Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tunnels of Moose Jaw

The wind is absolutely howling, but it's blowing towards downtown, so I venture out onto the street and allow it to blow me into town. The town map from the telephone book shows city buses, so I can get one of those back uptown if I find can't walk comfortably against the wind. Walk planning can be so much more spontaneous than flight planning.

There's an armoury on the main street (I'm in Saskatchewan now, not Alberta, so it's called "Main Street"). Outside the armoury, like pretty much every armoury in the country, and possibly the world, is a display of obsolete tanks, field guns and armoured personnel carriers. Some of them are painted in UN colours. They look ancient, from another era, but knowing our military they were probably parked there last week. A sign outside says they sell memorabilia, so I go in, hoping for postcards or pins for friends who collect them.

There's no evidence of a dispensary, just an assembly hall with some women at tables, and some kids assembling and disassembling rifles on blankets on the floor. One of the kids comes and asks me shyly if she can help me. I think it's supposed to be the sort of "can I help you?" that means "what are you doing here?" but she's so soft-spoken it doesn't really have the right effect. She doesn't know, but directs me to the rifle-supervising mom who says the sales have moved downtown with recruiting, so I go back out into the wind and continue down the street.

Downtown Moose Jaw is mostly two to four storey stone buildings, the kinds with little ins and outs, like turrets and columns and archways. It was common architecture in the early 20th century, but most downtown areas have been replaced with taller buildings but I guess there hasn't been a lot of demand for urban growth in Moose Jaw.

I never find the recruiting storefront, but I pick up some postcards at a drugstore. Half of the local postcards are advertising something called "Tunnels of Moose Jaw," so I asked about that. It's some kind of tourist attraction. The clerk shrugs when I ask if it's any good, but it appears to be the only game in town, so I check it out.

It's right on Main Street, and the lobby explains that history is brought to life in the underground passages of Moose Jaw. They have bios of all the actors up on the wall. They're students, some looking for acting careers, some business, some agricultural. It might be a bit like the Seattle Underground tour that Phil recommended. I went to buy a ticket, opting for The Chinese Experience over Al Capone, because I don't like gangster movies.

Everyone else must have liked gangster movies, because when the tours were called I was the only one who had signed up for the Chinese option. The guide introduced himself and I didn't remember his bio specifically from the wall so I guessed. "Or are you from New Brunswick?" He wasn't. He was local, studying business and tourism at the Bible college. His roommate was the one from New Brunswick. He led me outside and around a corner, and hadn't slipped into character yet, so I asked him what these tunnels were, where they came from.

In the old days, when Moose Jaw buildings were heated by individual coal-fired boilers in the basements, the engineers whose job it was to maintain the boilers didn't enjoy going from the sweltering basements, up to street level, crossing the streets in prairie winter weather, and then going below to do it again on the other side of the street. It was worth their while to dig passages that allowed them to go from boiler to boiler without stepping out into the freezer outside. These passages didn't have any official city planning behind them, so weren't on any city utility map, and when Moose Jaw businesses moved on to more modern heating technology, the tunnels were walled up and completely forgotten. Later other services went underground, but none of the new tunnels intersected the old tunnels so they continued a secret until one day a car dropped through the road into a hole that opened up underneath it, into one of the tunnels.

A bit of handwaving here from the guide. He couldn't tell me the year, or the sort of car or if anyone was hurt, just that the company he worked for was at least the second, possibly the third to run a tourism business in the tunnels. And then we went into an initially unremarkable basement and began the tour.

Moose Jaw is a railroad town. The trans-Canada railroad, as every schoolchild knows, was built principally by immigrant Chinese men. They worked for very little pay, much of which had to go into paying off the debt they had incurred getting here in the first place. Their agents controlled them until the debt was paid, so they could get no other jobs so were obliged to work hard and abide living and working conditions that more mobile Caucasian labourers would have refused. When the railroad was complete, they were all laid off. The tour consisted of what might have been my experience as a Chinese man laid off in Moose Jaw.

The first set was a large white-owned laundry where we could see customer orders all wrapped up in white paper awaiting collection and then the guide pushed aside a section of wall and we went into the back room where he became a foreman for the laundry owner, giving "us" a short tour of the facilities where "we" would be working. Clothes were laundered by hand on washboards and ironed with solid pieces of iron that had been heated on a stove (hence the name, eh?) The tour lost a bit of zing I'm sure with there just being one person for the guide to act to, but he gave me a few tasks like carrying a lantern through an unlit corridor. There was a film where a Canadian doctor described her grandfather's life in Canada. He had apothecary knowledge and after working on the railroad and in a laundry, where he used his knowledge to help injured and sick coworkers, he did set up his shop.

After the laundry, with the living and working quarters and the darkened tunnels, the rest of the corridors were set up not so much as a recreation of the tunnels, as just scenes from early Moose Jaw life. There was a Chinese restaurant, for example. Apparently such businesses were hampered by a fairly recently-repealed law forbidding Chinese entrepreneurs from hiring white women to work for them. And there weren't any Chinese women, because immigration was only approved for men. For a while no Chinese immigration was approved to Canada and then finally families could be reunited.

At the end of the tour an old photograph of downtown Moose Jaw shows that the town has hardly changed in eighty years. Most of the electrical lines are underground now and the cars and fashions are newer, but an early resident transported forward in time would be able to find his way around just fine.

I hope there has been more change with respect to racism. The actor/guide who pretended to berate me and list my inadequacies as a coolie didn't sound much different from what I hear frequently above ground concerning natives and others of discernible and non-European ethnic origins. I suspect Moose Jaw hasn't experienced much but cosmetic changes there, either, and I'm not singling out Moose Jaw, either. It's quite startling what humans can make themselves believe about others, and what humans can achieve, despite everything.

The wind isn't quite so bad as I make my way back uptown to the hotel. The Moose Jaw Comfort Inn front desk doesn't answer their phone. I started typing this as I picked up the phone to dial and I typed the first draft of this blog entry, with one hand, while the phone was ringing. By the time they answered, I almost forgot what I wanted. Oh yes: Internet access.

I check the weather. Here's a sample:


Translated into English, that means the wind was so strong that the anemometer at Slave Lake blew down, so they can't give me a prediction. I'm thinking it's a good thing I wasn't out there trying to land in a snowstorm in unknown winds.

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.

Friday, November 28, 2008


I took some pictures on the way south, although as usual the instrument shots didn't work out well. I'll leave it as an exercise for you to calculate how much tailwind I had.

It's the sort of thing you can do in flight to keep your mind awake.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Balance Part of W&B

As well as not asking the airplane wings to lift more weight then the manufacturer intended, you need to make sure that the front-to-back balance of the weight is acceptable. To do this you take into consideration the weight of each component of the load, and the location at which it is loaded.

Weight, Arm and Reference Datum

Consider a teeter-totter (or a see-saw, whatever you call that spinal injury-inducing levered plaything in your neck of the woods). If you weren't denied the opportunity to have played on one, you know that if you put an adult (or two kids) at one end and one kid at the other, it's hard for those on the heavy end to push off the ground, and easy to launch the kid into orbit if the adult lets his end come down hard. For easy teeter-tottering, you have to pile up more kids at the light end, or have mom sit closer to the fulcrum (the hinge supporting the see-saw) where her weight has less leverage. The effect of someone sitting on the teeter-totter is directly proportional to how much she weighs, and to how far she is from the middle. If Mom weighs twice as much as Junior she has to sit halfway between the end and the middle to balance Junior at the other end. Mathematically put, the teeter-totter balances when Mom's weight times her distance from the middle equals Junior's weight times his distance from the middle.

The distance out is called arm and the combined effect of weight and distance, the weight times the arm, is called moment. As Mom's moment (say 60 kg x 2 m) tends to push the see-saw one way and Junior's (30 kg x 4 m) pushes it the other way, and they are equal, they balance. I can also call Mom's arm (distance to the right) positive and Junior's arm (to the left) negative, so that the total moment of the system becomes (60 x 2) + (30 x -4) = 0. A total moment of zero means no moment, so no tendency to move about the fulcrum and the see-saw balances. Whee. (I'm ignoring the weight of the teeter-totter itself, because presumably it's balanced). If Mom sits all the way out to her end, her arm increases to 4 (further to the right), so the total moment becomes (60 X 4) + (30 x -4) = 120. That 120 is a measure of the unbalancedness. [Physicists: please don't beat me up for using kilograms instead of newtons for weights here, and then ignoring dimensions. I know the difference. I just don't feel anything is added to the explanation by multiplying both sides of the equation by g.] The point I measure from is called the reference datum, and its position is irrelevant, as long as everything is measured from the same place.

Here is an example to explain that last italicized phrase. I postulated an eight metre teeter-totter, and the measurements I gave were from the middle. That wasn't too hard, as the middle is easy to find, but it did require the measurements in one direction to be negative, with some people find inconvenient. We could take the same teeter-totter and measure from one end, say Mom's end. So Mom's moment, when she is halfway to the middle in order to balance Junior, becomes (60 x 2 = 120) and Junior's becomes (30 x 8 = 240), for a total moment of 360. If we put Mom back at the end now, her arm would be zero, so the total moment would be (0 x 60) + (30 x 8) = 240. Notice that 360 (the ideal) minus 240 (the moment with Mom at the end) is 120. The unbalancedness is still 120. I could even measure from the swingset or from the edge of the playground and get the same result.

