Tuesday, November 29, 2005

AC - Centre Row High Intensity

AC type approach lighting is suitable for category II low visibility operations. The kead-in lights are at least 2400' of white bars, with the last thousand feet flanked by red bars, and with green threshold lights. This is a very common system and there is a great picture of it here. I'll remember AC lighting by thinking of the three columns of light in the last thousand feet before the threshold as "A B C".

In the picture you also see lights on the runway itself. There's a line of lights running right down the middle of the runway, that's CL, runway centreline lighting. The CL lights are white at the beginning of the runway, alternating red and white when there is two to three thousand feet of runway left, and all red in the last thousand feet of the runway. The picture also shows a wide bar of white lights either side of the centreline for the first 3000' of the runway. Those are TDZL, touchdown zone lighting.

By the way, if you go and look at the approach lights you will see that each one is a heavy duty lamp up on a pole. The poles get longer as you get further from the threshold. Often the lights extend beyond the airport fence, so you can walk up to them and look at them. The lights in the runway itself are recessed, and do not stick up at all, so it's not bumpy landing on them. It can be distracting, though, when you're used to hicktown runways with only paint and coyotes on them.

Reader Blake provided another picture of AC lighting, here.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

More Silly From the Radio

All these lighting systems have scared one of my readers, so here's an even lighter post.

I was being vectored once for a visual approach to a runway. The controller is probably fifty miles away in an underground bunker, looking at my airplane's image on his radar. He tells me what heading to fly, and what altitude I may descend to, then asks me if I have the airport in sight. Seeing as we were about four miles from the airport, and the visual approach is only used in relatively good weather, the controller was quite surprised to hear the reply "In IMC." That meant I was inside a cloud, and unable to see much of anything beyond my windshield.

"Really?" he said. "I thought it was pretty much clear everywhere."

"It is," I replied truthfully. "You managed to vector us into the only cloud within fifty miles."

The cloud was a little puffball, probably less than a thousand feet thick, and narrow enough that by the time I had finished laughing at the puzzled controlled we were out the other side and visual with the airport.

My other silly for the day is a story someone else told me, coming into an uncontrolled airport, while a GA pilot had a stuck mike. The guy was running through checklist items aloud, but he had some unorthodox names for his checks. He was heard saying, "... pointy dials ... flashy lights ..." Hey, whatever gets you on the ground right side up.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

AD & AJ - Low Intensity Centre Row Lighting

If you were to duplicate the AA lighting, including the green threshold lighting, except align the yellow lights with the centreline of the runway, you would have AD lighting. The string of yellow lights is supposed to consist of at least twelve lights (i.e. be 2400' long), but at some aerodromes it is shorter, and still called AD, just with a notation showing the actual length of the string of approach lights. AD and its non-standard variants is quite common.

I'll remember the name for this type because in aviation an AD is an Airworthiness Directive, an instruction to modify or inspect something on an aircraft, and the AD lighting is effectively AA lighting modified to be in the middle, where any sane person would have wanted it in the first place.

AJ lighting resembles AD lighting, but 1000 feet from the runway there is an additional bar of white lights, and there may also be sequenced flashing strobe lights (SF) in the outer 2000 feet. I spent a while looking for a picture, or for an example of an airport that has AJ lighting, but I can't remember or find one. I'll try to remember it anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Pilots Are Control Freaks

Coming down a slippery hill recently, I needed to brake. I could feel the car just about to skid, but just as I was about to let up on the brake pedal, there was a whap-whap-whap pulsing and the anti-lock braking system cut in. I knew I had this in this car, but it's the first time it has cut in. I've never landed an airplane that had ABS, either.

So did I marvel at its efficiency? Did I say to myself "what a cool safety feature!"? No, for that moment where the automated system effectively took control from me, my reaction was irritation. "Hey!" I said internally, "I was handling it!" No braking system is going to take over from me without my explicit permission.

The ABS system did do a good job, though.

Back to lighting systems next time I blog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

AA - Left Single Row

All legal aerodrome lighting includes lights along both edges of the runway. There must be at least eight pairs of lights, opposite each other, and no more than 200 feet apart along the edges. Any additional lighting is optional, and has special codes.

The first one alphabetically is AA - Left single row. It consists of a row of supposedly yellow (they look orange to me) of lights leading up to the runway and aligned with the left edge of the runway, not the middle. Odd. I can't remember ever seeing ligting like that. The spacing between "yellow" lights is 200 feet. I'll remember this code because the off-centre line, suggests a light installer who missed his AA meeting.

