Captain Peter Küng, First Officers Werner Haas and Peter Kuster
The final phase of the first SWISS flight to San Francisco on June 2 was more or less over a solid blanket of cloud. Only rarely could we see the mountains and lakes of Nevada through gaps in the cloud cover. The weather forecast for our destination also called for heavy cloud, prompting us to prepare for an instrument approach. We began our descent from the northeast. However, we were pleasantly surprised when the clouds along the coast suddenly dissipated, granting us a clear view of the lush green valleys to the north of the city and the scenic backdrop of large forests and famous vineyards.
Below on the left we could already see the San Francisco Bay and, in the distance, the skyscrapers of downtown. And jutting through a low cloud were the two tallest towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Our three-member cockpit crew enjoyed a fantastic view for a few special minutes before the airport and its four runways came into view.
As is standard procedure in North America, a landing approach requires the pilot to descend level by level so that aircraft taking off below can ascend safely. For this reason we flew downwind in an easterly direction at a relatively high altitude and were soon given clearance for a visual approach on the westerly runway to our right. We then made a rapid descent, lowered the flaps and the landing gear in order to reduce our landing speed to approximately 240 km/h.
One of the special features of San Francisco Airport is the set of two parallel runways separated by a relatively narrow space. Approaches are staggered only a few minutes apart, which requires a high level of concentration on the part of the pilots as they not only have to be prepared for the imminent landing but also be mentally ready for a possible deviation. In our case, everything functioned smoothly and LX 38 made a nice first touchdown and taxied to the parking position with cockpit windows open so that we could hold out the Swiss and American flags, which was a bit of a challenge for the second co-pilot and CEO Harry Hohmeister because a strong wind was blowing.
We were given a warm welcome at the jetty, where everyone involved was clearly delighted by the Swiss cross on the aircraft tailfin now becoming a regular sight at San Francisco Airport, especially on an Airbus A340 with such an original, eye-catching livery.
And so a long, special day came to a satisfying end. We had departed Zurich at 13:30 and landed some 12 hours later at SFO at 16:30 local time. Thanks to the nine-hour time difference we were able to enjoy the latter part of an afternoon of glorious California sunshine. Mission accomplished, we were then truly in the mood for a refreshing beer.