Centre of Gravity

When the reference datum is an arbitrary point, the moment, the measurement of unbalancedness, is an arbitrary number, and these numbers get quite large when you're dealing with long, heavy airplanes. So we put it all together to get a non-arbitrary number called the centre of gravity. Weight multiplied by arm equals moment not only for each component of the system, but also for the sum of all its components. And if weight times arm equals moment, then moment divided by weight equals arm. Back to the total weight and moment of the unbalanced teeter-totter.

Mom and Junior together make 90 kg, so that's the weight. And I already totalled the moments for each reference datum.

Measuring from the middle: 120 / 90 = 1.33

Measuring from the end: 240 / 90 = 2.67

Now, measuring 1.33 m from the middle towards Mom's end reaches the same point as measuring 2.67 m from Mom's end toward the middle. That is the point at which the teeter-totter would balance with Mom at one end and Junior at the other. That's still called the arm of the loaded airplane, but more commonly called the centre of gravity, often written CofG and pronounced see-uhv-gee.


For the airplane, every manufacturer defines a reference datum, and publishes a list of the arms of every point at which weight will be loaded, such as each fuel tank, the pilot seat, each row of passenger seating, and each baggage area. The manufacturer also publishes a chart showing the acceptable range of moment and or centre of gravity (CofG). It's the pilot's job to calculate the total moment or CofG of the loaded airplane and ensure that it falls within the limits of the chart.

Here's an example, from a Piper Seneca. It's a fairly simple airplane, and I've simplified it further by not using one of the baggage areas. Note that this calculation applies to a particular Piper Seneca, one that once belonged to the Winnipeg Flying Club. A different Piper Seneca would have a different empty weight and arm.

We'll imagine a 200 lb pilot, 460 pounds of passengers, in two different rows, and 50 lbs of baggage in the back. The first line of the table I read off the individual airplane weight and balance document. The other weights I get from inspection. The other arms are from the Aircraft Flight Manual, based on a reference datum near the nose of the airplane. The moments are the product of the weights and arms. The total weight and total moment are simply a sum of the individual weights and moments. And the total CofG is the total moment, divided by the total weight.

Airplane2944 85.82252674
Fuel 550 93.6 51480
Pilot 200 85.5 17100
Pax1 160 118.1 18896
Pax2 300 155.7 46710
Baggage 50 178.7 8935
Total 4204 94.1 395795

The total weight of 4204 happens to be four pounds over the maximum weight allowed by the manufacturer, while the CofG is just forward of the maximum 94.6. In this case I would accept the load, because I know I will burn about eight pounds of fuel during taxi, runup and on the takeoff roll. By the time the airplane takes to the air, it will be within limits. The manufacturer tells me that the effect of fuel burn on CofG for this airplane is negligible.

It bears noting that this airplane has an additional baggage area in the nose, and two unoccupied seats. Three medium-weight passengers and their carry-ons is enough to load the airplane to its maximum. An airplane doesn't have to be stuffed to be full.

If the CofG numbers get unwieldy, there's another way to express them. I'll tell you about %MAC calculations some other time. And this isn't one of my best explanations, so ask away if I've said anything confusing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Weight Calculations

This is the first of a two-part post on calculating weight and balance of a loaded aircraft, as eighty percent of private pilots are purported not to know how to do. I promised a while ago to explain, and it turns out that a post a few days hence requires some understanding of the subject, so now is the perfect time. Today I'll look at weight, the easy part. Tomorrow's post will look at balance, which really isn't all that complicated. I just got carried away and wrote too much to swallow in one bite.

Aircraft have published maximum weights. There may be a separate maximum ramp weight (how much the loaded airplane may weigh just to sit there on its wheels and taxi around), maximum take-off weight (what it says), maximum zero fuel weight (effectively requiring a certain proportion of the weight to be in the fuel tanks, bending the wings down, as opposed to being in the fuselage, where it bends the wings up), and maximum landing weight (what it says). Depending on the type of operation, those weights may change depending on the temperature and available runway. For safe, legal flight the airplane must be under each of these weight requirements for the appropriate stage of flight.

To find the total weight, you must know the weights of the various components. One of the documents belonging to an individual airplane will state how much the airplane alone weighs. Yep, someone had to weigh it. When they add or change equipment they don't have to re-weigh it, though. They can just do the math. So if you take out a basic 20 lb seat and replace it with a deluxe 35 pound seat, you increase the basic empty weight by fifteen pounds. The BEW includes the airplane, the engines, the seats, the avionics, everything that is installed in the airplane and also full hydraulic fluid and the like. It usually includes full oil but there are exceptions, so you need to examine your paperwork carefully. It even includes what's called the unusable fuel: the fuel that could be left sloshing around in the bottom of the tanks if you were to run the engine until it stopped from fuel starvation, in some reasonable flight attitude. You read the empty weight of the airplane off the weight and balance (W&B) document, make any adjustments written in the journey log, and write down that number.

A commercial airplane may be dispatched with a Standard Operating Weight, which is the basic empty weight of the airplane plus the weight of the crew and their personal equipment. Sometimes the SOW is calculated and written in the journey log book as if the crew are both males, so that when one of more of the crew is female, the weight can be adjusted, to carry an extra thirty pounds of fuel. If the airplane doesn't list a standard operating weight, the crew and their gear are counted along with the passengers. It doesn't matter which way, so long as it adds up, and complies with what the regulatory authorities have approved if it's a commercial operation.

Next you add fuel. The usable fuel is the fuel the manufacturer says is available for your use in all normal flight attitudes. Avgas weighs six pounds per U.S. gallon and jet fuel weighs about seven. These weights vary with the temperature and exact grade, and you can use a table to work out the weight for the volume of fuel you will have in the tanks. (The numbers I'm quoting are in American units because the airplanes I fly were built in the US and so the operating manual lists weights and fuel volumes that way. If you buy a new Airbus (or even Boeing for delivery outside the US) I'm sure you can get the documentation in kilograms and litres.

The remaining weight on board will be cargo and passengers. Cargo is weighed, as you know from checking baggage at the airport. Some charter operations have a big floor scale and simply ask all the passengers to stand on it with their cargo. "You're 200 lbs over," the boss says. It's up to the customer to decide whom or what to leave behind. In a remote charter operation, the pilot may estimate and mentally sum the weights of articles loaded. I've also done it by standing on a bathroom scale as I lifted each bag and subtracting my weight from each reading in order to add up the total weight on board. Some pilots carry a handheld spring-based scale, which works if every article has a handle or other point that the scale can hook onto. You lift the scale with the hook holding the item, and extension of the spring moves a pointer indicating the weight of the item.

Passengers are rarely physically weighed but may be asked for their weights, estimated by the pilot or dispatcher, or counted at standard weights, depending on the operation. In Canada, standard weights count clothed females at 165 lbs and males at 200 lbs each. Everyone is assumed to weigh six pounds more in the winter, and the weights include a 13 lb carry on. A charter operator that weighs all baggage as cargo, and thus has no uncounted carryons can count men at 187 lbs, but a pilot flying a charter for the Toronto Argonauts football team is expected to apply reasonable weights for football players, not just use the defaults.

Once numbers for the airplane, people, bags and fuel have been obtained, you just add them up. If the total is over the maximum then you can load less fuel (but not less than the legal minimum), or leave passengers or cargo behind. Once the weight is within limits, so far so good, but you must make sure that the airplane will also be loaded within balance limits. That's tomorrow's posting. Because, as I mentioned, I got carried away.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Prairie Airport

The 22G30 at the military airport turns out to be a crosswind at the municipal. I can't say precisely how strong it was, as a windsock straight out registers 15 knots, and any wind strength above that looks the same until the windsock starts to tear (around 50-60 kts, if the wind is gusting) or the pole blows down (I've seen it once at 70 kts).

With approach flaps set, I'm crabbing significantly on downwind to to maintain my track parallel to the runway. That has my nose pointed very much at the runway. I'm looking at the windsock to make sure I don't have a tailwind component for the landing. It's as close to straight across the runway as it could be. I crosscheck with the GPS. My groundspeed is about 5% higher than my indicated airspeed, exactly what I'd estimate my true airspeed to be at this altitude. I will have no headwind and no tailwind, just crosswind. Gear down. As I turn base, a little thrill of "can I do this?" runs through me, a feeling I don't remember having in an airplane for a long time. Wondering if I can go another five hours without a pee break does not count.

This is the airport where I'm supposed to land (yes, definitely), but I do have the fuel required to divert to Regina, which has two runways, so can give me a more into wind landing. I also have enough fuel to attempt this landing first, even if I don't carry it through. I put down the next notch of flaps. In some crosswind situations I would consider using reduced flaps, but this runway is short, and the wind will give me no help in reducing approach speed for ease in stopping. The gear shows three green. I turn final. That makes me giggle inside because instead of a ninety degree turn from base to final, it's not even sixty degrees before I have turned enough to be crabbing correctly for final. I put down the last notch of flaps. Props are forward, prelanding checklist complete. I now roll towards the wind, while using my downwind rudder pedal to align the body of the airplane with the runway. The fact that I have the rudder authority to do this bodes well, because now I'm looking down the middle of this narrow runway. And I'm straight.

