Friday, September 30, 2005

Stripes and Buttons

The stripes you see on a pilot's shoulders as part of our uniform are attached to a flat tube (is there such a thing as a flat tube? or do tubes have to be cylindrical?) that slides over a flap of fabric on the shoulder of the shirt. The flap buttons down to hold the stripes on. There's a word associated with all this: epaulettes, but I'm never sure whether the flap of shirt, or the stripes themselves are called epaulettes. The stripes are ludicrously expensive. If you ever have a job where you have to go to a pilot supply store and buy the correct colour of stripes for yourself, you'll find it runs you $15 to $25 for the pair. When you get a new job, or especially an upgrade to captain, it's important to leave your stripes in a sunny window so they will fade quickly and make you look more experienced.

When you're done flying for the day, and have to walk around in public, you take the stripes off and stuff them in your breast pocket, along with your pen, and your oversized aviator sunglasses. Stopping in to the grocery store while wearing your stripes ranks right up there on the dorkiness scale with tripping over your own shoelaces. I typically rebutton the flap, so it isn't just flapping around. Some companies don't have you wear stripes, just the shirt with the little flaps on, so that everyone knows you're a pilot. Either way, at the end of the day, when I get home and take off the shirt, the little flap is buttoned up.

Technically, according to pilot laundry lore, you're supposed to unbutton the flap before putting the shirts in the wash. I'm not sure where I learned this. It wasn't in flying school. The theory is that if you leave them buttoned, they will catch on something and the buttons will rip off. I think I did it for a while, then stopped bothering, and discovered that the buttons never ripped off.

Until today. A shirt came out of the laundry separated from one of its buttons. I think that's a pretty good average. If I took all the time it would have taken me to unbutton and rebutton shirts over the years, I think that would equal to more than the time it's going to take me to reattach this one button. So I come out ahead.

Someone is probably thinking at this point, "but she has to unbutton it eventually to reattach the stripes, so why not do it before the laundry rather than after?" Except that I want the flaps fastened while the shirts are on the hangers in the closet, so I would have done them up again, anyway. For no particular reason. And if you add in the time I just spent blogging about it, I really have wasted a phenomenal amount of time in buttoning, unbuttoning, rebuttoning, mending and talking about buttons.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Being Responsible is Less Fun

During the pre-take-off checks, the fuel pressure on my right engine was high. Not just a little higher than normal, not just touching the red line on the gauge, but right through it. With the electric fuel pump turned off (leaving just the engine-driven pump supplying fuel to the engine), the pressure fell to normal. I turned the pump back on again. The needle went back through the red line. What to do?

The high fuel pressure probably would not do any harm. What's going to happen? It's not as if the pressure is going to get so high the engine explodes. It would be different if it were low fuel pressure. This airplane was needed for multiple flights. The weather was good. We had a clearance. A number of people, not to mention my entire day's income, depended on that airplane flying. Other pilots would also lose income, as would the company, if the airplane didn't fly. Maybe it was just parallax error that made the gauge appear to read in the red. Maybe I didn't notice it during take-off. The electric fuel pumps would be selected off during the flight, anyway. Yeah, right.

When I have a borderline serviceability issue, I ask myself: if I did this flight, and something happened, how would I feel explaining my decision to take off to Transport Canada, or to a passenger's family. I said out loud, "There's a reason why the manufacturer painted a red line on that gauge." We taxied back, and I recorded the problem, in ink, in the aircraft journey log. No changing my mind.

The required part was on order stock. The airplane is off line. The ripple effect is going to carry right through the week, disrupting schedules and disappointing people. No one gave me a word of criticism: not maintenance, not the customers, not my co-workers, not even management. But I didn't get to go flying today, received no flight pay, and I'm sure someone was pissed off.

It's just like being a responsible teenager. Safe decisions result in lower popularity, and missing out on the fun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Prada or Polyester?

I picked up a novel, The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. I don't recommend it. It's about a new college grad enduring her first job as assistant to a ridiculously demanding fashion editor. The editor piles her with ludicrous and poorly defined tasks and then becomes furious when they are not done to her exacting standards.

