Thursday, November 26, 2009

Digging Out

It's almost a shame to check out of our luxurious rooms, but the snow has truly stopped and the ceiling is sufficient for us to make our escape. The airport shuttle is out of order so we call a cab to get to the airport.

We somewhat regretfully call the after hours number for our hangar contact. It's 8:30 on Sunday morning the day after Hallowe'en and it's a safe bet he wasn't planning on coming in quite this early. He answers though, and says he'll be there in half an hour. He is, and maybe a little bit early. We load our gear, preflight, and confirm that the hangar bill is taken care of. We're ready to go.

Before we can get the airplane out of the hangar, we have to get the other airplanes out, but before we can do that, we have to clear the snow. He has a little Honda tractor, the same one we've been towing airplanes with, fitted with a plough blade. He starts by driving around in an oval pattern, with one straightaway across the ramp entrance of the hangar. We shovel the snow away from the ends and he orbits until there is enough of a clear space immediately in front of the hangar for him to push snow straight away from it. He tows a caravan out and then goes after ours. The beams supporting the roof of the hangar are lower to the sides of the hangar than the middle, and where our airplane is parked the beams are lower than the top of our vertical stabilizer. So how did the airplane get parked back there? Same way as we're going to get it out. The expert hooks up the tow bar, I stand on the rear airstairs and my coworker jumps up and hangs off the horizontal stabilizer. That tips the whole empennage down enough that it will pass under the beam as the tow tractor pulls it. That's not an uncommon procedure. Sometimes they have a concrete block already to hook up to the tail tiedown ring, for the same purpose.

With the airplane outside, we're ready to go. We apologize again for rousing the other pilot on a Sunday morning, and hope that some of the hangar fees we've been paying will find his way into his paycheque. He says he expects it will be reflected in a full employee beer fridge. Ah beer: the Canadian currency of debts that mere money cannot address.

I text the customers with a pessimistic arrival time. There's a low ahead to the south, so I am expecting a headwind or at best a crosswind, and I don't want to be late after they've been waiting for three days. The run-up is uneventful and this time not only is visibility good, but we have an absolutely hammering tailwind. Yeah, tailwind. The low isn't where I thought it was. We're above a very thin layer of cloud that we can see right through and we're going to be an hour ahead of schedule. The customers are going to think we forgot the time change last night.

The very thin layer of cloud thickens a lot, but we still want to be over it. Canadian VFR over the top rules require our destination to be pretty much clear for hours before and after our forecast arrival and there's no weather report or forecast for our destination, so to avoid scud running, we would be obligated to use the GFA, which definitely doesn't forecast such a thing in our area. The nearest station to our destination is currently 11,000 broken, which is just fine, but its TAF is calling for 2000' broken and a mile in snow. So we can't fly above a cloud layer on the basis of that forecast. We have a band of cloud here, ending just to the south, with the winds clearly showing that the low is to the north. So are we rebels to think we're better than the forecast and overfly the cloud layer despite the nasty forecast? Heck no. We'll use a trick the trans-Atlantic carriers do. The ol' file 'n' switch.

So as far as the VFR-over-the-top is concerned, we're going to Regina. We've got the fuel. Regina has a TAF and is wide open. And there is nothing illegal about being on our perfectly legal way to Regina and then landing somewhere else along the way instead. Airlines do the opposite. They can't carry enough fuel for the legal requirement to get all the way from North American points of origin to many European destinations. So they officially fly to London, and then when they have almost reached London, switch over to Berlin, because the excess fuel required to go from London to Berlin is less than from New York to Berlin. You're allowed to file to any airport you please, and you are never restricted from landing early or refiling to anywhere you can legally go.

The clouds below thin out just before top of descent and we descend through the scattered layer without even having to detour to the south as we expected. The airport is easy to find and the plug-ins at transient parking even work, once we reset the circuit breaker. We put on the wing covers, which are the wrong size, but were all along. I remember them from last year. You have to be creative. And you know, based on our flight planning, that we are.

There's a surprisingly lovely pilot lounge with new, matching furniture and a big flat screen TV. It's sort of confusing. Standard pilot lounge decor is the discards from someone else's remodelling.

Then the customers pick us up and take us to an even classier hotel. We thought we were lucky with our upgrade at the last place. Ha! This hotel room is big enough to get lost in. And it's brand new. Almost too bad we're going home as soon as our replacements arrive, probably tomorrow. I have to finish up my paperwork then repack everything so anything sharp or liquid is in my checked bag and anything valuable or fragile is in my carry-on.

A friend of mine just lost a digital camera to someone who had access to her checked luggage, and it's disturbing. Not just in the sense of "damn, I liked that camera and it was expensive" but also in the sense that if they can take something like that out of your suitcase and get it out of the secure area unobserved, what can they put in it?


GPS_Direct said...

"We've got the fuel."

That's the key phrase, as your trick of refiling reminds me of one that I've heard some folks use on the way to the Bahamas. If they're flying down from the Carolinas, they may not be able to make it with IFR reserves. So, instead they file to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami and put down Freeport or Nassau as their alternate. Then even though the METAR is reporting clear and a million they say "We can't make that, we're going to our alternate."

Now, flying over open water and pushing my fuel limit would make me a little too intimate with my seat cushion... But it's yet another interesting way of legally getting the regs to work for you.

Hope you enjoyed the digs while you had the chance.

Sarah said...

I'm trying to picture a hangar that would have "beams are lower than the top of our horizontal stabilizer". Not even a quonset hut - no beams. Do I have not enough imagination or did you mean vertical stab/rudder ?