The runway doesn't look as short as I know it is, because it's narrow, but I anticipate the illusion and pull the power right back to flare before I reach the beginning of the runway. There are no obstacles to worry about. And I flare ... still straight ... and the main wheels are on the beginning of the pavement. Not perfectly centred, but straight. I turn the alierons further into the wind as I put down the nosewheel. I don't have to brake aggressively, just gently, and I roll out to the end before turning around. Whee, I love crosswinds. Flight time was four hours, seven minutes. It would have been at least five without that wind.

I call clear of the runway as I pull onto the apron, gingerly taxiing. Taxiing can be harder than landing and taking off in winds like this. A voice on the frequency tells me to pull right up in front of the hangar. I've actually got myself into a corner hemmed in by crop planes where it will be difficult to turn around, and there's an unpaved area of gravel between me and the hangar. The voice on the radio tells me it's okay to just shut down there. It's a quick walk to the hangar.

It's a waiting day again for me. At one point I'm sitting on the ramp under an airplane, looking out at a two men in hunting camos who are checking over Grumman parked near the runway. There are geese flying by, the beginning of a prairie sunset, wheatfields a little overdue for harvest, Canadian flag, crop sprayers, a Ford tractor older than anyone reading this, and the still horizontal windsock. I think of getting my camera to capture this perfect slice of a prairie airport, but I'd never get it all in the shot, so I just look and enjoy, and try to remember it all so I can tell you about it. My duty day is over and the customer isn't ready to go yet, so we'll spend the night.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Go South

I'm supposed to take someone to Moose Jaw today. That's (ahem) Moose Jaw Municipal airport. It will be my first time into there as a pilot. It looked yesterday like it would be clear skies and tailwinds, so that's something to be glad of. The customer told me to keep the room (hotel rooms can be scarce in up here), so I packed what I would need for an overnight and put it near the door.

I woke up this morning and as I turned on the light I noticed something that struck me as odd. Over on the hotel desk were two glowing red LEDs. This was odd because the LEDs were on battery chargers for my cellphone and flashlight, and they should have become fully charged overnight, displaying their status with green LEDs. And no, I hadn't made the rookie mistake of plugging my chargers into a switched outlet. I learned that lesson at least a year ago. I got up and started to get ready to go. And then the power went out.

This was the explanation for the lack of battery charging. I got ready in the dark and headed downstairs to meet the client on schedule in the breakfast room. The emergency lighting in the stairs is very poor, with some sections in complete blackness. The power had been much more off than on all night so the batteries in the emergency lights had run flat. There was a little more light in the lobby, because it had lots of windows and, with a trace of snow on the ground, lights from streetlights and buildings with power on the other side of the street reflected in the glass doors. I find my customers and we graze on cold cereal and warm juice. I use the dim flashlight and the low battery cellphone to call flight services to confirm the weather.

The briefer is friendly and we joke a bit, with me admitting I'm in the dark on an almost dead cellphone. I tell him I'm planning Fort Nelson to Moose Jaw at 14Z, and he comes back with, "Well, let's see, got a three point harness?"

"Funny," I tell him. "You can't fool me. There's no convective activity."

"I'm serious," he says. "Low level jetstreams, you've got severe turbulence below 15,000' most of the way." Severe turbulence is, well, severe, not something I want to be flying this airplane in. I write down the information and tell the customers I'll be waiting an hour or so to get PIREPs because the turbulence may be enough to be dangerous to the flight. Meanwhile I go back to the room and look at my charts by daylight from the window. The airlines are flying but not reporting severe turbulence, and considering the wind direction I can fly well east and then due south without lost time. I tell them we're good to go.

I brief on the possible turbulence, secure all the baggage extra thoroughly, and launch into the wind. There is light turbulence as I make a quick one-eighty on course and then it smooths to nothing as I level at cruise altitude. Hmm, cool. I file a PIREP to let others know that life is good, and in no time at all I'm at Rainbow Lake, turning south, and the groundspeed is still increasing. There's a large area of military activity between Cold Lake and Edmonton, so I choose to fly right over Cold Lake. I'm above the control zone but because I'm in proximity to class F restricted airspace and the military controller below is handling high speed jet traffic, I call her and give a position report and my intentions. I don't need her clearance to fly above the control zone but she gives it, and continues to give me clearances as I give her the requested position reports and work my way around the military airspace. It was odd. I was thinking of asking her why, but meh, so long as she's happy.

After Meadow Lake it's a straight shot to Moose Jaw. Flight conditions continue to be smooth. If it weren't for the ground speed topping out at 227 knots I'd never know about the jetstream. As I race south there's a bit of a buildup and I duck underneath. Ah, so that's where the turbulence is. I climb back again and the cloud stays thin enough that I don't have to go back into the bumps. It's ten past the hour, so I pick up new weather. Winds are 22G30 on the ground at the military airport at Moose Jaw. There's no weather report available for the Muni, but it should be very similar.

The rest of the day in tomorrow's posting.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Logical Reason

What would the lazy blogger do without The Onion? Blandly making fun of everything by stating mundane truths about what people do and believe in the style of mainstream news stories, there's an Onion article for every occasion.

In this case it's a news brief on why airplanes fly, where everyday ignorance is placed in the mouths of imaginary scientists. The Easter egg in these articles, as I discovered when a group I belonged to made news and subsequently comedy fake news, is that Onion writers actually do research. The names and titles, in our case were partly ours, partly made up, making the result believable as a badly corrupted and misreported news story, even to us.

I can't find a Koplowitz, but there are a few Gabriels associated with aerodynamics at Stanford. I'm sure the article is on at least one of their doors.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Snow and Ice and Orange Goup

I'm out at the airplane with the customer, but they don't want to go flying, they just want to make sure everything is working on the computers. I have electrical power through ground power, with the airplane secured and not running, so I don't even have to be on board. Instead I check that the wing covers and engine tents are nicely in place, that the oil quantity is sufficent for the next flight, and arrange for fuelling. It turns out that the fueller is happy to peel back and replace the wing covers, so I don't have to be here for fuelling. Excellent.

It's snowing lightly now. I open up the door and go inside to see how they are doing. They're swearing at Microsoft Windows. That seems to be a universal component of the workplace, whether you work in a cubicle or in the sky. Even if you work on a Mac, I understand that it's still necessary to swear at Windows from time to time, over difficulties with customer file transfers, the non-availability of programs for the Mac, or just on general principles.

I wander off to see what else we have available around here. I saw a deicing truck the other morning and asked at the FBO if that belonged to an airline or was available to me. The latter is true, and he gives me directions to find the man in charge, the airport manager.

It's a Type I fluid they have, so appropriate for my airplane, and they are available on 24-hour call. They heat it up in the truck and apply it at "180 degrees" (I assume Fahrenheit). The charge is $100 to start (i.e. $50 each for a two man crew) plus $4.30 per litre for the fluid applied. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't take more than 50L to deice my bird, but I keep the wing covers tied down well just in case. The only problem is that if it rains and then freezes with the covers on, the covers may hold water against the wing, and then you end up with a giant airplansicle. Hence my desire to have the deicing guy's phone number in my back pocket.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Psych Screening

This is an old story, with some new information about what happened when an Air Canada pilot became so mentally unstable during flight that the captain elected to have him forcibly removed from the cockpit. The captain made the PA announcement that amateur pilots' dreams are made of and the answer came from one of the flight attendants, a commercially licenced pilot with an expired IFR. She occupied the right seat for the remainder of the flight.

It's not unusual for flight attendants to be licenced pilots. For those already pursuing a career as a professional pilot, the job of flight attendant provides financing and acclimatization to the lifestyle. Flight attendants who didn't plan on becoming pilots are exposed to the environment, thus susceptible to the aviation addiction, and may be sucking into the vortex. I have known more than one person who has simultaneously been working as a commercial pilot on small aircraft and working as a flight attendant for a major airline. It's not clear whether the FA in this case had professional piloting experience or just a commercial pilot licence. Either way, she proved useful to the flight and they landed safely.

Air Canada has a rigid psychological screening programme as part of their interview process. I've actually spoken with an Air Canada recruiter who says that sometimes candidates the panel really likes and who score well in the simulator are rejected by the psych evaluation. The recruiters don't get to know what was "wrong" with the rejected candidates, but I wonder if the psych screening is selecting people who think just like the white males born in the 1950s who made up the airline when the ideal pilot profile was developed.

Events like this reflect the stress involved in the responsibility for a large airplane and trying to hold an aviation career together despite economic fluctuations, mergers, pay cuts and the risk of losing everything over a medical problem that would only be a minor blip in many other careers. And I can't help thinking that it's a tiny piece of vengeance for the people whose career progress was halted because they would or would not "like to see a film about an otter" or did or did not "prefer gardening to making wooden toys."

Oh and I asked Magic 8-Ball if I would be an airline pilot again and it told me You May Rely On It. I guess I should do something about that then, eh?