Many of the episodes in which the protagonist gets in trouble involve her being sent on an errand and not returning in the expected time, usually because she is talking on her cellphone, smoking a cigarette or otherwise dawdling. So this is supposed to be a story about the most unreasonable boss ever, but I can't sympathize with the girl, because she's wasting time. If you're supposed to have the engine started and be off blocks at 05:23, you're off blocks at 05:23. That means you get in as early as you have to in order to be fuelled, loaded, preflighted, deiced, started, briefed and trundling towards the appropriate taxiway at the exact prescribed time.

In another episode, the boss's commercial flight out of Miami is cancelled for weather, so she demands that her assistants get her a private charter. I laughed a bit reading that part, because weather is weather and if one pilot won't take off through Miami weather in a commercial airliner, there's not a good chance of another pilot planning into it in something smaller. But that wasn't the problem encountered by the assistants. In this fictional account of the aircraft charter industry, charter companies don't work nights. "I called every single private charter company in the state of Florida and, as you might imagine, they weren't answering their phones at midnight on a Saturday." Someone else told her she had, "a better chance of getting hit by lightning twenty times than I did of securing a plane and a pilot at that hour." Then I really started laughing. What does Lauren Weisberger think that charter companies do? They take people from Florida to New York on short notice in the middle of the night. That's what they're there for. Limosines of the sky.

This young author acts like she doesn't realize that people really do have jobs that require them to be on call twenty-four hours a day, to make all problems, even caused by the weather, their own responsibility, and to let their boyfriends know that if their pager rings, nookie is over. The protagonist of the novel gets free designer clothes as a job perk. I get a free polyester blend shirt and tie. But she also has to wear high heels. I've got her there. Sensible shoes all the way.

Perhaps I should be worried that the only favourable point of comparison between my working conditions and a fictional hell-job is footwear. But I'm not. I'm committed to my job, and I like it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Optional Procedure Turns

The most awkward part of a hockey stick procedure turn is transitioning from crossing the beacon, to tracking outbound along the shaft of the hockey stick. If you arrive via a heading that is close to the outbound heading, then you only have a small turn to make passing the beacon, and can line up quite easily. But if you are approaching the beacon from the inbound heading, you have to do a full 180, and then have to make quite a large cut to intercept the outbound track. It may be more convenient to use another form of procedure turn.

If you arrive at the beacon via a heading that is close to the inbound heading, the racetrack may be the easiest. After crossing the beacon, the pilot makes a turn towards the protected airspace side, to the outbound heading, and simply parallels the outbound track for a couple of minutes, before making a one-eighty in the same direction to interept the track. It's shaped like a hold. In still air, this should work out nicely, but with wind you might not end up where you think you are. One of the dangers is that with a strong wind blowing from the protected side, you could be blown through the track so that when you made your turn, you were actually turning away from both the inbound track, and the protected airspace. You must pay attention to the instrument indications of your position relative to the track, even though you aren't tracking. The wind could blow you sideways, pushing you towards the inbound track, so that when you turned around and tried to intercept it inbound, you would overshoot it during the turn. If that started to happen, you could intercept the track outbound and then switch to a hockey stick procedure turn. If you caught it early and really had your heart set on a racetrack, you could switch to a modified racetrack.

You might choose a modified racetrack if you were approaching from the unprotected side at an angle that might put the outbound leg of the racetrack too close to the inbound track. So crossing the beacon, you turn to a heading that is about forty-five degrees from the outbound heading, towards the protected side. You fly that heading for a minute, then turn to the outbound heading for a minute or two, and then turn 135 degrees, to intercept the inbound heading at 45 degrees, just like the corresponding part of the hockey stick PT.

Coming from the protected side, some pilots do an S-turn: crossing the beacon, turning immediately to a heading 45 degrees to the protected side of the outbound, flying that heading for a couple of minutes, then turning around to intercept the inbound. It's kind of like a modified racetrack for people arriving from the protected side.

There's also a 90-270 rapid reversal that starts out like the hockey stick, but instead of turning forty-five degrees off track and then doing a one-eighty, the pilot turns ninety degrees off track and then almost immediately whips the rest of the way around to intercept it. I suppose it's faster.

The hockey stick (or the faster varient) procedure turn does have one huge advantage, and that is that while flying outbound, you are tracking, following the needle indications that tell you that you are exactly on the outbound track, and not confusedly flying the wrong way, nor being blown by strong winds out of protected airspace and into a mountain. I favour the hockey stick or the racetrack. My philosophy is that if you have to cross through the outbound track anyway, you might as well intercept it.

