Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Caught in the Rail

I had a new thing happen on a flight today. Not amazingly exciting; not even a little bit exciting, really. Just a matter of "heh, never saw that before." I guess the world never runs out of things to throw at pilots.

It was a routine flight, one other crewmember on board, good weather, no problems with any of my equipment, and the mission was complete. Close to destination, I started my descent checks, which includes a seatbelt check. My crewmate informs me that his seatbelt is stuck. He can't put it on. "Did you move your seat forward?" I ask. I tell him how to move the seat back again. But he didn't move the seat. And moving it doesn't help.

This is weird enough that I wouldn't quite believe him, but he's very conscientious and has always demonstrated excellent problem solving skills, so I do believe him. And he solves this problem himself too. The cockpit seat next to me is empty except for my gear. I put my flight bag on the floor and he comes up and sits in the front. I give him the mini-briefing on the shoulder harness and cockpit safety gear and we're good to land. This airplane tends towards being nose heavy, but we've burned enough fuel that this movement of weight can't put me out of the legal envelope.

I ask him to flick a couple of switches for me, to save me leaning across him, and he likes that, so I give him control for a bit. Whee. Better not let him fly too long or he'll realize what a great job I have. I take control back on downwind and skid us around (in other contexts bad pilot technique, here an operational requirement) for landing.

On the ground he goes to the terminal to get us a ride and I inspect the seat and seatbelt. The seatbelt is exactly like the one in an old car, the "lift flap to release" sort, not the newer "push button to release" kind. That doesn't actually matter, because the buckle itself is fine. It's the loose end, the part that sticks out of the buckle and that you pull on to tighten your seatbelt that has a problem. You know how at the very end of the belt, it's folded over and stitched? But it's folded over twice so that the frayed end is hidden under the stitching, and the stitching isn't at the very point of the fold? Thus because of the folded over stitched part, the end of the seatbelt is a tiny bit like a hook. I guess that's deliberate so that the end doesn't pull through and allow the buckle to fall off, when you make the seatbelt as big as it goes. When my co-worker unfastened his seatbelt in cruise (he has to move around the cabin to work), the end just happened to fall in a way that allowed it to poke up inside the channelled claw of the seat that grips the seat rails. And because the end is folded back on itself, it acted like a barbed fish hook and wouldn't come back out. I pull it back and forth and sideways, but it is in there. I have to get a screwdriver, and take the cap off the end of the rail so I can slide the seat off the rail, in order to extricate the belt end.

And then I put it all back together again and double check to ensure the seat is safely anchored. I fasten the seatbelt across the seat as I was taught to for neatness and to prevent damage from people stepping on them. Now there's another reason.

Update: Yellowbird has skillfully identified the aviation movie that so puzzled me while I sat blogging in Montana. It's called Warbirds, and you should read his summary and review of the hilariously unexpected plot in his comment on that entry. I'm still laughing.

Yellowbird's blog stands out from other private pilot blogs because he owns the airplane, so blogs in detail not so much about slipping the surly bonds, but about the labour of love that goes into maintaining that airplane. He explains, for example, how to inspect the contents of your oil filter, in your kitchen, with separate advice for married people. Not a frequent updater, but well-written entries from someone who knows how his airplane is put together.


Anonymous said...

Did you use the FAA approved non-sparking ambidexterous metric seatbelt disentangler device, or are you in trouble for snicking out the old Victorinox Swiss Army Officers' Knife?

Aviatrix said...

I have the elementary work item "remove and replace seats and other seat rail mounted equipment" on my company training log, and in this instance I used a really horrible rusty screwdriver.

Yellowbird said...

Many thanks for the shout-out. Now I have to start posting again. I have several months of pasts to catch up. I actually do have some nice flying posts, but I need to post about getting the airplane put back together first!