Edit: Reader Christopher provides a link to the report made by the Chief Inspector of Air Accidents in Ireland (where the flight landed). It shows that the captain didn't make an Airplane!-like call for pilots, merely asked an FA to check the manifest for company pilots, and gives some interesting details on the removal. The report commends the captain for his good CRM and professional actions, and also mentions that the FO's condition improved in hospital.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Real Estate Monthly

In which Aviatrix bores you with a small town newspaper.

This restaurant has slow service and when I eat by myself, as I often do, that's very boring. I tried to buy a newspaper. There had been a sign at the hotel earlier saying that they had them for sale. The girl at the desk said they were a week old, and she couldn't bring herself to charge me for it, so she'd just give me one. It was the local town paper, not the national or big city paper I was hoping for. But that's okay, I took it gratefully. Better than reading the drink specials list again.

Service was even slower. I think my strategy backfired, and they decided they could take their time because I was reading the paper. Or maybe it just seemed longer because the paper was more boring that the drink specials list. I kept it, fully intending to report back on the fascinating news in Fort Nelson, but having read it slowly once, I couldn't bring myself to open it again. So I'll just tell you that the front page leads with a rollover accident on the Alaska highway. Victim with head injuries was taken by ambulance to the local hospital, then medevaced down south. Next to that is a 22 year old construction worker who mysteriously dropped dead at work, a Conservative MP celebrating his third election to office, and nominations closed for local elected officials. One of the two mayoral candidates withdrew his nominations, and the schoolboard has been elected by acclaimation, but it appears there will be an election for council. Also a house burned down and the company that closed the local plywood mill says they don't intend the closure to be permanent, but that the mill is for sale. Please don't say you want to know what's on page two.

The advertising supplement is Northern British Columbia's Real Estate Monthly: Serving Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd & Area. I'd tell you what a house costs here, but none of the ads actually mentioned WHICH of the communities the listings is for. You have to know the area. For example, here's a picture of what appears to be a double-wide trailer, with a bit of a deck and a side porch.

12314 256 RD * $369,900

Don't pass up this well cared for home located on 1.5 kms from the old Montney Store. This extremely up-dated home boasts new flooring throughout all sitting on 20 acres, perfect for horses. Located just 15 minutes from, pavement all the way to your driveway. Call Today.

I didn't realize how bizarre the grammar in that is until I typed it. The sentences that just end in odd places are from the original, not my typos. Also the Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada is offering a ten year closed mortgage at six and a half percent. Time was, that would be a good deal.

Now you can imagine how I feel, still waiting for my pasta to arrive.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Not Again!

Damn, it just happened again.

Yesterday morning I almost skipped over this article in my news aggregator, thinking that either Google's spider or a Montana radio station had dredged up some old news. I blogged about the accident, because I'd been on one of the company's airplanes at the time it happened. A Grumman Goose crashed and burned on the BC coast while a single survivor made it out of the wreckage. I clicked through on this one in the hopes that it would point to a preliminary TSB report, but to my horror I learned that there was another such crash yesterday, for the same company.

This is a company with a good record and a cautious company culture. The pilot concerned was a long time employee and very experienced in type and terrain. What happened? Every accident is a unique set of circumstances, but human brains seek patterns, that's how we see and find food and make sense of our world. Two in four months is an awful pattern. The same type, the same subculture within the company, the same maintenance personnel, the same parts, is there a link? I'm sure the TSB will look for one.

This article has more details, and this one has a picture.

I am so sorry to hear this. It's a terrible thing to happen to those aboard, their families, and this company.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two Ways to Slow Down

The next morning I go out to the airport in the dark. I do my walkaround inside the warm, lit hangar. Cowlings are secure, oil is present at the proper level, all the control surfaces move in the right direction, inspection ports are all closed with fasteners in, gear is lubricated and the uplock springs are working, and so on. I'm looking for anything that might have been put together backwards, left disconnected or otherwise messed up by the maintenance work. You might think it was insulting to do this in front of the person who did the work, but it's not an expression of mistrust. My inspection is part of the procedure. By choosing to fly the airplane I certify that it meets my standards. I do this every time I fly, not just when I collect it from maintenance. The engineer apologizes that a couple of the eyebrow lights on the dashboard are still not working, but there are two different sizes of light stalks and he only brought one with him. There is at least one light on each instrument, and I'm not expecting much night flying so I accept it. He promises to order more bulbs, or possibly replace the whole instrument lighting system with a newer technology, at the next maintenance. He says the airplane is ready to go except that I need to condition the brakes before departure. I have done this before, but he is careful and has given me written instructions on a page from a hotel notepad.

Brake Conditioning
Perform 2 consecutive full stop braking applications from 30 to 35 knots. Do not allow brakes to cool a lot between the stops. Cool for 10 mins then check hold at high power. If hold OK for service. If not Repeat.

It's kind of fun doing a brake run-in. I use it as a chance to practice rejected takeoffs. There's a bit of risk. I have heard of a pilot who had one brake lock up on him, causing the airplane to go off the runway. I call the flight services specialist (Grande Prairie doesn't have a tower, but the FSS gives advisories so authoritative you'd think he was a controller), and announce my intention to enter the runway for some high speed taxi checks. There's a howling wind, so the aircraft that are taking off and landing are using one runway, and landing traffic has to backtrack. If the wind is light thy can use the runways more efficiently. The FSS asks me if I can use a crosswind runway, and I accept that, but I have to wait in position for a few minutes anyway, as two landing airplanes use this runway as a taxiway. One of the taxiing pilots calls the FSS and asks if the airplane on the runway can turn off its landing light. (Talking to another aircraft when there is a FSS on frequency is a bit like talking to another Member of Parliament in the House. You address your remarks to the FSS the way you would to the Speaker of the House. (Wrong: "You idiot!" Right: "Madame Speaker, the Honourable Member from North Moose Nipple is an idiot.") I switch off my light and break the protocol by simply transmitting, "Sorry, it's just a taxi light. I didn't realize it was that bright."

"Ah, it's not," says the other pilot. "I just wanted to make sure you weren't rolling."

It's a common SOP, but not at my company, to turn on the landing lights as an acknowledgement of take-off clearance. I just turn on whatever lights I want or need for the lighting and traffic conditions, and try to ensure I don't have any bright strobes on where they would distract other pilots.

The FSS advises me that all the landing aircraft are clear of my runway. I flick the light back on, call rolling, accelerate as advised, and then I say aloud (but not on the radio) "Reject!" retard the throttles and firmly apply the brakes, touching for practice the other controls that I might use if I were aborting a takeoff on a short runway. This is a plenty long runway, so I repeat the accelerate stop twice more (yes, once more than in the instructions, but it's fun, and we did it more times than that the first time I did a brake run in). I tell the FSS that I'm done and will be taxiing back to the apron.

"You had to wait so long, you might as well do another one!" urges the FSS. I confess to him that I already did, and taxi back to the apron for the cooldown.

It's beginning to be light out now. I taxi back towards where I picked up the airplane, but the fueller there starts trying to marshall me and I don't need fuel. I make a thoroughly unintelligible gesture that is supposed to indicate, "I don't actually need fuel, thanks, so I'll go park over there." I shut down and review emergency procedures for ten minutes before restarting for the brake test. They hold. I let the FSS know I'm taxiing for real this time. I just have to wait for one more airplane to land, then I'm taking off myself. I make an immediate right turn to allow a faster aircraft behind to depart without risking running me over. I turn on course.

I can't win on altitude with this headwind, because it's strong and dead on my nose at this altitude. If I climb higher it will veer more to the right, but it will be stronger, so the headwind component doesn't really change with altitude. I lean out at cruise power and the airplane settles in to cruise at a lovely 135 kts. Ah well, might as well sit in an airplane as sit in a hotel room. I'm enjoying the scenery. I'm flying over the Peace River, approaching Fort St. John. (That's not on the direct track between Grande Prairie and Fort Nelson, but the client asked me to overfly a worksite near Ft. St. John). Just southeast of town I can see a pipeline crossing. Someone one told me a story of walking across that pipeline, high above the water, using a safety line clipped to the wire rail. He slipped and the safety line caught him, but he drpped his binoculars. The funny part is that he had his name and telephone number engraved on the binoculars, and he showed me their smashed remains. Years later someone found them washed up on a downstream beach and he got them back. I get out my camera to take an aerial shot of the bridge for him, but the camera shuts down with a "replace battery pack" message. I only have one battery pack, so that's it for pictures of this expedition.

The camera battery doesn't last that well in the cold. It is cold. I'm wearing a jacket and sweater, but it's still a little colder than is comfortable to sit still. So I turn on the heater, but at its lowest setting, the heater makes the airplane too hot for me to be wearing a jacket and sweater. But I don't want to undress. Sometimes I turn the heater on until I'm too hot and turn it off until I'm too cold and repeat.

I switch tanks, but the left lever sticks and I don't get it in the detente for the proper tank. I have the in-between position selected for a moment while I try to wiggle the lever, and the engine cavitates, starved for fuel. Gah. At least there are no passengers on board for me to scare. I move the tank selection lever to the correct detente and confirm it with the gauge reading. The engine surges and then settles back to running normally.

I reach the spot the client wanted me to check out, make my observation and then turn direct my destination. It's even more into the wind. I won't tell you how long it took to get there, but I did, eventually.

