Sunday, June 07, 2009

Too Many Swans

We meet at 7:30 as planned and load the airplane. She flies and I admire the scenery, taking a few pictures: I hope some of them worked out well enough to post later. I haven't had time to look at them yet.

She calls the FSS 30 miles out, with our intention to land on runway 25. The FSS advises us of a Jetstream with the same ETA, for runway 30. They are converging runways with enough room for us to stop before the intersection. We'll work out any conflict as we get closer.

My coworker thinks the Jetstream has a stupid name, because it's not a jet. For some reason I can't quite fathom, I try to defend it. It's marketing: they wanted it to sound cool "jet" was cool then. Heck when they named that airplane "streamlining" was still cool. It brings to mind "Gulfstream" a prestige aircraft. She points out that it was probably named after the meteorological jetstream. Now that I write this I wonder when the jetstream was named. Was it named after the jets that use it, or was it named after what a jet engine was named after: a jet, i.e. a narrow fast moving band of fluid? Probably the latter.

Regardless of what the Jetstream was named after, it's still on approach. They say they will hold short of our runway. We can also hold short of the intersection. The FSS guy isn't concerned about us landing at the same time, and we do, touching down at the same instant. They call the FSS with an intention to backtrack 30 to Swanberg Air, and the FSS gives us the choice of backtracking 25 or 30 to the apron. My colleague says "We're going to Swanberg, too. We'll follow them in."

"Oh are we going to Swanberg or Swan Aero?" I ask. She's been talking to company.

"There's more than one swan?"

"This town has a thing about swans," I explain. "They have some kind of rare whistling swan breeding ground. Everything is named after swans."

"You've put some thought into this," she teases.

"We were in the Swan Aero hangar last time."

She shrugs and amends her taxi call to the FSS, "I didn't know there were so many swans around here." The FSS guy chuckles and admits there are a few.

I direct her to the hangar we used last time and she checks her watch. The turbochargers need another minute to cool off before shutdown. Before the minute is up someone comes up to marshal us to another area. I bet he thinks we've come for fuel, but lacking a hand signal meaning, "no, we really want to be here, we're here to use the hangar" we follow his marshalling signals to an adjacent pad and then shut down and explain. He hasn't heard anything about us coming for maintenance.

Our company maintenance guy comes up and tells us Swanberg is two hangars over. We're supposed to be there, but there's a Jetstream in the way right now, so we have to wait. I wonder if Air Canada and Canadian Airlines used to have this kind of problem.

We eventually arrive in front of Swanberg, are towed into the hangar and go to work pulling cowls and opening panels for the inspection. The engineer offers us an electric screwdriver, but we both decline. Engineers, surely you know better than to place an electric screw destroyer in the hands of a pilot! The resident engineers are curious about this operation with a male:female ratio of less than one, and we are invited for coffee. Oh yeah, coffee break. That's something that engineers do. It always seems weird to me that everyone just stops working every two hours even though everything was going fine. We work until all the panels are open for inspection then go find a hotel.

Our engineer plans for this inspection to be done by tonight, but that will run us up against the end of our duty days. Even though I didn't fly here, my duty clock started ticking at the 7:30 a.m. report. But if I get opportunity for at least two hours of sleep, then I can apply half of that rest period as an extension to my duty day. I get to the hotel just before eleven. If I can sleep until three that will extend me by two hours, which should be enough. I do manage to sleep pretty well, despite the fact that the hotel has really pathetic curtains. Who builds a hotel in the land of the midnight sun and then equips it with transparent curtains?

At four my coworker returns and we look for food. The first two restaurants we try are closed down. Weird. The town seems to be doing pretty well. (We later find out that they closed down last year at the height of the boom because they couldn't hire enough staff.) Near the centre of town we find an open bistro. It's Mediterranean, maybe Tunisian. We both have the special which is goat meat and potatoes cooked with turmeric and served with a Greek salad. It's served right away at the counter where we order, so no waiting. The food is really good, and the service is friendly. I wish I remember the name so I can recommend it to anyone who happens to pass through Grande Prairie and is tired of chain restaurants.

Back at the hangar we reverse the morning's work and help put the panels back on. We also need to test the ELT. It's 5:15 p.m. The rules for testing an ELT require tests to take place only during the first five minutes of a UTC hour. We reinstall all the other panels and then wait four minutes for the top of the hour. I hop in the cockpit, turn on the electrical master and avionics master and tune the radio to 121.5 with the audio set to speaker. "Okay!" I call. "Ready!" It's 6:01.

Someone outside flicks the ELT switch to "ON" and we can all hear the whooping sound of the alert transmitted from the ELT and picked up on the radio. You're really supposed to test it using another radio not right in the aircraft, to make sure the signal is strong enough, but that was pretty strong. The ELT is set back to ARM and we replace the cover.