I believe that in the United States (and someone will correct me if I'm wrong), this thing is called a course reversal, instead of a procedure turn, and you're only allowed to fly it as depicted on the plate, and those are usually hockey sticks. I doubt Americans do them much at all: radar coverage is almost universal in the States.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tribute to the NHL

When you are flying IFR (i.e. in clouds) in a busy, radar-controlled environment you normally receive radar vectors to intercept the approach. The controller tells you what heading to fly and you keep following her instructions until you have intercepted an electronic line in the sky, and you can fly straight in and land. But not all airports have radar coverage, and some approaches are not appropriate for radar vectors. You have to turn around and line yourself up to land.

An instrument approach normally has a radio beacon of some sort (NDB or VOR) either right at the end of the runway, or pretty much lined up with the straight in path to the runway. Lets say that you want to fly an approach to runway 18, so that to be lined up perfectly you have to be flying on a heading of 180, or due south. You have to work out some way to be exactly north of the beacon, pointing south. If you were looking out the window to plan this, you'd just fly to a point a few miles north of the beacon, turn around, and line up, like widening out and planning a turn with your car into a parking stall. But the point is that IFR you're in cloud, so you can't see to line up. And there is not usually another beacon ten miles north and exactly aligned with the first, so you can't fly there to turn around and line up. You have to fly to the beacon that is there.

Reaching the beacon, you're either directly overhead the runway or within a few miles. Either way, if you try to turn around and point at the runway to land, it's not going to work. So you when you reach the beacon you turn away from the runway and then later turn around and come back: a procedure turn.

There are various flavours of procedure turn, and in Canada you can choose any one you want for an approach, or make up your own, provided that you remain within protected airspace. Approach designers typically protect airspace 10 miles back from the beacon (it wil say on the plate exactly how far), 5 nm on the procedure turn side, and a mile and half on the non-turning side. Protection implies that if you fly at the published altitude you will be one thousand feet above the highest obstacle, and that ATC won't allow others to fly there while you're using it. Take a piece of scrap paper and draw a vertical line near the bottom, then a small circle further up the page in line with your vertical line. That's your runway, with the beacon to the north. Now draw a big rectangle, such that the beacon is near the bottom right hand corner of the rectangle. That rectangle represents the protected airspace for a left procedure turn. (A turn might be left or right, depending on what mountains, airspace or enormous TV antennae the designers had to contend with).

The standard procedure turn is called the hockey stick. Imagine a hockey stick (the Canadian kind, for real hockey, played on ice, not the little curly kind for grass hockey) with the butt end at the beacon and the blade turned off to the left, all inside the protected airspace. The airplane will follow a path down the shaft, left around the top of the blade, right along the bottom of the blade (where it would be resting on the ice) and back down the shaft to the beacon, and hence the runway.

So you fly directly to the beacon, from whereever you are, descending to the higher of the altitudes specified by the approach plate and ATC. When you reach the beacon, you turn, left or right, whichever is the shortest turn to the outbound heading. And then you turn a little bit more. Why? Because you were moving forward while you turned around, so if you turned due north you would be paralleling the shaft of the hockey stick and not flying along it. The outbound heading is written right on the approach plate, so that pilots don't have to worry about difficult math like adding or subtracting 180 degrees from the inbound heading.

You continue flying that little-bit-more heading until you are almost on the shaft of the hockey stick (correctly set and interpreted instruments will let you know when this happens). I say "almost on" it, because if you wait until you are exactly on it, you will overshoot it while you are making the turn. You don't want to be zig-zagging back and forth like a drunk driver trying to stay on the road. You want to establish yourself, with the minimum amount of zig-zagging, on an outbound track along the shaft of that hockey stick.

You fly along the hockey stick for a minute or two, doesn't really matter exactly how long, so long as you remain within protected airspace and have a plan. If my co-pilot has a thing about flying one minute and thirty seconds exactly, that's okay with me. We just want to get far enough out that turning around and lining up is easy, and so we have enough time to descend. After that agreed upon amount of time, you make a 45 degree turn to the left (or to the right, if the plate specifies a right PT, but my example is to the left). You're following the blade of the hockey stick. The heading to fly to get a 45 degree turn is also printed on the plate. After one minute (more or less if you know there's a strong wind affecting your progress towarads the tip of the blade) you turn right one hundred eighty degrees and head back towards the shaft of the hockey stick. Approaching the shaft (needles tell you when) you turn to the inbound course, timing it perfectly so that you roll out wings level, exactly aligned with the inbound course. Failing that, you make an appropriate correction to get on track, and start descending, according to the limitations on the plate. When you get back to the beacon at the butt of the hockey stick, you descend further, in the hopes of actually seeing the runway.