I taxi in and park. It's a parking space outdoors, by close in by the side of a hangar, so that our power cords will reach for the electrical heaters that keep the engines and computers warm. I take some time to examine the surroundings and choose visible landmarks and seams in the pavement that will guide me in to park. The hangar is on the right, so as long as I keep right of this line I will be clear of the hangar, and left of that line will ensure I'm close enough for power cords.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Swans but No Turkeys Either

While the scheduled maintenance is being done on the airplane, I sleep in, laze around a bit, and then just before checkout time call the engineer for a progress check. His answer will tell me whether I should check out or extend our stay another night. He says everything is going fine, but he needs to order new brake rotors and, funny thing, he can't get a hold of anyone to sell him some on Thanksgiving Day. He says he thinks he can AOG some tomorrow morning, to arrive on a nine a.m. Air Canada flight. Ay-oh-gee is a verbed form of the abbreviation A.O.G., for "aircraft on ground". It is the aviation equivalent of super-rush. Anyone in the industry knows that an aircraft on the ground is costing, not making, money and a part tagged or ordered AOG is required to get that machine back into the air.

I message the PRM about our progress, knowing that he's going to be out of town tucking into appetisers somewhere, with the smell of roast turkey wafting about, but for some reason he not only reads the message, but replies that he'll swing by the hangar and ship some too us on the next flight out. I call the mechanic back to tell him that the brakes will be here tonight, do a workout, catch up on paperwork and then I go see the town.

I mean, wooee! This is it, the town that puts the Grande in the prairies, right? The wind is absolutely howling. I'm not looking forward walking back to the hotel, upwind, but there's nothing in the other direction. I walk down the main street, which is also the highway, I forget the number, then across a bridge and find myself downtown. Three guesses, readers, for the name of the streets at this central downtown intersection. If you can't get it in two, you haven't been paying attention, but for those of you just tuning in, I'm at the corner of 100th Street and 100th Avenue. The only places I've found open on Thanksgiving are the Salvation Army thrift store and the Co-op grocery store. I checked out the former and I'm now wandering around the latter, planning to buy a small package of turkey pepperoni and a yam. If you're going to have Thanksgiving in a small town where you don't know anyone, you might as well play it for the maximum pathos, right? And then my phone rings.

It's the mechanic. He's ready for a dinner break, so I put down the package of pepperoni and meet him on 100th Avenue, or maybe it was 99th. We go to a good chain restaurant called Earls, where I enjoy roast chicken (the closest I could get to turkey) and pumpkin pie. The service is slow but you can tell it's through inexperience, not laziness. Anyone in the restaurant industry with any seniority at all has today off. I sort have have today off. After all, I didn't fly. The engineer is good company. He does a good job on the airplane, too. He's a great guy. I hope he is well paid.

After our leisurely dinner we head out to the airport to pick up the brake parts from Air Canada Cargo. It's a small terminal of a familiar design: the cargo counters are located at the side of the building, staffed by the same folks who man the check in desk. There's no one in sight, so we ring the buzzer. A harried-looking man comes through from the check-in desks and asks us to hang on for a bit. We do, for quite a while, until he finally returns and thanks us deeply for being so patient. "It's a cluster-eff here today he says." Just like that "cluster-eff". He finds out what we're looking for and goes off to look for it, while we giggle over his choice of minced oath.

It's okay," we tell him, "We're in aviation too." We know about the delays and chaos that can result when technology meets Mother Nature in the presence of government regulation. I suspect that the strong winds have caused flight delays across the country and it doesn't take many accrued minutes of delay to duty out a crew. And then how do you find replacement pilots who will interrupt carving their turkeys to answer the phone? He's friendly and happy despite the muttered curses and he finds our package.

The mechanic says he has hours of work left to do, so he drops me back at the hotel to go to bed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Seven Swans a Swimming

The airplane is due for a fifty hour scheduled maintenance check, and company tells me to fly to Grande Prairie, Alberta for the work. G.P. has major airline service and is less than two hours from here, so we can get one of our mechanics in there. I'm to fly out there, hand the airplane over to the mechanic and then fly it back when he's done, probably the next day. I land in Fort Nelson after my day's work for the customer, refuel and then head straight to Grande Prairie. I've brought my overnight gear.

It's an easy trip east, descending into Grande Prairie over farmland and a big lake just west of the airport. The CFS warns me not to overfly a certain lake two miles SSE of the airport because of breeding trumpeter swans. Whether my passage will spoil the mood or risk hitting swans in flagrante delicto isn't clear, but to avoid either risk, I fly a tight circuit to stay west of the lake as I land on the westbound runway. I pull onto the apron and park near the Shell, shutting down beside a Cessna 172 with two flat tires. The Shell fueller, who looks very bored, says I can park here.

I call my PRM but he's not there so I leave a message and call the mechanic. He says we've arranged to use the hangar belonging to "Swan Airmotive," and gives me the name of his contact. I happen to have parked next to the Swan Aero Exec hangar, and I can see the hangar for Swanberg Air around the corner, on the taxiway past the Shell. Swan Aero Exec appears to, as the name would imply, be an executive charter operation. There's a passenger lounge accessible from groundside, visible through the side windows. It is dark and locked. I walk past that hangar and find a hangar signed Swan Aero next to it. It is open and there are a couple of helicopters in it, but no people are immediately evident. There's a telephone number on the front of the hangar. It doesn't have an area code written on it, but I feel the momentary thrill of being an experienced world traveller: I know the area code for northern Alberta by heart. One has to take ones thrills where one can find them.

I call the number, complete with area code and the answering service claims to be Swan Automotive. That's getting closer to being the correct swan. Better still, they transfer me to the cellphone of the correct person, who knows that I'm coming and tells me to leave the airplane where it is, with the brakes released and he'll tow it inside later.

When I hang up from that call, there's a message from the PRM saying that we're getting the work done at Swanberg Airmotive. Have I reached the titular seven swans yet? I'm assuming that there are two separate companies with Swan in their name (one that has several versions of the same name) because of some connection with swans, possibly the ones that are trying to breed two and a half miles south southeast of here.

The airplane taken care of, I now need to find something for me and the mechanic. He hasn't found a room yet. I ask the still-bored fueller (he's now wandering around examining another airplane, a homebuilt with three flat tires) if he can recommend a nearby hotel. He warns me that Grande Prairie is a ludicrously expensive town, and gives me a name and a rate: $160. What?! Isn't there a Super-8 or something? Another chain apparently bought out the Super-8s. He says I can find a worse hotel, but they are all going to be about the same price, so I might as well stay in the nice one. It was not called "The Swan." I call directory assistance on my now functional in northwestern Canada cellphone and they have two rooms and call me a cab.

It's a very nice hotel. I feel guilty for a little while at not finding a cheaper one, but you know what? We're here on Thanksgiving weekend. Lets not live in squallor. The mechanic and I check in, and he doesn't gasp in horror, so perhaps he's been to Grande Prairie before. We go out for dinner at the Keg. I let him know I'm available for any runups or anything else he needs me to do, but I know he just wants the pilot to stay out of the way until he is almost done. I can sleep in the next morning while he works. Ahh, luxury.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Loonie Advice

Sometimes things people from other countries say make no sense, even in English. I was momentarily baffled by this advice on mending flats, on a bicycle riding website.

If the tire has a large gash in it, simply place a dollar over it as you reinstall the tube. It’ll reinforce the tire at the hole and get you home. Replace the tire ASAP (don’t forget to save the dollar!).

I stared at this for quite a while, trying to figure out how shoving a large metal disk into the tire would help, before I realized that it was an American website and although Americans have dollar coins, their default "dollar" is a piece of paper.

It's a little reminder that despite the similarities and connections between our economies, our dollar is not the US dollar. Not that anyone knows what's going on with either economy. I hope we all have jobs next year.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Too Much Information

Pursuant to yesterday's non-adventure of the missing pilot, my first order of business today was to replace my cellphone with one that works in BC. The choice was Telus (shouldn't that be TelCan?) or Bell. In an attempt to demonstrate to the clients that I am taking prompt and immediate action to address the problem, I take their recommendation and walk across the Alaska Highway (a.k.a. 50th Avenue, if you hadn't guessed) to go to the Telus store.

This was going to be an entire post about buying a cellphone, but comments on the previous post show that you can all predict how that goes. There's the phone itself, with the possibility of cameras, video games, holographi projectors and laser death rays, when what I am really looking for is good predictive text messaging software and buttons that won't wear out quickly. There's the option of pay as you go, versus contract (and you can't swap between these, because they involve different telephones. Pay as you go is ludicrously expensive (how about 55 cents a minute for nationwide long distance?) The contract probably isn't much better when I consider that I have to pay for it in months when I'm not using that telephone. And the contracts are complex with plans and add-ons that I kind of need but aren't really appropriate to the way I use the phone. And of course there is the difficulty of getting a phone number that won't be long distance when I'm at home. I grumble, then suck it up, acknowledging apologetically to the young women working at the store that overpriced Canadian cell service is not their fault. I buy the phone, sign the contract, memorize my new number, and go back to the hotel. That's enough about that. I'll give you too much information about something else.