I salute your creative use of VFR over the top. It must be a bit frustrating to be restricted to VFR all the time, ( though in winter, in the north, ice would be a more scary restriction than regulations ).

The TSA in the US used to put paper notes in your luggage when they opened it. I could always tell anyway, the contents were tossed - and I eventually learned to not pack what I think triggered the inspections. And to avoid temptation, I always carry small valuables, not in checked luggage.

zb said...

Thanks for the great explanation of ol' file'n'switch. Funny it even works for scheduled flights that have a completely different name of a city on the sign at the check-in counter than in their flight plan. Might be the source for PA announcements like "Ladiesandgentlemen, on behalf of Creative Airlines, I'd like to welcome you on board of this scheduled service to Lon... err, Berlin." On a side-note, I guess the Berliners wish that more trans-atlantic traffic would go there instead of DUS, FRA and MUC.

I guess the same thing may have happened when I flew to L.A. form DUS, Germany many years ago on a MD11. There were strong headwinds over the Atlantic Ocean and you could tell they knew about them because they did a 180 at the end of the runway in DUS to use every inch of it for take-off. While we were over the Canadian North, even a fuel stop in Winnipeg was announced, but the flight continued all the way to L.A. Might have been a flight plan to San Francisco or Las Vegas that was changed to L.A. at the last minute...

Anonymous said...

The old file and switch can also get one in over their head. I know Aviatrix has a very healthy respect for ice, but some people don't.

My second ever GA flight I was passenger in a Mooney with 3 other friends. It was in the middle of winter, and we flew HPN to ALB, severe clear.

After a couple of hours we wanted to return, but a warm front had come through south of ALB. There was a cloud layer the whole way, and lowish ceilings at HPN, and freezing levels in the layer. ie freezing rain in the layer, and sleet on the ground.

I was just a passenger, having not yet gotten into aviation. FSS gave the pilot a hard time about filing to HPN, so he pilot filed to somewhere in the clear. He alluded to this before we left, but we weren't really informed passengers. Enroute he changed destination to HPN.

In the descent through the cloud deck he kept checking the building ice on the wings with a flashlight, and continued on down.

By the time we got on the ground, we were in a flying ice cube.
The wings had 1/2" ice on the leading edges and the stall horn flap was frozen in the unstalled position.

I would have kissed the ground on landing, but my lips would have frozen to the ground.

When FSS says "IFR flight not recommended due to icing", they mean it.

Took me most of a decade to get over it and learn to fly myself. I'm IFR rated and a whole lot more conservative as a result of that. I like to think I would never do anything like that.

The technique of holding the tail down to move the airplane is a good idea. Using the concrete block securely attached to the tail tie down is a better idea than people hanging on the plane. I wouldn't want to explain to the boss how someone lost their grip and the plane contacted the beams. That would fall under "It seemed like a good idea at the time"

Aviatrix said...

Good catch, Sarah. my fingers were apparently thinking ahead to the next line.

A Squared said...

"But it's yet another interesting way of legally getting the regs to work for you."

That's not "getting the regs to work for you" that's disregarding the good advice encapsulated in the regs.

Aviatrix mentioned it, but it's worth emphasizing that the reason Airlines do "planned re-dispatch enroute" on international flights is that the international fuel requirements include an amount of fuel that's based on the length of the entire flight. ie: Under the same regulations, the reserve required for a New York-Paris flight is huge compared to a London-Paris flight. Essentially what happens (and I'm simplifying a bit) is that when the flight is nearly overhead London, the weather and fuel remaining is examined, and if enough fuel is on board to satisfy the requirements of a London-Paris flight, given the new weather forecasts and observations, the flight, with the concurrence of dispatch, is re-dispatched to Paris.

Part 91 IFR reserves are a flat 45 minutes, regardless of the length of flight, so the principle doesn't transfer. If you're doing a file and switch under part 91, to get around fuel requirements that you can't in reality meet, it's not too clever, because it's just a loophole to justify departing without legal fuel reserves. If you're planning an overwater IFR flight to an island to arrive over your destination with less that 45 minutes fuel remaining, you might want to re-consider your decision making process.

Fort Pierce has a nice FBO. They sell gas. Every gallon you buy there is a gallon you don't have to buy at Island prices. I'm trying to imagine a compelling reason to fly past without dropping in, and I'm not succeeding.

Aviatrix said...

And then there's the northern thing I used to hate of going VFR in crappy weather because the weather was too bad to go IFR. With NDB approaches and GFAs only for forecasts there can easily be no airport anywhere within fuel range for an alternate. So you go VFR at 500'. Yum.

GPS_Direct said...

"If you're planning an overwater IFR flight to an island to arrive over your destination with less that 45 minutes fuel remaining, you might want to re-consider your decision making process."

Heh, heh... I wholeheartedly agree. I think that making the crossing in a Cherokee or 172 calls for full tanks and a climb to 12,000 before going feet wet. You can glide to a beach from most any point... Besides, I need to rent the life raft from the FBO anyhow. Of course, some folks won't even think of doing the flight in a single...

Btw, I'm not suggesting that it's OK to file and switch if it's actually IFR in the islands. No fuel to get back across the H2O after going missed would REALLY ruin your day!

Rather, I was saying that doing a "divert" when the WX is CAVU allows them to file and do the flight "in the system" then cancel IFR after crossing and still have VFR reserves on landing. Seems similar to re-filing at London to me. If the WX goes south, then land at filed destination and gas up.