I could probably get an account that allowed me to put pictures up, but then I'd have to draw them, and scan them. Describing things in words that really ought to have pictures is kind of fun. I'll describe more procedure turns later. For those of you who know what it means when I write about holds: no this isn't a "holds" blog entry. I'm glad hockey is back. I'll describe other procedure turns later.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Bits and Pieces

I saw a quote earlier, ostensibly what the Long Beach tower controller said to the pilots of JetBlue 292 after their gear inspection flyby. Something like "Your landing gear is turned ninety degrees the wrong way," but I liked it better. ATC have a talent for saying things that are amusing in their succinct simplicity. I couldn't find the quote again, but I found a few other things I wanted to share.

"You never really read the pamphlets or pay attention to the flight attendants, but everyone was listening to every word they said."
---JetBlue Flight 292 passenger Pia Barma

Grrr. Listen to the briefing, people. We don't do it for our own amusement.

"There were a lot of people in our office that were really stunned about how perfect that landing looked."
---FAA spokesman Donn Walker.

Good when the FAA has something nice to say about what a pilot did.

(Both of those from the LA Daily News. BTW, correction to my previous blog entry: the A320 can't dump fuel in flight. The fuel load was reduced solely by burning it off. Don't know why I wrote that. Must have repoter genes.)

And here's an ATC trainee who singlehandedly made up for all the odd clearances, poor sequencing and confused silences I have ever received from ATC trainees. Note that trainees are very closely supervised, for a surprising amount of time.

Newark Tower, July 26, 2004:

"Scott Dittamo was in the final stages of his trainee program at the busy Newark Tower, receiving training on the local control position. The weather conditions were ideal; clear skies. Dittamo was looking out the window. 'We had a [Boeing] 747 coming in,' he said. 'You can point out a 747 easily on a clear day.' It was Air India Flight 145, with 409 passengers aboard.

"'He was on five-mile final approach,' Dittamo remarked. 'I saw him but I couldn't see gear.' With his [instructions] in his head - 'Always look for feet' - Dittamo glanced in a different direction and then turned back to the 747 to look again. No gear. 'I thought, something just doesn't seem right,' he said. 'In my mind, I said I would pick it up in my next scan. But then I looked up and the plane definitely had no gear.'

"By this point, Flight 145 was on a half-mile final at an altitude of 600 feet. 'I was surprised he didn't go around,' Dittamo stated. 'I was going to let it go for one more second, because this was a critical phase of the flight for the crew. But then I just said to myself, I'm not going to let this go for any longer.'

"Dittamo keyed the mike, 'Air India 145, check gear down. Gear appears up.' The pilot acknowledged the transmission with a calm, 'Air India 145.' Down came the gear and the 747 landed safely on Runway 4R.

"'Holy cow!' said another controller in the tower, realizing that Dittamo had just prevented a possible disaster. Several other pilots on the frequency, taxiing or waiting to take off, heard the transmission and instantly knew of the importance of Dittamo's actions to catch a very rare occurrence. One pilot ... offered a succinct compliment: 'Hey tower, good catch.' "

"Holy Cow." Yeah, that's what air traffic controllers say.

And the last one, which I have a much easier time believing an ATC actually said:

"Hey Al, are you okay with that SKW6100 (4,000 feet) and that VFR at 3,399 (feet)?"

I initially misread the second as "and that VFR at 3,999" which would have been funnier, assuming it worked out. Both of those are from an Air Safety Week article on awards given to air traffic controllers for especially astute saves.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

JetBlue Flight 292

If you want spectacular news footage or wild speculation about flight 292, check your local TV station. This entry is about how pilots react to news such as today's emergency landing of an Airbus A320, with an abnormally positioned nose gear.