Here I am flying the airplane. It's ten thirty, two and a half hours into a seven hour flight, and my body has just reminded me that I forgot to pee before takeoff. It's part of my routine, but I didn't have to "go" then, and was busy folding wing tents or something, right up to departure. It's not killing me yet, but there are four and a half hours left before I'll be on the ground. There's nowhere convenient to land, and even if I were passing directly over an airport, I can't just say, "ladies and gentlemen, we now have an unscheduled stop because the pilot didn't learn a lesson her mother should have taught her by the time she was four." Always go before you go.

Last time I ordered oxygen cannulas I topped up the order with a package of disposable portable urinals that are supposed to be effective for men and women. They have a powder in them that turns to a gel when wet, so they can't spill. I included their presence in my passenger briefing and one passenger, a male, confirmed that the product worked. I should have tucked one in my flight bag, but I left them all the airplane, and I'm not in that airplane now. After another hour or so has passsed, I'm furtively looking around the cockpit for a container. I'm not picky. Funnel plus hose plus window seems like a really good idea right now. There's nothing.

It's hard to do the pee-pee dance while flying an airplane. You just have to take your mind off it. I manage to make the urge go away for a while, but the duration of that while subsides to nothing by the end of the flight. And there's a chain reaction. I want to minimize the amount of water I drink, because that will exacerbate the situation, but of course I don't want to spend hours without water. And I'm hungry, but it takes water to digest food, especially the energy bars that I fly with, so I have to limit food, too. So now I'm hungry, a little bit thirsty and floating on my own distended bladder. I somehow survive the flight, turn in a surprisingly good landing, and rush through engine-off checks. The fueller meets the flight at shutdown and I almost knock her over on the way to the washroom.

The next day I completely wring out my bladder before the eight a.m. takeoff. I'm not going through that again! Ten o' clock and all is well ... 10:15 ... 10:30. Oh oh. Same problem. Hey! What's going here? Have I lost my touch. Did I break something by holding it so hard yesterday? Can you do permanent damage by holding your pee? There's a Seinfeld episode about that. I endure another excruciating flight. I think having to pee sits above several levels of pain in the scale of impediments to conentration and enjoyment. In fact, I can vouch for that, having attended a ground school course with a broken back. I survive that flight too, and hit the internet for information.

First off, anyone who hits the comments and tells me, perhaps citing Tycho Brahe, that people have died from holding their pee, are full of it. (But not as full as I was). The sphincter concerned is going to let loose and wet the left seat long before it explodes out any other avenue. Like anything else on the Internet, I get a mixed set of results. The first batch of hits I get are with reference to children, and they promise dire consequences from forcing children to hold it.

"Infrequent urination and incomplete emptying lead to an ever-increasing bladder size and capacity. This is turn leads to a decrease in sensation to empty the bladder... Renal failure may ultimately develop secondary to bladder function abnormalities" (, Urology Forum).

This one says that if the bladder gets too full urine can back up into the kidneys causing extra pressure which may damage the tiny blood vessels in the kidney.

Over time, the pressure can cause the bladder muscles to become very thick and the bladder may generate frequent, strong contractions... The high pressures in the bladder may force urine backwards (reflux) up the tubes (ureters) from the kidneys and damage the kidneys." (Christopher S. Cooper, M.D., 2000, Pediatric Urologist).

I'm guessing there's a difference between adults and children, and that part of the maturing process that allows us to understand the urges that allow us to be toilet trained in the first place is a change in our bodies that allows us to hold it.

There are a lot of medical-sounding hits that indicate holding your pee is in itself not a bad thing, but that if you have a urinary infection that delayed urination can spread the infection to the kidneys.

On the other side of the issue, the admitedly amateur WikiHow Says there's no medical impact of holding it in, and gives suggestions on how to hold it.

I wonder also if this is a sex-specific question, as my anatomy doesn't quite match that of those who are warned of possible protate problems.

At any rate I didn't break anything vital, as subsequent flights went fine and my bladder allowed me to eat and drink, land the plane, put on the engine tents and wing covers and then find the washroom.

I wonder where NASA gets their famous astronaut diapers? Anyone know? Maybe I'll write them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Do Your Bit

A few months ago I came across this collection of interviews with Canadian veterans, and saved it for today, Remembrance Day, to post. There are video interviews with transcripts and you can search the collection by hometown, war, location, service branch and other criteria. Some of the entries are browsable through themed collections, like the Spitfire pilots, (among the number at the Battle of Britain, of whom Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few"), and the Chinese-Canadian veterans.

For example, Cedric Mah was a British Columbian who wanted to fly, wasn't allowed to join the Air Force because he was the wrong race. He learned to fly privately and then was allowed to be a flight instructor. I wonder how many white Canadian pilots went to war with Cedric's words keeping them alive. (Pilots often hear their flight instructors' voices as they complete essential tasks, because that's the voice that has drilled that behaviour into the pilot).

He then got a job flying supplies through the Himalayas, an incredibly dangerous job, which he did because "Everybody was doing their bit so you had to do your bit." He survived that, and listen to or read the bit about flying on one engine, iced up, with the gear down, and having to jettison 52 bales of American greenbacks.

I'll be at a cenotaph ceremony today, and I sincerely hope that the officiating individual doesn't yak right through eleven a.m. like he did at the one I attended last year. People in attendance were just looking at each other in shocked confusion and trying to tune him out and observe a two minute silence anyway.

(By the way, The Canadian military is currently looking for flight instructors, and doesn't care if you're male, female, black, white or Chinese. They keep contacting me, the real me not "Dear Aviatrix." Let me know if you are an interested Canadian with a flight instructor rating, and I'll hook you up).

Monday, November 10, 2008

With A Fort In It

We've been in Grande Cache for a few days and the customer has started to indicate that we'll be moving on soon. "Where are we going next?" I ask, hoping for a chance to do some advance planning. The customer hasn't yet had the word from head office, but he has an idea.

"Some place with a Fort in it," he says.

Ah yes. Anyone who has worked in northern Canada knows what some place with a fort will be like. It's not a literal fort. We're not going somewhere with a log palisade or stone battlements. We're headed somewhere with a name beginning in Fort. Many places in Canada started out as fortified outposts, but as they became more civilized, people dropped the "Fort" and the place became merely "Vancouver" or "Saskatoon". And then there's the places that never became civilized enough to lose that appelation. Fort Severn, Fort McMurray, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson and many more. You know before you get there that there will be a majority male population, driving white, American-made, pick-up trucks with mud on the fenders and toolboxes in the back. There will be at least a couple of bars in town, and a lot of mud, snow or dust, depending on the season. We're currently in the late mud/early snow season.

My next Fort turns out to be Fort Nelson. The client jokes that perhaps we could base in Nelson, instead of Fort Nelson. Nelson is in the same province as Fort Nelson, but about eight degrees of latitude further south. It probably has art galleries and trendy cafes and minivans with kids in carseats as mom pulls up to the recycling depot. We muse on whether every "Fort" town has a civilized non-Fort counterpart in the south. Our theory breaks down because can't think of a McMurray anywhere, though.

My trip to Fort Nelson will take me northwest, along the eastern foothills of the Rockies without crossing the mountain range. The weather is good in Grande Cache, but there's a trowal pushing eastward, what the Americans call a warm front occlusion, putting a line of poor weather in my way. I'm expecting low ceilings, and low visibility in snow and or rain. As soon as I get out of the Grande Cache area the land will be flat and undeveloped, though, so I can go low level through poor visibility without compromising safety.

I clear the ridges in the Grande Cache area as I climb out. The cloud shield ahead of the approaching weather is already above me, and it has that particular translucent quality that indicates a high proportion of ice crystals in the cloud, usually meaning not a lot of icing potential, but that precipitation will likely fall as snow. My planned track arcs around to the east, bypassing the forecast area of worst weather, to reach the high ceilings and good visibility forecast for the far north of British Columbia. I can see that ceilings and visibility are lower to the west. I think it's snowing just west of Fort St. John, as I approach. In order to be clear of cloud I am less that 3000' agl, so I call Ft. St. John radio to let them know I will be transiting their zone. I barely enter it, my track cutting a thin slice through the eastern edge of the circular control zone. I call entering and they ask me to call five miles past. The radius is five miles, so I'm five miles away almost as soon as the radio exchange is done. A few minutes later the controller tells another aircraft that I will be leaving the control zone shortly. He didn't understand that my "five miles northeast" call was a report and not an echo of his request. I make another position report, and continue on my way, leaving any confusion in my wake.

The weather is getting crappier. I'm in mixed rain and snow, but I'm not picking up any ice. I file a PIREP and get an update on the weather at my destination. They're reporting six thousand feet broken with fifteen miles vis, no reported precipitation. I'm peering through snow now, maybe 1500' agl, keeping an eye on the chart for where there might be towers. There's a big hole in my dashboard where the NDB and the second VOR should be. They're out at some avionics shop being serviced, so I'm VFR. This is not as much fun as it should be.

There's not a lot of difference between what you see when flying in flat featureless prairie with three miles visibility in snow and what you see when flying in a cloud in the snow. It might sound like there should be, but in the first place you see three miles of white blurriness and in the second case you see 10 metres of white blurriness. There's not much to distinguish between one depth of blurriness and another. The ground that I see out of the front of my airplane is about three miles away, so if I have three miles visibility I can maybe sort of see the ground straight ahead of me. Or maybe that's just more snow. You kind of have to look out the side in front of the wing to see nearer ground. And when the visibility is that poor I'm not doing a lot of sightseeing out the sides. Which is why it takes a while for me to conclude that I am no longer clear of cloud in low visibility, but actually in cloud.