The CFS diagram for AA lights includes a bar of green lights across the threshold, too. By themselves, the bar of green lights is coded T for threshold. Frequently you see lights that are split half and half: green on the approach side and red on the runway side, so that no matter which end of the runway you approach, you see green at the beginning of the runway and red at the far end. That sort is called threshold and runway end lighting, and coded TE.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Better Than This ...

I'm taking a break now from trying to craft the perfect cover letter for a job application that really does need a bang up cover letter, because it's corporate, and personality and professionalism will make or break it.

I often fear as I submit a job application that I've not researched the company properly, or made myself sound too intellectual, or too perky, or too serious, or too keen or ignorant or ... well you know. I once heard a story of a crew house entirely papered with "cloud paper" resumés. (Cloud paper is blue stationary with white puffy clouds printed on it. It might be good for sending party invitations or for putting up notices at your local flying club, but no one will ever hire you based on a resumé printed on cloud paper). Hundreds of well-intentioned individuals spending printer ink and a stamp on a message so wrong it was ludicrous. I wonder who is mocking my job applications and where. But I keep sending them.

Today someone sent me a job application. Top marks for looking for a job outside of the Nigerian spam e-mail market, but zero marks for research and presentation. It's obvious that he doesn't read this blog, so I've no qualms about posting the application here.






If any of my readers has an opening for an individual who specializes in welding, computer engineering and general alertness, but not spelling, contact me for Daniel's personal details.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


There are a whole series of codes that on approach plates and in the CFS to designate aerodrome lighting styles. A pilot briefing an approach when poor visibility is expected will included in the briefing, "and we'll be looking for the AC lighting." Most of the time I go into airports I know already, so I know exactly what the lights will look like, so I don't know the codes all that well. Heck, there are individual airplanes around here that I can recognize in the dark, just by the position, flash frequency, and hue of their anti-collision lighting. But it would be good for me to memorize the codes for the aerodrome lighting types, so I don't have to look them up. I have, in a different area, been surprised by an unexpected set of lights. So today I'll educate myself.

At some aerodromes the pilots have to turn on the lights as we approach. We do this by clicking the microphone with the radio tuned to the same frequency on which we announce our presence to other traffic. A good rule is to turn on the lights when you believe yourself in sight of the aerodrome: the illumination zippering along the runway is a good confirmation that you are lining up for an approach to an aerodrome, and not an old bowling alley. The timer usually keeps the lights on for fifteen minutes, so you key the sequence again as you turn final. For departure, key the lights on before taxi--that tests that your radio is working--and just before starting the takeoff roll.

This pilot activated lighting is called ARCAL, which stands for Aircraft Radio Control of Aerodrome Lighting. We just pronounce it Arr-Kal, rhymes with "bar pal" and we rarely know the correct sequence, so we just click the microphone a whole lot of times to turn it on. This is supposed to be educational, though, so I'll try to come up with a way to remember. To activate Type J ARCAL, click the microphone five times within five seconds. This turns all the lights on for fifteen minutes. To activate Type K ARCAL, click the microphone seven times within five seconds. The trick with Type K is that they are special, like Special K, the breakfast cereal (that's our new mnemonic). If you click the button three more times while the lights are already on, you can turn them down to minimum intensity. Five clicks turns them to medium and seven clicks turns them back to high, and restarts the fifteen minutes of fame.

If the runway is equipped with runway identification lights, bright strobe lights on the corners of the runway, directed towards the pilot landing at that end, then the three click low-intensity setting, extinguishes those lights, called AS.

So that's my lesson for today. Type J ARCAL is the Junior sort that only turns on. Type K is the Special sort that can be turned to different intensities. And AS is the code for the runway identification lights because "as if I want bright strobes in clear weather on short final."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thump Thump Silence Thump

You're going to think that I fly poorly maintained airplanes, but I don't, really. We have well-paid maintenance whose word is law when it comes to acceptable parts and standards. A Transport Canada auditor said that he wished all companies met our standards. But just as fit athletes sometimes get sick, well-maintained airplanes sometimes malfuntion.

We're flying along, minding our own business, and a red light comes on on the dashboard. It's not the friendly blinking interrogation light of the transponder, occasionally frightening to passengers, but really just assuring us that ATC radar is reaching us, and that our airplane is answering back with its proper code and altitude. It's the gear transit light. The one that comes on in between moving the gear handle to a new postion, and having all three wheels either down and locked, or neatly stowed inside the airframe. And that's odd, because the gear has been up since just after take-off, and that's where we wanted it.