First, we tell each other. Someone in the crewroom received a text message. He read it aloud, "turn on CNN now." There was a quiet moment where many of us thought about another time we'd all watched airplanes on CNN, but we a quick check of revealed that the Airbus was circling near LAX with a gear problem. We started my mocking reporter-speak: the "front landing gear" was stuck sideways, so the pilots were going to try landing on the the "back landing gear." I suppose those terms make a lot more sense to the public than "nose gear" and "main gear." But perhaps they could mention that pilots usually aim to land on the mains. It's bad form (as in serious aircraft damage) not to.

There was a TV available so we proceded to watch live coverage of the aircraft circling, dumping fuel, and no doubt allowing the pilots to conference with company maintenance and Airbus technical staff. They kept cutting back to earlier footage where you could see that the nose gear ("the front wheels") were turned completely sideways: ninety degrees to the direction of travel. We drowned out the repetitive, information-free media commentary ("no doubt a very stressful situation for the pilots and passengers, Bob") with our own voiceovers: mock PAs, mock cellphone conversations by the passengers, mock French-accented technical recommendations from Airbus techs, and armchair quarterbacking ("they should go to Edwards Airforce base" and "they should have more flaps down by now").

On final approach, it came down to: would the gear shear off or just catch fire? Either way it would be a shower of sparks, followed by a closed runway, and a flurry of passengers complaining about their luggage and calling lawyers.

If you didn't see it, it was a beautiful landing, with the airplane perfectly centred on the runway, the mains touching down at about the thousand foot marks and the gear skidding, smoking, flaming, blazing right down the centreline to a full stop. It didn't collapse, and neither did Airbus Industries. I hope I would do as well with an equivalent emergency in what I fly. And no doubt tomorrow it will be heralded in the papers as a miracle, rather than design and skill.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Night Currency

CARS 401.05 Recency Requirements states in part that:

(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Subpart, no holder of a flight crew permit or licence, other than the holder of a flight engineer licence, shall exercise the privileges of the permit or licence in an aircraft unless the holder

(b) where a passenger other than a flight test examiner designated by the Minister is carried on board the aircraft, has completed, within the six months preceding the flight,

(i) in the case of an aircraft other than a glider or a balloon, in the same category and class of aircraft as the aircraft, or in a Level B, C or D simulator of the same category and class as the aircraft, at least

(A) five night or day take-offs and five night or day landings, if the flight is conducted wholly by day, or

(B) five night take-offs and five night landings, if the flight is conducted wholly or partly by night,

The short version of that is that in order to carry passengers at night, you have to have done five take offs and landings by night in the last six months. The idea is that if you've forgotten how to land at night, you're only going to terrify yourself.

Yes, the rules for night in Canada are substantially different from the United States, whose licence holders require three night landings and take-offs to a full stop in 90 days. I'm not sure the purpose of the full stop part, and whether that would be served by doing stop-'n'-go landings (where you brake to a complete stop on the runway and then take off again from the same runway without exiting). The ninety day versus six month thing is easily explained though: in Canada darkness becomes so short in the winter that it's possible for someone working a regular operation to go four or five months without conducting many take-offs or landings at night. The rules avoid penalizing those operators and pilots in the fall when the evenings darken.

I'm flying two classes of aircraft for my current job, and recently I realized that I was night current on only one class, yet scheduled to fly the other class on a flight that would end after official nightfall. How to gain currency?

We don't have a class B, C, or D simulator, so I did the same thing that dozens of pilots do every fall. I started up an airplane with no passengers on board, and taxiied out for five circuits. A circuit consists of a take-off, a neatly flown rectangle around the runway, and a landing. If runway length and local rules permit, you can immediately take off again into the next circuit. Americans call the circuit the pattern, but they would say they were going out to fly touch and goes, not "patterns." Canadians would also use that terminology, but it's more slangy.

Many operations have more stringent requirements for take-off and landing currency, but ours doesn't. Now I'm legal.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Other Side

A guy walked into work the other day, clutching a piece of paper and looking uneasy. It was a busy time, with the lounge crowded with customers and pilots so I went up to him and asked if he was looking for someone.

"The chief pilot."

"He's up on a flight, I'm Aviatrix, can I help you with something?"

"I'll wait for him, thank you."

