an Air Force recruiter's office.  And, thanks to the Reagan military buildup, they were willing to take a theater major from a small liberal arts college and send him to pilot training.  A year of flying the T-37 and T-38 training aircraft was a hoot.  Plus, they paid me!

I gave the Air Force the next 6 or so years.  About half of that flying the KC-135A (the original steam jet) out of Grissom AFB, near Kokomo, IN.

...and about half of it teaching cadets to fly at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

We used the T-41 'Fighting Mescalero' for this training.  Might have been the best job that I ever had, as I truly loved instructing.

In April of 1990 I was offered my long-sought dream job: a position with a major airline.  One year as an engineer on the DC-10, nine years as a First Officer the 757 and 767 and twelve years on the 777 later...and here I am, still living the dream.  

Our fleet of 46 777-200IGW (Increased Gross Weight) aircraft began flying about 14 years ago.  And, out of New York, they have kept me busy going back and forth to the likes of London, Tokyo, Buenos Aires and São Paulo.  With a smattering of Montevideo, Rio and the Caribbean.  Powered by their reliable Rolls Royce, Trent 892 engines, this airplane has proven to be a reliable workhorse.  As a point of explanation, these are RR, Trent model, 800 series engines, rated at 92,000lbs of thrust, trimmed back to 90,000lbs for warranty considerations.  180,000lbs of total thrust.  More, I've been told, than was needed to put Alan Sheppard into sub-orbit.

American began taking delivery of their new 777-300ER (Extra Range) aircraft this year, and I've had the pleasure of flying it about five times thus far.  It is quite an airplane.  Accurately described by our chief pilot as "the way that the Triple Seven was always meant to be."

The 777-300ER Jeff recently began flying

Jeff's "Office" 

Thirty three feet longer and with a greater wingspan than the -200, this beauty comes in at a maximum gross ramp weight of 777,000lbs.  A number that, for some reason, I find easy to remember.  The -200, by comparison, has a MRW of 650,000.  The airplane carries up to 315 passengers in a 4-class configuration.

2 GE90-135Bs power these new jets.  Up to 270,000lbs of thrust, in the palm of your hand, can be pretty cool!  This airplane is not power limited in the least.  However, its different wing design focuses on speed (.89 Mach max vs. .87 Mach max for the -200), and that does lead to a wing limiting inability to climb as high - generally speaking - as the 772.

To aid in taxiing an aircraft of this length, cameras are mounted on each end of the horizontal stabilizer as well as under the fuselage, to give the pilots a real-time look at the positions of the main and nose wheels.  And, believe me, seeing the actual positions of these, while in a turn, can be quite eye-opening.

Other enhancements, from a pilot's viewpoint, would be the MUCH more user-friendly Honeywell radar, enhancements to the information provided on the pilot's Primary Flight Displays (PFDs) and an improved crew rest area in the 'attic': two seats and two bunks above the First Class cabin.

Amenities for the passengers include a vastly improved entertainment system with much larger viewing screens, worldwide satellite-based Wifi, lie-flat seats in First and Business, and a walk-up snack and drink bar for the premium cabins.

Skip to 1:35 in the video for the AA777-300ER

She's one heck of an airplane, and a joy to fly! ...but aren't they all?  ;)

I can't wait to fly on the "New American!"

I certainly cannot complain.  The last eleven or twelve years have been fairly dark times for the U.S. airline industry, as a whole, but there is newfound optimism out there now.  This is likely a great time for young men and women to get involved in the industry, and take it to new heights!

Thanks for reading,
Jeff Ashburn 


Thank you Jeff for writing that piece for the blog. What a great story from the blog's first "widebody" (Boeing 777) pilot! It's amazing to read a little more about one of aviation's most sought-after jobs: flying international on the Boeing "Triple-7." I'd love to be in the same position as you one day!

Thanks again for writing in and participating in the Share Your Story section of the blog, 

Swayne Martin 
Martins Aviation / From Private to Professional Pilot
Twitter: @MartinsAviation
Youtube: MartinsAviation1 


  1. I met Jeff went a flight was delayed during a difficult time in my life. He was so kind and entertaining.. What a true gentleman and great person. He is an asset to the airline industry. When they say fly the friendly skies.. they must be referring to him :)

    1. So true! He is truly a great guy... he's helped me figure out a few things along my road to PPL. He is an amazing contact to have!

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks again Jeff for writing in!
      -Swayne Martin

  2. Jeff's my dad and it was really cool for me to read this blog. I felt his love and passion for his job (which can be rare these days)and learn more of the details about the planes he flies. I'm glad you have him as a contact and know that he will be a great asset to you in your journey, as he has been to me.

    1. Thanks so much Heather! He has been an amazing contact for me, I hope we will continue to stay in touch! You can see he truly is passionate for his job by not only reading this post, but seeing the tweets he puts out whenever he flies. It's so cool to see photos he takes of his travels around the world!

      Thanks again for leaving the comment! Glad you enjoyed it,
      -Swayne Martin


Thanks for your comment; I really appreciate it! Glad you are here with me on the blog. If your comment does not appear right away, it will after verification.

Many Thanks, Happy Flying,
Swayne Martin