It's not that odd, though, because it turns out that the gear is transiting. A moment later there is a thump, and immediately afterwards a second one. But no third one. We now have three lights: a green one for the right main, a green one for the nosewheel, and a red one indicating an unsafe gear state. I know that with the gear extended and the gear handle in the up position, a motor will run continuously, so I ensure that the aircraft is below gear extension speed and select gear down. We still have only two green lights. I consider how much damage would be done to the airplane and company reputation by a landing rollout that occurs on two wheels and a wingtip. This wasn't in my plans for tonight. But after the airplane discovers that it can't scare me, it deigns to release the third wheel.

We check to ensure that the emergency release hasn't accidentally been pulled, and then we slow the airplane further and attempt to raise the gear. This isn't tempting fate as badly as it sounds: it is pretty much a gravity-driven extension system. Hydraulic pressure in the system holds the gear up. An electric motor maintains hydraulic pressure, and switches surpress the motor when the gear has finished a transit, so that the motor doesn't run continuously. The deployment is likely caused by a leak in the hydraulic system, but maybe it's a slow leak and the gear will stay up for a while more. But nothing happens. I don't want the motor to run continuously and burn out or cause a fire, so I select the gear down again and it stays down. No surprises there.

Landing uneventful. Comments from colleagues regarding "better stuck down than up" as predictable as the "doing mine next?" comments you get whenever you wash your car. Journey log annotated with the complaint. And that's the end of my day.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Camping Chicks

This story takes place at a logging camp, somewhere in Canada. Logging camps are almost exclusively populated by burly men, and they tend to be in remote locations, because close to civilization, all the trees have already been cut down, or landscaped. This logging camp has a rugged road running to it, but it is also serviced by helicopter. The helicopters are also flown by men.

The logging camp is near a lake, and four sporty, adventurous women have chosen to go camping at the lake. They are well-employed at a major airline, and one of them has a new SUV with four-wheel drive, heated seats and all the coffee cup holders you could ever want. They load up this expeditionary vehicle with camping gear and a full tank of gas, and drive up the logging road in search of the perfect campsite. One of the bridges is washed out, so they have to go the long way around, but eventually they find a spot. The weather is a little chilly, but they are fairly experienced campers and can keep warm without all the comforts of civilization. It's nice to have a few of the comforts of civilization, though, and it seems that one of the four hadn't brought enough batteries for her MP3 player, or perhaps she wanted to listen to it through the stereo speakers instead of the headset. She sat in the vehicle to do so. A little power for a radio shouldn't have been a problem for a new truck battery. It was more likely the electrically heated seats that did it. In the morning, the truck wouldn't start.

These are resourceful, highly trained women, accustomed to team work in a fast-paced (and I mean above Mach 0.8) environment. This shouldn't be anything they can't cope with. Civilization proper was many kilometres away, but they knew there to be a logging camp within 20 km. That's a couple of hours jog for a fit person, and two of them set off in that direction for help. I assume they took something with them to ward off wildlife.

Meanwhile, the two who had remained at the campsite spotted a helicopter and managed to attract the pilot's attention. It doesn't usually take much for a good looking female to attract a pilot's attention, let alone two. The campsite and rugged road did not constitute suitable landing areas for the large helicopter, but the aircraft hovered nearby while one of the stranded engaged in elaborate charades in an attempt to inform the helicopter pilot that four women were stranded with a broken truck. The message that he inferred from the dancing, waving and hair flipping was slightly different, but still resulted in his returning to the logging camp to send assistance.

By that time, the runners were almost at the camp, so the truck that was sent out on the rescue mission picked them up. They breathlessly smiled and thanked the men, who jumpstarted the truck and went back to the camp with the news of the day that two hot, scantily clad, chicks came running into the camp from the middle of nowhere. By the time the helicopter pilot returned again, the tale had spread to the farthest reaches of the bush: the four were reported to be airline pilots, flying heavies no less, and of course working as lingerie models in their spare time.

Any story is enhanced a little by throwing in a grateful lingerie model or four, but take that away and it's still unbelievable. What is the chance? Four hot chicks, in the middle of nowhere, ditzy enough to run the battery flat on a new truck, and they are airline pilots? They must have been having the guys on. Four flight attendants, more like it.

Time passed, and the helicopter pilot moved to a new job, where he was trained on type by another aviatrix. She happened to chat about her plans for her time off, involving four airline piot friends. The new co-pilot looked at her askance. "They wouldn't happen to own an SUV, and have gone camping at the lake by ..."

