Thursday, April 17, 2014

Quick: Name the First Woman to Fly Around the World

First two admissions:
One) I don't remember hearing of her before today.
Two) I don't have time to do any fact checking; I'm trusting this Buzzfeed article, and banging out a quick post for the 50th anniversary of the completion of her flight.

Her name is Jerrie Mock. Is. She's still alive. Because she flew around the damn world and didn't get lost or run out of fuel or crash. It's too bad that she did it under the racelike conditions that she did, and didn't get more of a chance to explore the places she visited. I wish her later years had been happier and that she had had more opportunities to fly since.

I thought it was worth posting, even though I'm prioritizing my sleep over a well-written blog post here. Jerrie Mock.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Staying Alive - Be Prepared

This is from the Cheeseburger network's "demotivational posters," but it's the right rule for a pilot to remember. The exact wording on my poster would be "Always leave room for one more thing to go wrong." You can do a turn at low altitude close to the mountains, but can you do it at he same time as an engine failure or a bee sting? It sounds terribly negative, but constantly asking "what is the worst thing that could happen right now and how would I deal with it?" is a very positive way to fly.

Eventually it All Falls Apart

I think I already told you of the effect Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys has had on my life, but it's my blog, so I'll tell it again. He urged boys to survey the situation around them at all times, think what emergency could arise, and be ready to deal with it in advance. Times have moved on since he wrote, so just as he only addressed "boys", one emergency he suggested was that of a runaway horse in a public place. The possibility of a horse bolting through the shopping mall or down my street was remote but so much more exciting than plausible emergencies that the idea launched me into a lifetime of imagining and preparing for infinitely unlikely but exciting emergencies. I honestly think I spent more time as a student pilot thinking about being struck by a piece of debris that fell off a passing airliner than say, a bird strike or an electrical failure.

Always leave room for one thing to go wrong is my own coinage, a realization I had so long ago that I don't remember what had happened to bring me to the conclusion. I think I was a student pilot so it might have been a combination of things that I now handle while eating lunch and boring my co-workers with repeated stories about my life, but at that time, on that day I realized that I didn't have the capacity to handle another problem. It goes with an astronaut saying I just learned, "In space there is no problem so bad you can't make it worse." That one is from my countryman and fellow pilot, Chris Hadfield.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Fireproof Clothing One Can Pee Out Of

Fireproof clothing that doesn't need to be removed before urinating: is that too much to ask? I have asked this question before on this blog, but then it was more rhetorical, Now I'm actually in the market for Nomex flightsuits compatible with in-flight urination. Preferably in company colours. (Protip: if you want to save money on flightsuits in company colours, make your company colours navy blue or khaki). So I turn to the first resort of anyone in the 21st century looking for anything: Google (because my phone isn't new enough to have Siri).

Try and guess what the entire first page of Google returns for "flight suit reviews" consists of. Just try.

Unless you guessed diapers for pet birds, you guessed wrong. You'd be close if you guessed Halloween costumes, like this one, that comes complete with Top Gun patches and aviator sunglasses. Or the kid-sized replica of the NASA Advanced Crew Escape Suit the author of this blog entry started out reviewing, before she got distracted by thinking about what it would really be like to be an astronaut's mother. And then there are the ones that don't seem to be costumes, but marketed like costumes, as though their primary customer just wants to look like a pilot. They sell a women's flight suit, at about a hundred and fifty dollars more than the typical men's price I've seen, but I'm not sure whether the mark-up is for the smaller woman's market, or because this is for people who want "genuine, authentic flight suits like real pilots wear," as opposed to those who want to put genuine fireproof clothing on real pilots. I'm also wary of ordering a "women's flight suit" that is only available in men's sizes, and is sold on a page with the html title "MENS POLYCOTTON FLIGHTSUIT".

When I do find women's suits listed, and this one looks pretty good, it is sometimes difficult to determine which is the corresponding men's suit. I don't object to the men having a much greater selection of styles nor to the women's ones often being more expensive: I do understand economies of scale. I just want there to be a corresponding men's suit to the one women's suit on offer. These are, after all, intended as a uniform. I want male and female crew members to have the same pocket layout and styling, for the overall look even if what's underneath our zippers is a little different.

