Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Drone vs Helicopter

This wasn't put together as a PSA on drones, but it's being passed around the aviation community as one. I haven't figured out how to embed it as a video, so let me know if the link doesn't open a video for you.


Having the audio on is not strictly necessary, but after the main sequence there's an explanation that you may find interesting if you like that sort of thing.

Drones are scary little things. You'd think the danger a small thing like a bird or a drone can pose to a large aircraft would be impressed on the minds of the public after things like US Airways Flight 1549. (I'm not going to call it by its nickname because that undermines the training and expertise of the aircraft designers, SOP writers, pilots, flight attendants and rescue personnel). But people go on thinking that anything in the sky above them is as impervious to as the moon to their interference, and they try to check us out. Transport Canada has a renewed campaign trying to protect us from them. The roads around my airport are marked out with bilingual and graphic "no drones" signs. I was going to say that people wouldn't throw rocks at passing cars, so why do they launch these things at airplanes, but then I remember a relative of mine getting picked up by the police for dropping rocks off a pedestrian overpass, so yeah, people would do these things. I can almost imagine this Casualty One episode inspiring people to attack helicopters.

I've reported drones twice in flight, both times while in the immediate vicinity of an airport, and both times taken very seriously by ATC. Just like playing with fireworks, lasers, or things that look like grenade launchers, even if you think you're not causing any harm, you do that in the vicinity of people operating aircraft and we're going to launch law enforcement (or more) right back at you.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

One To Beam Up

I'm on my way into into a major Canadian airport and overhear another pilot on frequency asking to fly direct to a particular fix. A "fix" is a point of latitude and longitude that has been designated with a five-letter code so that air traffic controllers and pilots can refer to it. It might be the point at which pilots are supposed to change frequency, or allowed to start descent, or just another way for a pilot to request to deviate from course, usually to get around convective cloud.

In any event, this pilot asks to fly direct the fix, but the controller doesn't recognize it. That's not surprising, there are hundreds of these things in any patch of airspace, and people only pay attention to the ones that are on the route they are flying right now. The pilot repeats the waypoint name. The controller still doesn't recognize it.

"You're going to have to spell that," advises the controller, sounding a little crusty.

The pilot spells it. It has a couple of Ks in it, I think. VIKOK or KADOK or something.

"Great," says the controller with heavy resignation. "Another place out of Star Trek." I didn't notice if the pilot got his clearance or not.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


I'm at my desk checking NOTAMs while my co-worker pops out for a quick Tim Horton's run before boarding. Seconds after he leaves, I hear footsteps on the stairs again. Thinking he has forgotten his keys or something, I start to say, "That was the quickest Tim Horton's run ever," but it's not someone I recognize. He works for the company next door.

He says, "Oh, not one of your pilots. Do you know where he has gone?"

It takes me a moment to parse this. The first sentence makes perfect sense, because I'm the chief pilot here, so a pilot working for this company is in some sense "my" pilot. But why does he want to know where my non-pilot co-worker has gone, or even know that he exists? Then he continues with why he's here, and my understanding cuts in. In his eyes I am not a pilot. I am a woman working at a desk. The possibility that I am the pilot he seeks has not even crossed his mind.

The guy who is now on his way to Timmy's towed the aircraft out to an inappropriate position, and it is blocking the egress of another airplane that is ready to depart. I apologize and leap up to help move it, but he says that's okay, he has a co-pilot. With my permission they will push it back a few metres. About a minute later their assistant chief pilot comes in with the same complaint, but he knows who I am. I grab a reflective vest and go out to the ramp even though I know it's handled.

I suppose I could choose to be offended or outraged that some twenty-something (who is inexplicably wearing a toque even though it's about twenty degrees now and will go up to thirty by the afternoon) has a concept of "pilot" that does not include people who look like me. On the broader scale, there are huge problems in a society when people's concept of "law-abiding citizen," "person suitable for employment," "person worthy of respect as a human being," and "potential friend" arbitrarily exclude huge swathes of the population, but today I will just be amused by my own power of invisibility.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Antitailgating Access Portal

I'm currently struggling with a security clearance issue. I can't talk about it specifically, because the security training includes my agreement not to disclose details. I'm hoping this issue is a misunderstanding or an incompletely articulated policy, because like many valid security procedures, makes no f[iretr]ucking sense. While researching the issue in search of more definitive information on what I am allowed to do in secure areas with the pass I hold, I was amused by this:

Three airports – Kelowna, Winnipeg and London – have installed an access control system called a “mantrap,” so named by Washington-based Newton Security Inc., the manufacturer of the operative mantrap technology called T-DAR; Canadian airports variously refer to it as a mantrap, persontrap or, in Winnipeg, antitailgating access portal.

Who would have guessed that little Winnipeg was the epicentre of Canadian overnaming conventions? Henceforth I shall call them Stargates, and fully expect that every time I pass through one, there is a good chance I will encounter an alien civilization that curiously speaks English or French almost exactly the way they do in my part of the universe.

