It's almost summer on the calendar, and I think it's safe to say that summer has arrived here. The temperature no longer drops below freezing overnight, and the bugs have arrived. They aren't so bad in the heat of the day--which gets up well into the twenties--but land in the evening and as I'm putting the plane to bed they descend in a whining swarm. When I was a kid, the worst part of mosquitoes was the itching bites. I remember crying over them. But now, although I can feel a few on each forearm as I type, I think I'd rather spontaneously develop itchy welts than have to have to hear them whining in my ears and feel them piercing my skin with their possibly contaminated little proboscises every time I go outside.
My coworker landed at one and while the customer drover her back to the hotel, I prepped the airplane for the next flight. The fueller here is excellent: he's parked in front of the airplane as soon as the propellers have spun down to ask the requested fuel load, and if we land after they have left and ask to be fuelled by a time in the morning, the airplane is always full of fuel when we get there. Also they gave me a very cool pen. The windows were juicy with bugs, so I cleaned them off, just using a soft fibre wipey cloth and soap and water in a spray bottle. There are two spray bottles in the cleaning kit, the other one is filled with Varsol to remove grease from the paint. I know this so I not only check the label carefully, but test spray the one labelled "Soap & H2O" to verify its contents. On my hand. It's properly labelled but I laugh at myself. I guess my hand won't turn permanently discoloured if I accidentally get varsol on it. But literally imposing my flesh between my airplane and harm is somewhat overdedicated.
After start, the FSS (that's their office, in the picture that looks like a tower) tells me that the wind is 080 at ten, preferred runway 08. There's also an aircraft coming in for 03. I say I'll taxi for 08. That's a little awkward as I have to backtrack 03 a short way to get to it. The FSS guy suggests I go to the other end and backtrack 08 instead. That works, and I call "entering 08 at bravo for the backtrack, will hold short of 03." That's for the FSS and the incoming pilot so they know they don't have to worry about a runway incursion. The airplane isn't down as I reach the hold short line, so I just turn around and line up there, leaving 500' of runway behind me. Runway behind me one of the most useless things in aviation. There's still enough for my takeoff in these conditions, but it focuses me on my procedures. Climb performance is slow. It's fun to climb out over the river valley after rotation. It wouldn't be quite so fun if I lost an engine at rotation, but I get the gear up right away and both engines keep turning today.
Further north, on a westbound track, it starts to get hazy. There are large areas of forest fires north and west of here; they even closed portions of the Alaska highway for a few days. I told you it was summer in the north. There are forest fire NOTAMs out but not near enough to where we're working to affect our operations. My eyes are stinging. I think it's mostly sunblock coming off my face, but it's probably exacerbated by smoke particles. Ow ow ow ow. I'm flying with one eye open now, and barely holding the airplane on the precise line I'm supposed to follow. "What's going on up there?" asks the mission specialist.
"You don't want to know," I reply. Finally I grab my waterbottle. It's not the nozzle type, so it's hard to use as an eyewash. It just has a wide mouth so I can drink a lot quickly, so I pour a lot quickly over my face, down my shirt, onto my lap. That cleans out the eyes okay. And I bring lots of water so I won't have to ration. Icky wet seat, though.
I'm monitoring the nearest aerodrome frequency, it's an FSS, and the normal enroute frequency of 126.7. An American voice calls Fort Nelson radio with a position report in a small airplane with a November registration. He is on a flight plan from Watson Lake to Fort St. John. He might be on his way back from a one-in-a-lifetime trip to Alaska. Or maybe he goes back and forth several times a year. I don't think so, because there's a careful precision to the call that suggests to me that he's savouring something that is important to him. I smile for him. He's flown across some amazing but hostile territory and now he's in foreign airspace coping with our rules and regulations. After his position report he asks for the "St. John" weather. Funny. Is it normal to drop the "Fort" from placenames in the US? Do you fly into "Worth"? I know that many Canadian placenames used to have Fort and no longer do. Most of the remaining Forts have non-fort counterparts. Fort Nelson is an Alaska Highway town full of oil and gas guys driving pick up trucks and living in trailers or basic box houses. Nelson is a hippy enclave with cute painted houses and an economy fuelled by marijuana grow ops. Fort St. John is just like Fort Nelson, except 400 km south along a highway inhabited by nothing but moose. St. John is a small city on the east coast. (and, just to keep things interesting, so is St. John's, but in a different province). Ft. McMurray doesn't, and I guess you hear just "McMurray" sometimes, but more often "Fort Mac."
The FSS guy knows that He wants the Ft. St. John weather and not the St. John weather and gives it to him, reminding him that if he wants further services of that type he should call Edmonton radio on 123.55. The pilot reads back that frequency, but seeing as he got all the way to Alaska and back without figuring it out, he probably still doesn't know why he was told that. He knows that you can get weather and flight planning information from an FSS. He called an FSS. So why did the guy send him to another frequency? What he doesn't know, and isn't clear from the publications, is that there are two kinds of FSS duties. The FSS at a field that doesn't havea tower, is a quasi tower. They take position reports and help to maintain safety of landing, departing and transiting aircraft. But if you want weather, or to file a flight plan, you call another frequency and get the central FSS for the whole region, where the person has all the resources, and isn't trying to keep track of B1900 and an ultralight competing for the same runway. It's very common to hear American pilots using on-airport FSS frequencies, or 126.7 for long weather or flight planning related calls. The FSS folks are so nice about it that I suspect the pilots think the new frequency they are given is just the next one along their route of flight, like US flight following.
It makes me wonder what errors I make in the US that mark me, as much as my callsign, as not from around here. What do US pilots cringe at again and again from Charlie callsigns or Canadian-based airlines?
Of course the pilot I heard could be from Alaska, and on his first international flight, but why would you leave Alaska in June, just as the weather is finally getting good?
When I land there's a text from my co-worker apologizing for not cleaning the bugs. I know the feeling: you're on approach thinking "I really have to clean this windshield" but as soon as you're down you have other priorities. When would she have had a chance to do it, anyway? I was there when she taxied in.