I looked at him for a moment, then guessed correctly that the piece of paper was a resume, "Are you a pilot looking for work?" I asked him about his qualifications, where he was from, and so on. He didn't appear to be a complete moron, and we're pretty desperate for warm, licenced bodies right now, so I asked him to wait a moment. (Likely said "standby" as that's how I talk, but he's a pilot after all, and understood.) I went and found the person whose opinion matters more than the chief pilot's when it comes to hiring and firing at my company. I introduced them, then went up on my flight.

When I got back, ten minutes behind schedule, after a longish, tiring day, the chief pilot was sitting outside. Watching me park. Almost like he was waiting to speak to me. Eep. For being ten minutes late?

He was waiting for me, but I keep forgetting, ninety-nine percent of the time when my boss wants to speak to me, it's not to give me hell, but to give me more work. I had another quick flight to do for a customer, and then was needed to check out the newly hired pilot on company aircraft. In the dark.

And that is how I need to get a job. Piece of paper in hand, it doesn't matter how shiny your shoes, how recent your haircut or how snappily you can tell someone about yourself. If you have the qualifications they need and the airplanes are sitting empty, you're hired.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Nigerian Defence

My Nigerian aviation correspondent seems a little wounded that I implied that government bribes might form a line item in his business expenses. He replied:

I didnt ask for for more then the cost of a good plane to start with, and banner cost. and do you know even the US congressmen take gifts to pass bills. and sorry about want happen in neworlean, may God confort the lost souls.

All power to him if he can set up a business without paying any non-scheduled government fees, but I stick by my original statement that local classifieds and contacts remain superior to e-mailing foreigners when it comes to determining the local cost of aircraft and banner tow STCs.

For those who don't know, an STC is a Special Type Certificate constituting official permission to modify an aircraft from the factory design. Other than attaching a banner tow hook, an STC might encompass larger fuel tanks, special wheels, floats, or externally mounted survey equipment. If there is already an STC in effect for your model aircraft, the modification can be done without much paperwork, but if you are the first person to want to modify that model in that way, you're in for a lot of time, paperwork and cash.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Forgot the Hockey Puck!

Last night I dreamed that I had built my own airplane and was flying it around to visit my friends. While doing a preflight inspection, I suddenly realized that there was no hockey puck in the propeller dome, just a conspicuously empty space where, in the universe of my dream, everyone knows there should be a standard issue NHL hockey puck. And I had been flying this thing!

I think the hockey puck I had omitted bore a Boston Bruins decal on it, which is odd, as I've never been too fond of them as a team.

Later in the day I told someone about my dream, and the bizarre hockey puck requirement. He instantly replied, "But of course. If you pitch the nose up more than 37 degrees without a hockey puck, the propeller falls off. Everyone knows that!"

In case it isn't sufficiently clear from the above, normal airplanes that do not occur in dreams do not require regulation hockey pucks. I guess my subconscious is just excited about hockey returning.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Sports Scores and the Price of Gas

On first contact with an air traffic controller, a pilot gives basic information like her call sign and altitude then the controller gives the latest altimeter setting, and describes the location of any traffic that the pilot should watch for. If the airspace is not busy, the pilot and controller may not talk to one another again until it is time for the controller to pass the aircraft along to the next controller en route. Or sometimes the controller has information to give, or questions.

On a quiet frequency the other day, I received a radio call:

Him: X-Ray Yankee Zulu, a question.
Me: Go ahead for XYZ.
Him: What's the price of avgas these days?
Me: A dollar fifty-five last time I stopped.
Him: I wondered why there was nobody out there.

Not everyone was of the same mind. Later, another controller who was juggling a number of airplanes, helicopters and even a hot air balloon asked us with some frustration:"Why aren't all you people home watching the Canadian Open?"

That last one reminds me of controllers who would put the latest hockey scores on the ATIS, or report them to arriving aircraft, so we could pass the news onto the passengers, "We'll be landing in Sumspot in fifteen minutes, and the Flames are up 3-2 at the end of the second period."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Operating Manual Required

In answer to the question on whether the operating manual really has to be on board, yes it does. This is from the CARs Part IV - General Operating and Flight Rules:

Availability of Aircraft Flight Manual

605.04 (1) No person shall conduct a take-off in an aircraft for which an aircraft flight manual is required by the applicable standards of airworthiness, unless the aircraft flight manual or, where established pursuant to Section 604.83 or Part VII, the aircraft operating manual is available to the flight crew members at their duty stations.