We tow the airplane outside and I run it up with the cowls off so the engineer can tinker with it. It's a little disconcerting having someone working that close to a running engine. He's inside my normal no-go radius for people walking on the apron. I put my hand on the mixture and the mags of the engine so I can shut it down if anything happens, but if he is so close to the propeller that I might not have time to react if he stumbles or zones out and walks in the wrong direction.

We recowl the engine and run it up again. Everything passes inspection and we shut down the airplane for the night. The customer can't get hotel rooms for us tonight at our destination, so we're to stay here tonight and fly tomorrow. Now after four hours of napping it is going to be hard to get to sleep and be rested for my 7:30 report, but I'd better do my best as I'll probably have to fly a late mission tomorrow night.


Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Trix:

Since, sort of, you brought it up...and since the topic has been the subject of much discussion lately...could you comment on the impact (if any) of your rather fractured rest/sleep pattern on safety of flight?


Geekzilla said...

"Oh yeah, coffee break. That's something that engineers do. It always seems weird to me that everyone just stops working every two hours even though everything was going fine."

I love your witty observations - even about Texans!

Sir Lukenwolf said...

Swantastic story ;-)

I seem to remember an earlier post some time back, when you were there previously.

Just an out of whack question. Inspired by your blog I did some MS Flight Simulator flying in Nunavut and Manitoba lately and I found places like Iqaluit or Rankin Inlet without a tower, just a traffic frequency. Is that really so in Nothern Canada?

Sarah said...

"Too Many Swans" has a familiar ring to it from your last visit... but no matter.

The jet stream appears to have been discovered several times, suspected by a Japanese researcher in the '20s and named by a German in the 30's, the Strahlströmung, "jetstream". Leave it to a german to come up with a portmanteau.

I'd never heard of the aircraft - we don't see that many down here.

I see why simultaneous landings were not too unusual. The runways only intersect at the extreme ends of 07/25 and 12/30. Sort of an unusual layout for cross runways?

People getting near spinning propellers always raises the hairs on the back of my neck. I have too good an imagination, and never want to see anything like that accident happen.

Sir Lukenwolf said...

Well, the Jetsream is a family of british made commuter aircraft (Handley-Page IIRC). Started with the 32, a 19 seater, then the 41 (30 seats) and finally the (inofficially named) Jetstream 61, which is the BAe ATP a 64 seater.

Following Aviatrix' and clouddancers blogs I believe it would most likely be a JS-32.

IJ said...

The Jetstream is a turboprop - I've always thought the jet bit would come from the fact it has a turbine, which has been stretched to jet in the name.

Sarah said...

Jep, lj, and one of the earlier turboprops. They were apparently proud of that turbine & wanted it in the name.

When it was introduced in 1967, wasn't the dominant commuter the recip. Convairs?

Well, other than the DHC-6 and I guess 'jetstream' north of the border, and yes, the occasional Gulfstream I.

Of course, I wasn't there. Or looking up, if I was.

Aviatrix said...

Yes, I know I have blogged about the proliferation of swans before. I was going to link to the earlier post but didn't remember to do so when I moved the text from Notepad (where I compose offline) to the online post form. I thought that people who had read the earlier post would enjoy anticipating the confusion and appreciate that fact that had I not injected my "wisdom" about the quantity of swans at that airport, she would have followed the Jetstream to the correct swan. And while I paused to think of how to word that last sentence, my eyes rested on a box of tissues next to me: white Swan brand tissues. They're everywhere.

Yes, airports with no control tower are extremely common in Canada. There are only forty-one control towers in the entire country. Another 52 airports, including Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet have a flight services station on the field giving traffic advisories for at least part of the day. The FSS tells the pilot the winds and active runway and the pilot tells the FSS where she will land. There is no requirement to use the runway the specialist has recommended. If the tower or FSS is closed for the night, or if there is no tower or FSS in the first place, aircraft coordinate their own movements entirely.

Some airports also have a remote FSS, such that the mandatory frequency is monitored by a flight service specialist, sometimes not even in the same province. He can tell me what other aircraft have reported in, but he's just keeping track of what tey told him.

Aviatrix said...

As I look at that list I realize that Fort Nelson has been upgraded to a control tower since that report came out, so that makes it 42 and 51, if there have been no other changes.

rigpig said...

Hi, cool blog here....say i was wondering about some of these smaller Canadian airports...i mean some of these that have
'control tower like' that doesn't necessarily mean 'fully staffed by dedicated flight controllers'? I know you mentioned Ft Nelson being status upgraded recently....that airport has had what
looks like a control tower for a few years now. Dawson Creek BC is another one that has had a separate free standing tower for some time, iirc ....but it looks like it's on the 2ndary list you had mentioned there. Thx&rgds.

Aviatrix said...

I'll do a post on air traffic control and FSS, seeing as I'm getting these questions.