Because of the difference under the zipper, I'm looking closely at the styling, trying to work out how I pee in there. If the zipper went far enough down, I could get a portable urinal in there. If there's lots of extra room in the legs, I guess I could get the bag to hang down one leg while I used it. Some of the pictures don't even look like they would make it convenient for the males to engage their equipment with a relief tube. Zippers are men's natural enemies, right? And I'm still not finding reviews of flight suits intended for those without cloacae. If you wear or have worn one, and are not an incontinent bird, let me know what you think of yours, what features you like or wish it has, and whether you can pee in it without, you know, peeing IN it.

I hope I can find a better solution than this style, although I do appreciate the fact that the vendor charges less for the women's version, in light of the reduction in fabric required. I'm seriously tempted to buy that last one and show up in it on Halloween.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Halon Extinguisher

This video is sort of adorable, and I think it may be as close as I'm going to get to my VP's request of a video showing a Halon fire extinguisher in action. Finishing the job with an obviously capped bottle of water is a great touch. It was probably made for the same reason that I'm searching for on: it would be nice to know in advance how long the unit will function, what the chemical looks like coming out, and the efficacy we can expect in using it. Halon is restricted under the Montreal Protocol, to which Canada is signatory, so you can't just go out behind the hangar and discharge expired bottles for training purposes. Expired units are returned to the manufacturer and the Halon is recovered and recycled.

I'm pretty sure the colourless Halon gas is virtually invisible while being discharged. The information on the can is sufficient to calculate that the contents are not in excess of what will produce an average 2% concentration in the air of the aircraft cabin. But how long will it take to be exhausted, and how big a fire is too big for it? You don't want to use the whole bottle on half the fire, but perhaps you want to be sure you have put out one part of a fire before moving on. But it lacks information on the stream rate, discharge rate, time to be fully discharged, whatever one might call it. I am, however, finding plenty of interesting things about Halon.

There are two types of Halon: 1211 versus Halon 1301. (That isn't the interesting part yet. I might also be overselling "interesting".) I just knew that the handheld extinguishers use 1211 and the installed setups like in computer rooms and cargo areas use 1301. I hadn't even thought about what "halon" meant, but it's a hydrocarbon with halogens replacing some of the hydrogens. Halon 1211 is chlorodifluorobromomethane. The number isn't just some kind of catalogue number, but a description of the molecule. The first digit specifies the number of carbon atoms: unsubstituted methane is CH4. the second digit is the number of fluorine atoms, the third is the chlorine atoms, and the fourth is the number of bromine atoms. If there happens to to be iodine on board they'll add a fifth digit for that, and presumably a sixth digit could be added for astatine, but an unstable radioactive halogen wouldn't be a good choice for a fire extinguisher. (If you didn't find an interesting part in there, sorry. It was interesting to me. I love knowing how things got their names).

Something I didn't know, and actually believed the opposite of, is that Halon 1211 is not appropriate for burning metal fires. Fortunately my aircraft does not have magnesium components. But perhaps I should double check that.

And then, just as I thought I had milked the Internet dry of useful (or interesting) information on Halon fire extinguishers, I found this study. Really if you're nerdy enough about aircraft firefighting chemicals to have read this far, you should just go and roll around in that link. Sure, it's a PDF of a typewritten document, but what do you expect from 1986? Six percent of cabin fires during the period they sampled were from "smoking materials". i.e. people lighting fires on board aircraft for recreational purposes. (There's no breakdown of tobacco versus other). The FAA built a wind tunnel out of sheet steel, a Cessna 210 and a couple of jet engines. It's not crystal clear from the description but it appears that this test rig was designed and constructed specifically for testing fire extinguishers. And damnit, they did. There are sixty pages in this document, with graphs and tables and all the data I could ask for, including the fact that a 2.5 lb Halon fire extinguisher takes ten to fourteen seconds to fully discharge. Thank you, American taxpayers.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


My thanks go to regular reader Sarah for linking me to this article on the Canadian Forces Celebritail programme. I haven't managed to get a blogworthy picture of one in the field, must be the subtle colours, and I don't see most of these types at all at the airports I frequent. If you know the history behind all the people honoured on the tails, then you are a connoisseur of Canadian history and culture. The funniest one is the Bieber Bomber, and its mysterious poor dispatch record. I'll bet they're extra glad they took that picture off now!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dinosaur Confusion

On the way back to Alberta we're crossing the northern Rockies again. I mention something to my crewmate that I forgot to point out the first time: Dawson Creek is a co-located waterdrome and land aerodrome. "You'll see it as we go by," I promise him. "It looks like the fin on a diplodocus."