(2) The aircraft flight manual or, where an aircraft operating manual is established pursuant to Section 604.83 or Part VII, those parts of the aircraft flight manual that are incorporated into the aircraft operating manual shall include all of the amendments and supplementary material that are applicable to the aircraft type.

The wording makes it okay to lose your operating manual during flight: you just can't take off again. There's a good loophole. If you've forgotten your POH (pilot's operating handbook) also known as the AFM (aircraft flight manual) and you see the two guys in jackets coming across the tarmac, quickly agree on the phase of flight after take-off during which it fell out of the aircraft. And be on the phone to company to get a replacement.

There are aircraft that don't have operating manuals, I'd hazard a guess that if you build one in your garage it might not, and I've flown some old ones that had never had one, and a not as old as you might guess one that had an operating manual consisting of about eight mimeographed pages. (The mimeograph is an ancient duplication device falling in the historical timeline somewhere between carbon paper and the photocopier). Half of the pages dealt with the oxygen system (not installed). In a large airliner there's a whole shelf of ring binders that makes up the AFM. And yeah, you're supposed to have it on board, because then the passenger who has to land the aircraft during the climax of the movie can use it to look up the approach speed and the flap setting for landing. And you can look up fuel consumption figures for different altitudes, or settle arguments about what is on the circuit breaker labelled ALT FLD, or maybe ACI ECO depending on your interpretation of the font.

Monday, September 12, 2005


At the bottom of a car glove compartment, along with a few fuzzy kleenex and half used rolls of breath mints, there are typically a few documents: insurance papers, a copy of the transfer of ownership form, emissions testing certification, and the car owner's manual. If you're stopped by the police, you'd better have the insurance papers on board, and be able to produce your driver's licence. Airplanes have similar requirements.

You rarely get pulled over by a police helicopter during cruise, but after landing it's quite possible that you'll be approached by two guys (they always travel in twos) with Transport Canada jackets and little dangling ID badges -- they stand out pretty clearly at small airports where no one else wears ID. They ask to see your documentation and sniff around trying to find or make you admit bad things about your aircraft and your operation. And they will ask to see the airplane documentation.

For an airplane you need to have on board proof of insurance and the pilots' licences. The owner's manual is actually required to be on board, as is a certificate of registration, proving someone owns the airplane, a certificate of airworthiness, proving that the airplane was once considered safe to fly, and a weight and balance document declaring how much the airplane weighs with all its installed equipment. There's also a big book called the journey log that lists everywhere the airplane has been, when it took off, when it landed, who was flying it and what went wrong with it. Some operations also require a radio licence.

At my company, the essential documents are kept in a little pouch that the pilot picks up at the dispatch counter with his or her flight assignments. The journey log is too big to fit in the pouch, so it's separate. Before flying, one checks in the journey log to ensure that nothing critical went wrong with the airplane and hasn't been fixed yet. It's important to rememner to bring the documents with you, after stopping to check them. Combined with the title of this post, you can see where I'm going with this.

Yes, we left the documents on the table in the dispatch room and did a flight without them. Yes, we noticed the absence of the documents when we tried to fill in the journey log after a series of flights. Yes, we snuck sheepishly back into dispatch. The documents were not in evidence, and just seconds before I opened my mouth to ask if anyone had seen them, I saw one of the more zealous Transport Canada officials, ID badges dangling from his belt. I walked past him to the dispatch counter.

Fortunately, he wasn't there because of my transgression, but had just dropped in for free coffee or something, and I got away with my oops. The dispatcher had safely set the documents aside. Being nice to dispatchers pays off. A dispatcher who didn't like me could have got me in a lot of trouble over that. I snuck off and filled in the journey log without anyone else being the wiser.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Art of Being a Guy

I was in the crew room, checking weather on the computer. One of the guys was eating something vaguely resembling lunch while others explained to him that none of the Olympic athletes depicted on the bag would ever eat anything from a fast food restaurant. Pilots will eat anything, though, so he ate it anyway. I guess he won't be competing in the next Olympic Games.

He finished his cheeseburger, then crumpled up the wrapper and declared, "Map, locker, garbage." He threw the wad of paper and it bounced off the wall map and the locker, but hit a desk on its way to the garbage can and tumbled away onto the floor. The person nearest to it could have picked it up and put it in the garbage, but the thrower asked for it back. While it was being passed, the spectators debated the bank shot and the correct sequence of bounces to get the paper bag into the bin from that side of the room.

