Saturday, November 29, 2008

Planning North

I'm going to have a heavier load going north and my preliminary calculations show that with full fuel it would be both over the maximum weight and past the forward limit of the centre of gravity. I'll have to manipulate my fuel load to keep it safe and legal. There's an electronic scale upstairs but it doesn't work, so I borrow a spring scale and go around weighing everything that's going to be on board. It turns out that the seats aren't the standard ones and actually weigh three pounds less each than I thought.

I'm weighing my engine tents and extension cords. It's worth unloading everything and weighing it, to use the exact weights, because five pounds in the nose can make the difference between being in or out of the proper centre of gravity range. I also have a hundred and fifty pounds of lead weights to help get the C of G where I want it.

It might seem odd to add weight in order to be able to make the plane not out of the weight limit, but the shape of the weight and balance envelope is such that the further back the weight is placed, the greater the allowable maximum weight. If I add this weight as far back as possible, it will increase the maximum faster than it adds weight. They're not some special aviation grade lead weights or anything. It's a set of weight plates for a home gym, from Canadian Tire. I don't have to weigh them, as each plate has its weight cast into the metal of the disk. I'd like to add the weight behind the rearmost bulkhead, allowing me to use less ballast in total, but as soon as I do that, it counts as a modification to the aircraft, and not a piece of secured cargo. Maintenance says they will see if they can find a pre-approved STC for the aircraft allowing us to make such a modification at a later date.

The wind is still howling from the north. It's so strong that I couldn't get to destination in one flight even with full fuel, so it's not costing me anything to leave fuel behind. Once I have worked out what everything weighs, and where I'll have to secure it, I calculate my allowable fuel load, subtracting how much I have onboard now in order to figure out how much to order. The gauges aren't really accurate enough for that sort of thing, so I keep records of fuel burn in flight. Finally, I have to convert my need for pounds into a request for litres.

Other planning tasks today include confirming fuel availability at my chosen fuel stop, ensuring there will be an electrical plug-in available at my destination if I arrive after hours, and getting the weather. There's a system moving through Alberta and I'm kept busy tracking the weather, ensuring I won't get caught in a snowstorm with nowhere to land. I change my proposed fuel stop three times as the weather advances.

While I'm working, I hear a woman's voice call out hello from the reception area, and then something that sounds like "I accidentally stole someone's cat." That doesn't make a lot of sense, so I mentally edit that and assume that we're dealing with an accidental hat thief. Easy to pick up the wrong hat, I suppose.

Someone who works at the hangar calls back. "Oh thanks, they told me about that." And then, "Just put her down anywhere." The pronoun doesn't match hats.

I come out to the reception area and there's a woman setting a cat carrier on the floor. "She might be mad. I had to lure her in there with cheese, but she wasn't happy." An indignant grey striped cat deigns to exit the cat carrier.

I have to ask. "How do you accidentally steal a cat?" The woman had been at the airport on a weekend and the cat had approached her for some head scratching and attention. There are no houses at or near the airport. It's kind of in the middle of nowhere. It didn't occur to her that the cat's home would be a hangar in the middle of nowhere. Skinny and tough, it just looked like a cat that was lost or abandoned.

In reality she was a hangar cat, a working cat, whose job it is to keep the hangar free of rats, mice and birds. Left unchecked, that prey is a real problem in a hangar. They chew upholstery, damage electrical wiring, and create fire and disease hazards. I've seen a horizontal stabilizer stuffed with enough sticks to affect the weight and balance, and an engine likewise covered in sticks and fluff by birds that came in through gaps in the cowling. At minimum, no one wants poop all over their hangar.

So this is the hangar cat's job. The guys of course put out water and basic food for the cat, but the bulk of its diet is what it catches, so the cat is spare and quick. Maybe some cat lovers wouldn't approve, but it's not being abused. It's living a pretty natural life and you know it's not a chore for cats to catch birds and mice. Ordinary pet cats do that, even if they're too well fed to consider eating their catch. It's cared for. When the cat didn't show up for work on Monday, one of the guys put up posters. I was a little surprised at that last, actually. After a bit of looking and a bit of waiting, I myself would have assumed that the cat had fallen prey to a coyote or an eagle and just asked around to see who knew of a good mouser with a litter of kittens ready to be weaned. But the cat was fine Heck, it was better than fine. The cat has visibly gained weight in a week and a half. For her, it must have been like a ten day resort vacation.

In the end, after all that planning, I had to cancel the flight. There were just too many weather factors: winds at my personal limits combined with low ceilings, low visibility in snow, and continued possibility of severe turbulence. So I got to see Moose Jaw.


dpierce said...

This is probably going to be an unpopular view, but ...

After having owned a couple of housecats in the past (from childhood and then my wife's), I've come to the conclusion that some cats would be all around happier out in the wild, even if their lifespans are statistically shorter. It was always pathetic to watch our cats pine out the window, longing to be with the tall grass and birds and mice. This, despite the piles of toys and playtime and other diversions.

That cat does need a collar, though, so people know she has an owner, and has had her shots.

Sarah said...

Not at all, dpierce, I agree completely. I think most cats would be happier "outside" if not in the wild. I have an alley cat who is known in the neighborhood - he has a "beat". Outside cats do need shots and birth control. I've taken in enough hungry strays, thank you.

Airport cats.. We do have a rodent problem, especially in fall/winter when they are trying to find warm nesting spots. But we stopped having hangar cats when we lost a sweet smart young cat to a horrible lawn mower accident.

Back to airplane stuff... weighing seats? Engine tents? Now that's a full airplane. I like your possible solution of adding lead weights behind the rear bulkhead, but of course you wouldn't forget to take them out when the airplane is empty. Being out of CG aft is a very bad thing. Fellow club members have a 2-place tandem DG1000 sailplane with a nifty tail ballast scheme. There are a series of small metal weights, much like balance scale weights, to fine tune the CG. These are covered with a clear-view pane, and also feed an electronic cockpit display to remind the pilot to do her sums.

If you're stuffed to the gills often enough, maybe you can talk company into buying the Aviatrix a bigger airplane!