Note that three miles visibility is perfectly acceptible for VFR flight in the class E airspace of the airway between Ft. St. John and Ft. Nelson. If I change my track, as I'm gradually doing, so I'm no longer on the airway but in better weather to the east, one mile visibility is legal VFR. I'm not sure why they allow that. I guess it's just sanctioned flight in IMC for people who an't carry IFR fuel or are missing some technicality to file IFR. Like me. It would be utterly inappropriate for someone who actually required visual reference to keep their airplane on track and right side up.

Being in cloud is a situation that induces much pounding of the heart and dryness of the mouth for a VFR-only pilot. When you are an IFR-capable pilot in an airplane with good instrumentation but not VFR only on a technicality it is still a place you don't want to be, but it's more of an irritation. I'm trying to come up with a more politically correct metaphor but what I've got right now is that being in the middle of a cloud when you're supposed to be VFR is a bit like taking the wrong exit from an American freeway and finding yourself in a dead end in the projects. It doesn't matter who you are: you're doing the U-turn to get back where you wanted to go, but whether you're irritated or terrified depends on things like your race, size, and level of armament. In a cloud, the U-turn is the move to make. My eyes are on the gauges. I note, as training dictates, the time including seconds, in case the heading indicator dies in the turn. It should take me a minute to do a one-eighty. I start a rate one turn to the reciprocal heading and fly that heading until I can see ground for sure. It still works just as it did on the private pilot flight test.

I circle around further to the east and remain clear of cloud. I really don't want to have to land in Fort St. John to wait this out. I settle into an altitude with lousy but VFR visibility and cruise along there without further incident. About forty miles from my destination the sky and vis both open up. I can see almost all the way to where I'm going now. I collect the ATIS; I think there was ATIS, there, switch the fuel back to the main tanks and begin my stage cooling and top of descent checks.

I tell the flight service specialist his weather is a lot better than fifty miles south, but he doesn't sound interested. I tell him instead that I will do an overhead join for the active. I do so, turning downwind and landing on a runway that points towards the apron. I roll out, exit the runway and park in a line of aircraft with their backs to the runway. I hop out right away and put tents (quilted, fitted blankets) on the engines before they cool off. I add wing covers too. That snow may yet arrive here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Avidyne Meets The New Media

Someone at Avidyne Corporation must have read on Wired about how bloggers are the new media, because after I blogged about Oshkosh, I was contacted by a media person who "wondered if you’d be interested in speaking with Avidyne Corporation about their experience at Oshkosh – what they saw and what they liked." That e-mail was a little confusing. Avidyne wants to tell me what they liked at Oshkosh? I'd expect them to want to tell me about their products, not the rest of the show. I realize now that the wording was hooking into the last line of this blog entry, where I welcomed comments "about what you saw and liked" at Oshkosh. So points for having read the blog entry, and not sending spam. I got in touch, and she clairified, "I wasn’t pitching them to talk about their specific technology, just interesting happens at Oshkosh and the things they found cool. I wasn’t looking at it as a vendor play – more of an attendee testimonial."

I was still unclear on why someone at Avidyne wanted to tell me about the cool stuff they saw at Oshkosh, but hey, I'm always happy to chat to people about aviation, especially when there's a chance they know what they're talking about. We set up a time and they called at the appointed hour. I was introduced to Tom Harper, the Director of Marketing, and our 'conversation' began.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a conversation. It was a broadcast. And if it was about what Avidyne liked at Oshkosh, Avidyne never left its own tent. If the rep had told me in advance that it was to be a presentation on the company's MLX770 satellite weather radar and Entegra integrated flight deck systems, with an opportunity to ask questions at the end, I would probably still have said yes to the session, and I would have been prepared for that. But what I got was a barrage of words over which I had little influence. Tom apparently had me on speakerphone with his receive volume turned down, or some equivalent technology that allowed him to speak without hearing me. He didn't realize this because he didn't pause for listening acknowledgement. Maybe this is cultural, but it's one reason Canadians say 'eh?': even in a one way transfer of information, we expect the speaker to stop now and again to solicit "I'm following you" noises. I pause for feedback more often than he did when I lecture to a room full of people, and I can see their body language while I'm speaking. It wasn't until my actual questions for clarification on what he was saying were ignored that I realized that he couldn't even hear me. The woman who set up the call was still on the line and she occasionally intervened to indicate that I was asking a question, but I quickly understood that this was like a Lockheed-Martin weather briefing: just listen until the specialist is done talking.

The disappointing part is that I'm very interested in the evolution of cockpit instrumentation, specifically in the decisions and research and experiences that caused tiny changes from generation to generation, or this instrument to be shaped like this, or positioned here, with this kind of interface, so this meeting could have been a fascinating opportunity for me to learn and pass along some inside information on avionics technology development, but I was at the wrong show, as it were. I asked questions to try and elicit this sort of information, but Tom stayed "on message" so I didn't get what I wanted there.

Avidyne does have some cool toys, and had I known what I was getting into, I should have been delighted to get a preview of the Entegra WX, just announced to the public on Thursday. This is a system that gives the pilot weather radarlike information plus METARs and TAFs all integrated with navigation, orientation, and everything else a pilot has to know. It's nothing to be scoffed at, but I keep starting to pull details about the systems from my notes and then switching windows or going off to do something else. I finally realized that I am putting off writing this blog entry, as if it were some kind of chore that I had to do, like company paperwork. But I dp that happily and uncomplainingly. They were part of my job. This isn't.

I wasn't the only target for this marketing effort, so plenty of other bloggers have already covered the material. Instead of re-serving the same meal, I'll point you at Avidyne's list of other bloggers who covered the broadcast. I recommend Plastic Pilot, whose primary flying involves this kind of equipment and who either taped the interview or narrowed his session down to just a few questions at the end.

I guess I was just the wrong audience for the presentation. Such a shame it couldn't have been directed to me. Less is more. I was left feeling stupid. I have used XM radio weather products. I have used a satellite based product that allows me to send and receive e-mail from the cockpit. I have used EFIS multifunction displays. On one hand, I feel badly that they spent time with me and this blog entry is the fruit of their efforts, but on the other hand they didn't say "hey can we tell you a bunch of stuff about our products so you blog about it?" so it's not like I'm reneging on a deal.

Edit: Tom Harper got in touch with me about this blog entry, and he's a lot easier to follow in e-mail. It seems that my imitation of someone who is keeping up with what someone is saying is better than I thought, and that he and Kate had a different impression of the conversation. It's just that his enthusiasm and eagerness to give me details overwhelmed me. Maybe sometime I'll get a chance to play with the product and I'll be able to give you all some first hand comments on what it does.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Grande Cache Hiking

We have a few days without flying in Grande Cache and get a chance to go hiking in the hills. It's clearly bear country and this is the time of year when bears are eating everything they can fit in their mouths in preparation for hibernation, so we go all together in a noisy group, under the theory that the bears can't eat us all. Or maybe we've each sized up the others and chosen someone we're certain we can outrun.

I think this is quite a big tourist destination at the right time of the year. The Canadian Death Race, an extreme endurance event is held here, and there must be visitors to that wilderness park I mentioned. There are cairns at the top of some of the hills with a little passport stamping machine, so you can get proof that you have been to the summit. We didn't go on any of those hikes, though, so I can't show you any passport stamps.

Our first hiking destination was signed as Twin Falls. It was a pretty short hike along a trail that skirted the edge of a deep rock trench with a very little river in it. I'm guessing that river got a lot bigger during spring runoff. The trail kept disappearing but we chased it down and eventually made it to the end. I'm not sure why it was called Twin Falls, though. One theory was that it was named by someone who had had a lot of beer. Another was that when the volume of water was greater it divided. And there's the possibility that the two falls were in series, not in parallel, and that the first drop was too far up the rocks for us to see it from the (today empty) caldera at the base.

Our desire for hiking not yet slaked, we took another trail, this one more up than along. It was pretty steep and at times I was using my hands on rocks and tree roots to keep going up. It wasn't entirely clear where the trail was going to take us, and I think it's possible that it was going to lead all the way to a ridge that might have even been one of those knife-edge mountain ridges that I raved about as I few over them. We reached a point that was so steep that there were ropes hanging down. but I climbed up using just the rocks, not willing to trust the unknown ropes and attachment points. We stopped and turned back not long after that. We could have gone on, but we'd already split our party into those who wanted to go up the steeper part of the hill and those who waited below, and if we went on much longer we'd have difficulty returning in daylight. The days are getting pretty short in Grande Cache.

Winter is definitely approaching.