It's what guys do. They throw things at things. I remember being stranded with another pilot at a remote airport, while we waited for company to fly in with some parts. Once we had exhausted the entertainment possibilities of walking up and down the gravel runway, the other pilot, male, set up a pebble on top of a boulder. He decreed that the name of the game was to take turns throwing rocks at the arrangement, aiming to knock the pebble off the boulder. I threw like a girl, my rocks tumbling into the ground short of the boulder and sending up a little cloud of dust. His hit nearer the mark, but the pebble remained unmoved. He threw with such serious concentration, and I realized that this throwing rocks at things game was a normal guy thing. Guys have been competing at throwing rocks at things since the development of the opposable thumb. It improves their skill in the hunt, I suppose, while the women are out gathering plants.

I'm competitive too, so I went back to the aircraft and got my glasses. My next shot nailed that little pebble and sent it flying. And then we switched to a female time-wasting activity: gathering plants. I showed him how to make daisy chains out of the local wildflowers. Possibly we then threw rocks at the daisy chains. I don't remember.

Back to the first part of this story: the guy with the crumpled paper bag took aim again and predicted, "Locker, map, desk, garbage." We watched as it arced across the room and hit the locker, then the wall map. It angled from the wall to the side of the desk and then flew cleanly into the garbage. We all cheered, arms raised, as if our hockey team had just scored. Too bad garbage disposal snooker isn't an Olympic sport.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

In a Nutshell

"You know so much about so many useless things -- but so many useful things, too."

That's a comment addressed to me, from a flight dispatcher. For me, it's probably the perfect answer to "tell me about yourself."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A

Today ATC asked me to keep the speed up, then gave me a series of heading instructions so bizarre that I was tempted to ask the controller if he was attempting to write his name on the radar. I was literally zigzagged back and forth across the normal inbound route, with occasional backtracking. Once, immediately after I had been told to fly direct towards a landmark following a road, another aircraft reported over my destination landmark, and was told to follow my same road in the opposite direction. It was only five miles away, almost the same altitude, so that made me a little antsy until ATC turned us both in new directions.

We were number three on base when number two was asked to go around, so I got to cut the corner a little and land. I'm really starting to believe my joke about the controller trying to create a pattern on the radar.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Honest, Officer

Interviewing isn't my best skill. When something is important, I get very precise and literal-minded. This works well when the question is "What was your requested altitude?" or "Able immediate?" but falls down when the question is "tell me about yourself?" Alternately, I babble, desperate to provide all information relevant to the topic. This became apparent at a police roadblock.

Usually I get waved through a roadblock without ever coming to a complete stop. A woman, wearing a uniform, seatbelt fastened, already winding down my window as I approach. Typically the officer waves a flashlight baton in what has just occurred to me is essentially the aircraft marshalling signal for "your engine is on fire," and I continue on my way, winding the window back up.

But this time they stopped me, and the officer asked me where I was coming from. "Work," I answered. Yeah, I know, I could be a security guard or a doorman with this uniform, but it was obvious to me.

"Where's work?" he asked.

"At the airport," I'm pointing behind me. "Well not exactly at ... I drive from the airport ... I'm a pilot." Now I'm pointing vaguely up and behind me.

"The address," prompts the officer, pretending to be patient.

"It's an airport. It hasn't got an address. Or maybe it does, but it takes up a lot of addresses." I finally name the airport. "Airport Road, maybe?" I'm wondering if it's on my business card. Maybe in my electronic organizer. I name my employer and point vaguely some more.

He seems to be satisfied with that, and shines his flashlight in the car a bit. It's was your typical well-used economy car (my ex-car). Company memos, pens, and chocolate bar wrappers litter the seats. Nothing more interesting. He asks, "Where are you going?"

In what I swear was complete innocence, I answer, "Home." It doesn't even occur to me that this is an antagonistic answer until I see the look on his face. I babble out the name of my neighbourhood and finally my address, and he lets me go, with a shake of his head.

Where do I work. That's a hard question. They're supposed to ask if I've had anything to drink, damnit. I know the answer to that one. At least he didn't ask me to tell him about myself.