"What?" he says.

I try to explain. "The land runway is just an ordinary straight strip of pavement, and the water runway is a parallel ditch, but in order to enable pilots to taxi off the water runway there are also a series of channels in the lagoon for parking."

"And that's a diplodocus?" He thinks it's some strange aviation term.

I say, "Oh no, a diplodocus is a dinosaur. They probably don't exist anymore. I mean, I know dinosaurs don't exist anymore in general, but I expect they've changed the name. It has a big fin, like a sail."

He Googles diplodocus on his phone. Yeah, you can totally get sufficient cell coverage in the mountains of northern BC to google random dinosaurs on your cellphone. And no, it's not illegal to use a cellphone in our airplane. It's illegal to use an electronic device when the pilot-in-command has ordered otherwise. And I haven't. He tells me that the diplodocus doesn't have a fin. He's right. It's just legs and neck and tail.

I admit, "I must have got my dinosaurs mixed up." I had a green plastic one when I was a kid. Later I google "dinosaur back fin sail" and google immediately shows me my dinosaur. It's a dimetrodon.

And you have to admit the lagoons at Dawson Creek look just like its fin.

View Larger Map

By the way, it's Google's fault I don't post so much anymore. I have a quick bookmark that takes me straight to the page that allows me to compose a blog entry, and when I have something to say, I click that button and write at least a draft, before I forget what I was going on about. But over the past few years Google has bought Blogger and other things that I have passwords to, associated variously with my work identity, my personal identity or the identities associated with hobbies, including blogging. So now chances are that when I punch that button, I am already participating in the Google universe in another identity, so instead of bringing up a blank post for me to edit, it tries to get me to join Google Plus under whatever identity I'm currently using. I think pressuring me to join Google Plus is Google's default action when it can't serve me the page I've asked for. The really irritating part is that the page is does serve me doesn't even have the option to log out. So I just roll my eyes and close the tab, and the thought goes away.

And on the subject of logging in, I have disabled anonymous commenting, because the volume of comment spam is now so great that I rarely have an opportunity to read your real comments. Blogger does a pretty good job of filtering out and not posting the spam, but it comes to me for moderation and I have to delete it daily by the screenful. I imagine Google has forced you to be just as ubiquitously logged in, so I hope this won't be a problem for you.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fitting In

I'm working out of an airport where traffic has outstripped construction and the construction that is trying to catch up has made the taxiways and frequencies even more congested. When I get a word in edgewise with ground I'm cleared to taxi, but then have to pull over for a do-si-do at the compass rose so an opposite direction caravan can get by. Wait a few minutes stacked up behind traffic for departure, then cleared for the immediate, with a northbound turn as soon as able so they can keep pumping out faster traffic.


On the way home, I'm sequenced, allowed to descend towards the runway, and then told to keep it in close behind the departing jet. The controller's goal and hence mine is to put me on the pavement as soon as the jet is safely out of the way. I don't want to land into jet blast, the disturbance to the air made by the jet engines as the aircraft accelerates along the pavement, but I don't have to worry about his wake turbulence, because the vortices made by the wings of a flying aircraft don't start until rotation, and I will be stopped and turned off the runway before the point at which the jet gets airborne and the vortices start. I hear another aircraft behind being told to bring back the speed, follow the ... ATC gets my type wrong, but he's to be forgiven. I know it's me, and from the point of view of the B737 pilot behind me, we're much the same.

Someone on frequency asks the controller if they have software that advises them of traffic conflicts or just use their own cleverness. The controller assures them it's just cleverness and the next few calls to tower include praise for the controllers' cleverness. They have to undergo some pretty comprehensive aptitude tests for that job, and then a lot of training and supervised practice, so the cleverness is innate and trained.

I keep it close behind the jet, and plan to keep my speed up to the intersection where they usually ask me to exit. The fading jet blast affects the flare giving me a sudden headwind that dies, I bubble up and then touch down harder than I planned to before I can bring up the power to compensate. I've lost all my speed, because of that, but just as well because ATC asks me to exit on a sooner taxiway than I'd planned. I can refuse that if I consider it unsafe, but a bit of braking and I do it. The 737 must have landed behind me, and by the time I get my taxi clearance and turn onto the parallel taxiway there's a CRJ taking off.