Also, here's your daily dose of pilots landing a Cessna on a highway.

Not a lot of detail there. The Mayday call reports engine trouble. The vehicles following seem to have figured out that tailgating is not a good idea.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Resident Coyotes

I'm taxiing out at an airport that I haven't been to much and I can hear the ground controller coordinating with wildlife control, with input from various pilots, in pursuit of a coyote that is on the airport. I don't see the coyote, and I depart. A few days later I land at that airport again, and in the short time I'm taxiing, hear another report of a coyote on the grass. The ground controller thanks that pilot for the report. I overnight, and when I depart the next day the coyote is still a topic of conversation on the ground frequency. One pilot suggests that they just issue the animal an airside access permit and be done with it. Another counters that he wouldn't make it though the security interview. The ground controller shushes the wise-asses, but a few days later the authorities seem to have accepted the suggestion.

Pilot, "Ground, there's a fox or something just crossed the taxiway."

Ground, "That's just one of our resident coyotes."

I suspect that eventually wildlife control will shoot the animals, because they could cause an accident, but in the meantime I cheer for their wiliness and adaptability. I hope it's a tranquilizer gun and that they find them a home with fewer aircraft. A coworker suggested that they issue the coyotes transponder-equipped collars so we at least know where they are.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


A month ago I blogged about the LRBL and today I watched an wonderfully bad movie that used the concept. Naturally it features an alcoholic air marshal, a cute unaccompanied minor, a nervous Arab passenger wearing a taqiyah, an uncooperative black man in a camo hoodie and dark glasses, a cellphone hacking expert, an arrogant white man in a suit, a redhead who insists on the window seat, a New York cop, a dead captain, beautiful flight attendants, and a guy in glasses who has to land the plane. I confess that I wasn't paying enough attention to remember whether the guy who wrestled with the cockpit controls during the inevitable crash landing was the original co-pilot or some passenger who was drafted for the task, but he clearly worked very hard at it. About fifteen percent of the movie consisted of text messages and another ten percent was exteriors that looked really cool in the 2005 edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

It amused me that Hollywood was as inspired as I was by the concept of there being a preferred spot to put a bomb. If you share my taste in bad movies, it's called Non-Stop and is on Netflix, in Canada, at least.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How Far Along Are You?

My company recently bought a new airplane for our fleet. I may have blogged already about the previous owner and his son watching it go like it was a child going off to college. We told them we weren't sure exactly when we would arrive, so to leave it out on the ramp for us to collect, after the payment cleared. But they preferred to make the trip from town out to the airport on our schedule, to open their hangar and tow it out for the last time. The ops manager and I flew it to its new home, and then it sat in our hangar for a while, which maintenance discovered and rectified decades of idiosyncratic repairs. The wiring for the wing strobes was literally wrapped around the aileron cables, because there's nothing better than abrading through electrical wiring right by your fuel tank, while restricting the movement of your flight controls. There were a coupled of days I was alerted for an impending test flight, and then waved off, because the final run up had turned up a new leak or suspicious behaviour. The right side brakes weren't working. Even though I fly it single pilot from the left, and right brakes are optional on the type, a problem with the brakes is a problem with the braking system, and cannot be allowed to stand.

Finally, I was to instructed to fly it to another airport for a specialty refit. The avionics haven't been addressed yet, so I waited for the weather to improve to VFR and then grabbed the minimum plot equipment and flew it up, to take an airline flight back. The first officer stood at the foot of the airstairs as I boarded the commuter airliner, and he spotted the VFR charts sticking out of the pocket of my headset bag.

"You're an aviator," he observed. Not one to interfere with the linguistic process that is eliminating gendered terms for professions, I answered in the affirmative. (I also don't mind, guys, if you want to call yourselves aviatrices. It is a cooler word). "How far along are you?" asked the first officer.

I was halfway up the stairs by then, almost entering the cabin. What's the answer to that? Ten different jobs, an ATPL, eight thousand hours ... I ended up saying something condescending, telling him I likely had five times his hours. It could actually have been ten or twenty times: they're hiring FOs pretty green these days. I didn't mean to be condescending. I don't think he intended his comment that way either. I took it cheerfully, like being IDed at the liquor store. I was planning to apologize on the way out of the aircraft at the end of the flight, but it was windy and noisy and he was busy, so I just said goodbye with the other passengers. If you're reading, dude, this is your apology. If he's not, that's okay. I remember some pretty rude pilot passengers who thought they were better than me, from when I was flying airline, but now they're all just funny stories, so I don't mind being one of his.

To him, professional aviation is a progression from VFR to IFR and from small airports to big airports, so someone with a headset and VFR charts boarding a plane at a little airport was perceived to be near the beginning of the chain. I should have answered "oh maybe three quarters of the way there" based on the number of hours I estimate I'll accumulate before I retire. On the other hand, someone has to teach him that it's a bad idea to ask a woman "how far along are you?"