Friday, November 07, 2008

As Grande As It's Going to Be

Grande Cache is a very ordinary small Alberta town in a spectacular setting. Like almost every other small town in northern Alberta, the roads are named according to an ambitious scheme that imagines the highway and the main street that crosses it as the centre of a huge future metropolis. The highway through Grande Cache, the one I described as strewn with ravens and elk carcasses, becomes 100th Street as it goes through town. There might have been a speed limit change associated with the town, but I'm not certain. The highway is busy day and night with transport trucks. We have to be careful crossing the road for dinner. Perpendicular to the streets are numbered avenues. There's a 99th Avenue and a 101st Avenue, but they've at least given the main street a name, Hoppe Avenue. My hotel, at the side of the highway on the way into town is also at the town centre: 9900 99th Street. The crossing street has a strip mall, containing a post office, a pharmacy a pizza place and a few other stores. There are a few more hotels and associated bars and restaurants and that's about it. The town isn't going to grow any bigger, as it's surrounded by giant rocks.

It's the last town before the Rocky Mountains, and by daylight you can see the peaks thrusting up to the west. To the south is the Willmore Wilderness Park, off limits to all motorized vehicles. I'm allowed to overfly it, though. I also have to be careful to get a clearance before entering nearby class B airspace. There are no large airports around, and Canada doesn't have surface class B anyway. Like Wyoming the peaks are so high that working VFR clear of terrain puts us above 12,500', into the altitude where we need to be under ATC control. As the AIM says:

All low level controlled airspace above 12 500 feet ASL or at and above the MEA, whichever is higher, up to but not including 18 000 feet ASL will be Class B airspace.

The MEA (minimum enroute altitude for VFR traffic) above the mountains is higher than we might usually flying, but if we turn around out over the flat land to the east, we're below the lower prairie MEAs. That's a little weird to be so close to terrain and then suddenly be in class B airspace without climbing.

My first night in town on my own I walk around exploring. The mall is still open but most of the uninspiring stores are closed. The grocery store has just closed. The pizza place has been recommended to me, but I don't need to stoop to pizza so soon, and the amateur sign design turns me off. There's a Chinese restaurant here, probably operated by the descendant of someone who survived the building of the national railway. It has a sign that I can't call amateur, but the sheer abundance of gold and neon dragons is a little frightening. Near that is an ice cream store. Angled peel and stick letters proclaim Thursday to be Ukrainian Night there. At an ice cream store? I go in and enquire. Yep, Ukrainian. Another major pioneering group in this area. I have a plate of perogies, cabbage rolls and sausage, with ice cream for dessert. Yum.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Highway and Ravens

I hang out in the Regina airport for a bit, before I go through security. I buy postcards. And then some bizarre female hormonal fluctuation requires me to buy cute things. It must be some chemical mechanism designed to protect babies or something, but it is seriously miswired. I bought a fuzzy little Canada Goose stuffed toy and a girlie purse, neither of which I have any use for, especially in Grande Cache. But they are cute. And they were even on sale. At least they both fit in my carry on.

Did I mention I'm having a bad technology day? The lifting handle broke off my main suitcase, and the extendable handle snapped on one side. That's checked now, so I don't have to worry about it until lately, but it turns out that I still have my car key in my pants pocket and my coin purse too. I have a routine of where I put everything, and I never carry these things in my pockets, which is why I forget to take them out of my pocket before going through security. So I get beeped by the scanning machine. I apologize, go back, empty my pockets into a tray, go through again without beeping, and then try to recapture my interrupted routine. I do. Right down to not picking up the key and coins that I never have in my pockets and therefore aren't part of my reclaiming from the bins at airport security routine. Fortunately I remember them before the flight is called (because I'm playing with my cute new purse) and when I go back, security has kept them safe for me. Yay for CATSA.

My carry-on fits in the overhead bin, of both the Rj and the connecting Dash-8, although I have to convnce the flight attendant that it will. Flights are both quick and uneventful. The landing on the second flight is good enough that the flight attendant actually looks up in surprise and mentions it to me. I'm sitting in 1C, right in front of her jumpseat. Someone else is starting a good landing streak. I was going to tease the pilots that they should land harder so people can tell we're down, but I didn't see them. I had to go and rent a car. You cross the street to do that at Edmonton.

The Hertz counter is right in the middle. I give my name and say I have a reservation. As I start the paperwork, I mention that my coworker will be driving the car back. The agent doesn't like that idea. "He has to be here to sign the agreement."

I explain that the car exchange will take place in Grande Cache, where there is not a Hertz office. She is not sympathetic. I ask to take a copy of the form and have the other driver sign it and fax it in before driving the car. This won't do because Hertz has to verify the driving licence. I suggest that a copy of that be faxed, too. She counters that the copy could have been made just before the licence was suspended. Okay, what if I had an RCMP officer notarize the copy? She's not budging. I can tell by now that the Hertz agent wouldn't rent a car to her own deity if He wasn't able to produce the documentation she wanted. I tell her that's not acceptible to me, and I go and try the other counters.

"If I rent a car here, can my coworker drive it also without additional paperwork?"

The answer ranges from "Yes, but we only have a Mustang convertible," to "Yes, but we don't have any cars." Avis is incredulous that Hertz won't rent me the car. So this is policy is not based in any kind of law or Alberta insurance requirement. I call the Hertz nationwide line in hopes of finding someone who is permitted to think. But I get exactly the same answer.

"Why is a driver's licence verification from the RCMP not sufficient?"

"The RCMP doesn't have anything to do with Hertz." Neither will I, if I can help it. I ask to escalate the call to the next level. While I'm on hold for that I wander over to the Avis counter with a business card and ask to be put on a standby list for an available car.

The next level up on the customer service hierarchy is no more help. We do locate the nearest Hertz offices to Grande Cache, a couple of hours drive in each case. I suppose I can drive my coworker there, then both drive back. I imagine most people just ignore whose name is on the contract and Hertz' silly rules. But it's rough country. I don't want to have a car I rented hit an animal or something and not be insured.

I go back to the Avis counter. "You could have a car back any time now, right?"

"We have one right now."

"Thank you!" I beam. "Just a moment while I go and let Hertz know I won't need their car." Pause. "EVER!" I do that, and I'm on my way.

It's about five hours drive to Grande Cache. I skirt Edmonton itself and get onto the northwest-bound Yellowhead Highway. It's an excellent road: divided highway, two lanes each way, good pavement. Alberta has money to spend on infrastructure. Just past Hinton, where I had dinner at a Greek restaurant, I take a left turn onto highway 40. It still has reasonably good pavement, but is a narrower two lane road with almost no shoulder. I can tell before I see the yellow road signs that I need to be very, very careful of wildlife on this road. I'm in a small rental car in a wilderness park, and there are likely moose, elk, deer and bear around here, all itching to cross the road, or just to wander along it.

Now, a wild animal encountering a road doesn't have the same thought processes as a human who has to cross a road, or even as a cat. I think a cat gets the concept of the road being a strip of danger that it has to traverse quickly without being caught by the cars. But a deer? A deer does not get the concept of traffic. A deer will bounce onto the road in front of you, then bounce towards you, then stand stock still, then bounce away, and then bounce right back in front of you again. Deer would not score well in Frogger.

It's not dark yet, but it will be twilight soon and I have an hour and a half to drive on this road. Watching the road and the shoulders for wildlife is a bit like doing an instrument scan while flying. Left ditch, road, right ditch, road, left ditch, road, right ditch, road. I turn a corner and spot my first wildlife. It's a raven, much smarter than a deer, and it hops off the road as I approach. My line of vision passes beyond it and lights on a group of several more ravens, all standing on the corpse of what looks like an elk. I wonder whether the animal was struck on the road and scrambled off but didn't quite make it to the trees before dying, or whether it was struck and killed, and either the driver or the highways people just hauled it to the side of the road.

I'll bet this car wasn't tested with the moose crash test dummy that Volvos are. (If you don't read that whole report, you should at least know the best line: "In Australia, tests with kangaroo dummies are hard to generalize due to a very dynamic centre-of-gravity." Boing, boing, boing!

The same scene is repeated about 30 kilometres later, on the other side of the road. Another dead deer or elk, hard to tell, lies in the long grass, with ravens feasting on it. The third dead hulk I encounter by the side of the road is that of a demolished car. I wonder if I'm far enough north now that all carcasses, animal mineral or vegetable, are not hauled away, merely pushed off to the side and left there. You get far enough north and at an airstrip you will find the remains of any airplanes that have ever crashed there, either on the apron or in the bush just past the area that is cleared at the sides of the runway.

I arrive at Grande Cache without having hit any elk, ravens or other vehicles just before dark. Phew.

Aww rats! As I write this up I'm watching a movie, and what was either a flubbed line or a script error just spolied a good laugh. The movie investigators are looking for someone who birthplace they have discovered was in the former Yugoslavia. One agent is telling the others that he has already reached contacts in the relevant agencies in "Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina." A funny jab at the continued balkanization of the Balkans, and would have made the agent look smart, being able to keep up with all that too except that we know Bosnia and Herzegovina to be the name of one country. To emphasize the length of the list, the line should have been "... and Bosnia and Herzogovina." It's a Canadian movie, too, I'm pretty sure, because part of it is set in Iqaluit. A Canadian version of Outbreak with a weird mafia twist. I'm going to assume the writer got it right, the actor didn't know that B&H was one country, and the editor, or whatever you call that job in a movie, missed it.

Appropriately enough, the movie featured an ancient disease being spread by northern birds feasting on a corpse.