Wait until the guys at the logging camp find out that they really were airline pilots. I'm pretty sure they aren't lingerie models, but then I don't look at that many lingerie catalogues.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Approach Plate Effective Dates

Before a pilot descends through clouds or poor visibility in search of an airport, she reviews, with herself or her co-pilot, the procedure she will use. That procedure is very specific, including minimum altitudes, tracks, directions of turn and so forth, and it is published on a document known as an approach plate. The approach plate is about 15 cm by 23 cm and comes in a spiral bound booklet between 8 and 20 mm in thickness, depending on whether you're looking at CAP1, the booklet for Nunavut or CAP4 for Ontario. We just call the booklet "the CAP."

In Canada, the CAP is republished every 56 days, but the approach for a particular airport may not change substantially in years. Usually the plate doesn't change at all from update to update, and when it does it is usually no more than a litle note somewhere, a comma, or a couple of feet of altitude here or there.

It's still important to verify that the plate is up to date, so the pilot confirms the effective date, at the bottom left corner of the plate. I've never been very impressed with this as a check, because it's not an expiry date: it's the date the plate was last revised and released for use. The entire book of plates has both an effective date and an expiry date printed on the cover, but the plate itself has only an effective date. I don't believe you would ever see an effective date on a plate that was after the effective date on the cover of the booklet. The publishers might know an approach would change as of a particular date that was in between issues of the CAP, but in that case they would issue the change as a NOTAM. I have a couple of plates in my current CAP that have handwritten amendments because of current NOTAMs.

They can't print an expiry date on the plate itself, because they don't know when the plate will be amended next. I suppose they don't print the effective date of the entire CAP on each plate, because then they would have to change each plate every issue. The American plates do have the effective date of the entire booklet (I don't know the slang name for their booklet) printed on each plate, so they may have a different printing system. The US goverenment plates also display an amendment number, such as Amdt 19B and another number that isn't explained but that appears to start with the last two digits of the year the plate was amended. Most Americans don't use these government issue approach plates: they pay more for plates from Jeppeson, a private publisher. I don't have any Jepps with me right now, and I can't remember the system they use.

You might think that the dates on the cover would suffice to identify the plates within, but the problem is that the book isn't especially useable in flight. The plates are printed both sides, and it's difficult to flip through to find the plates you want while flying. So we tear the pages out, or photocopy them, or tear the pages out of the previous expired book after verifying that the effective dates haven't changed, and that way we can have the plates for our current trip stacked up in the order we expect to need them. And there's no firm check that the effective date on the plate in my holder matches the one in the new CAP tucked away behind the seat.

My company forbids photocopies of plates, but most people do it anyway, because it works much better when you're flying. Every time a new CAP comes out, I check for revised ones, and if I'm pulling out previously made photocopies for a trip, I check them against the current CAP, but still it's a risk. Does anyone have a system that keeps the approach plates organized and accessible, yet provides positive confirmation that the plate in your holder is the current one?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Square Pegs, Round Holes

I saw a clever design for a general aviation GPS the other day. Normally a GPS unit is a rectangular box, the same size and shape as other electronic gear, like nav/com radios, and transponders. Like a car CD player: a rectangular face on a long box that slides into the appropriate spot in the radio stack.

Not everyone has room in their avionics stack for another box, even when they want a GPS. But a lot of airplanes have spots for extra round gauges. The GPS display that I saw was designed to fit and bolt into a round dashboard hole that had previously accommodated an ADF. The ADF is a venerable navigation instrument, still very much in use, but not nearly as accurate, easy to use, or as sexy as a GPS. I'm sure they've been around for years, but it was the first I had seen and I applaud cleverness, even belately.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Career & Children

This is one of those issues that exists in all professions, not just piloting, but is maybe a little more extreme here. It doesn't really affect me, but maybe it does without me knowing.

These days it seems that everyone at my workplace has or is expecting new babies. When a guy is about to become a parent, the employer knows the guy will lose a bit of sleep, but that he really depends on the job now and is unlikely to move on unless he gets a much better job, but will have a harder time moving his family. Having kids is a sign of responsibility and permanence, so the guy is likely to get corresponding promotions. Never mind the fact that sometimes the little one is testament to a moment of irresponsibility, or some woman's last ditch attempt to make a flaky guy's presence permanent. I'm not implying that either case applies to any of my co-workers: it's a general statement.

Meanwhile, if I were to be expecting a child, my employment would quickly terminate. I would likely keep it secret as long as possible, so as not to lose out on promotions and other considerations given to employees considered keepers. But no matter what I said or did, thirty weeks into the pregnancy I would be legally forbidden to fly. Thenceforth I would be legally and morally required to care for the child, and I just don't see that matching a pilot's schedule in any way. (Whether it's possible is not the topic of this blog. If I had a child it would be my full time responsibility).

So what is the controversy if I'm not arguing that a woman should be able to juggle work and baby without penalty? It's that men are allowed to, and even get a bonus for it. When a man becomes a family guy, he's taken more seriously. Some beliefs hold that a woman's primary role is in the home, administering to her babies and husband. If you believe that, then you can stop reading, and probably already have.

But what can a woman do to demonstrate to her employer her maturity and committment? What is the occurrence whereby a woman can get the same nod from authority, recognizing her seriousness? Do you see it happening because she has reached menopause, sworn an oath of chasity, or had an abortion? You're probably snorting in derision at the ludicrousness of the very idea, and you're not the one who stopped reading during the last paragraph. She shouldn't. Everyone should be evaluated as an employee for the dedication and ethic they have demonstrated.

I don't have kids and am not planning to, but as long as I am female, I may lose out to the fathers, because they are regarded as more stable, and the childless males, because they have the potential to become stable fathers, while I don't. Heh. Least of my worries. Just something that occurred to me to say.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Being Prepared

When I was little, I read a book entitled Scouting for Boys, written by Lord Baden-Powell. Lord Baden-Powell was a British officer who fought in, I believe, the Boer War, and there he discovered that without engaging in actual combat, boys could usefully be employed as scouts to spy on and delude the enemy. He returned to Britain and launched a training campaign to ready boys for such a role. Be Prepared was their motto, and that was the beginning of the Boy Scouts.

Despite the paramilitary intent, the book introduces a lot of basic skills related to survival, clean living and general preparedness for life. The chapter that made the greatest impression on me urged me to all times consider what urgent situation could arise, and devise in advance a plan to cope with it. Thereby while those around me were wondering what to do, I would already be launching into my prepared course of action, and saving the day. Excellent advice generally, and especially for pilots, but the 1908 context of the book introduced a twist. Baden-Powell explains the recommended actions for common emergency situations, such as a runaway horse. Horse-drawn carriages may have been common in 1908, but were pretty much reserved for parades and fancy weddings by the time I came along. (If one does happen to bolt, you should "race alongside it, catch hold of the shaft to keep yourself from falling, seize the reins with the other hand and drag the horse's head round towards you, turning the horse until you can bring it up against a wall or house, or otherwise compel it to stop.") But this exotic example engendered in me the habit of continually examining my surroundings and concocting the most bizarre and improbable emergencies in order to devise heroic solutions. Such a permanent impression did this imagined runaway horse make on me, I am today surprised to discover that it is only a single short paragraph in the book.

Two days ago I was waiting in line on a taxiway and determining my course of action should one of the aircraft on the apron break loose from the restraints of its crew and gallop wildly through the queue, wreaking mahem and havoc. (You thought I was exaggerating when I said the runaway horse had a disproportionate influence on my fantasy life, didn't you?) As any good heroism fantasy demands my role involved not only compelling the runaway aircraft to stop, but instructing ATC as to the best method of redirecting traffic around the pile-up. I came up with a diabolical combination of taxiways and runway backtracks that I've never seen used at that airport, and then went on to prepare myself for the serious likelihood that an earthquake open a chasm in the runway surface during my take-off roll.

The very next day I tuned the ground frequncy in time to hear an aircraft given a taxi clearance almost exactly matching my imaginary recommendation. Just before I had arrived there had been a taxiway-blocking incident (I believe no runaway horses were involved) and the controllers were dealing with it just as I would have advised. They're so clever.

After a lengthy traffic jam of wrong way taxiing, we took off, switched to the departure frequency, and had an instrument failure that legally required us to return to land. We adviced the departure controller, who switched us back to tower, and appears to have called ahead to tower to let them know we were coming back. I'm betting he said something ambiguous like "The IFR you just released to us is returning with a failure." The tower controllers were absolutely bouncing with emergency preparedness for us. I'm sure they imagined that at absolute minimum we had lost an engine, but were all set for us to have lost an entire wing, or to have been hit by a meteor. Despite the huge back up of traffic from the earlier incident, they offered us our choice of runways and emphasized that we should let them know if there was anything they could do for us. The failed instrument was completely irrelevant for the return to the airport, so we declined priority and taxiied back to maintenance. And I guess they can't give me back half an hour of my life.