Sunday, May 31, 2009


There might be what appears to be a free lunch, but something else always gets you in the end.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho. It's off to work I go. With a headset and a map And a suitcase full of crap Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Hi Ho.

Except in this case, scratch the suitcase.

I checked it in before departure, and dropped it wheels up on the appropriate conveyor belt, but I didn't do what a savvy traveller should really be doing every time. I didn't look at the paper tape that the agent attached to the handle. It's mostly bar codes, but it should also have borne the letters YMM. You know what is coming now, but I was oblivious, just happy that the airline had a complimentary copy of the Globe and Mail for me, and that there was a short line for security. And then I was distracted until just before boarding by difficulties unhibernating my computer.

On the descent into Calgary, I had put away my Globe and Mail, and cinched up my seatbelt for the roller coaster turbulence coming from high winds over the Rocky Mountains on a hot day. I still had my boarding pass on my lap, and something odd caught my eye. The checked baggage sticker on the back started with the code YU. It's common for internal codes to omit the first Y of an airport code, so that VR is Vancouver (YVR) and UL is Montreal (YUL), but YYU is Kapuskasing. I'm going to Fort McMurray, YMM. Does YYU even have airline service? I examine it more closely and realize that YU isn't a partial airport code. It's someone's name. It's followed by a slash and the first name. Is that who checked me in? She didn't look like a Yu. I look over the rest of the claim check. It lists two flight numbers, one to Calgary, but not mine, and one to YXE. That's Saskatoon.

It's possible that I just have the wrong claim check sticker and that everything is fine with my bag. Or it's possible that my bag does not have the same travel plans as I do today. I explain my concerns to the gate staff where I disembark and they recognize the problem. Sure enough, there is no piece of checked baggage associated with my itinerary. I describe the bag and they type at computers and radio the baggage handlers to divert it. The situation appears to be under control, so I continue to my planned lunch meet.

Daniel recognizes me right away -- green hair is easy to spot, especially blowing wildly in the Calgary winds -- and I ask him if he's the man with the falafels. He admits to a change of plans: for various complicated reasons my free lunch is an enormous amount of chicken (or possibly beef: I'm not sure which one I ended up with) shwarma, with lots of spices and lettuce and whatever the Arabic is for tzaziki, all wrapped up in pita bread. Also olives and upscale orangeade.

Security chased us away from the first picnic table we chose. I had to ask, "is this a special secure picnic table?" No, it was the place the truck drivers ate. We went to another, not much further along. There we ate our sandwiches, talked about the same sort of things I talk about on the blog, chased down the bits of our picnic that kept blowing away in the wind, and wished each other well. Altogether preferable to eating at a chain restaurant in the terminal.

At the gate I enquired about my suitcase. They weren't the same people I had spoken to before, but they looked it up and said that it appeared to have been found. Ten minutes later they paged me to assure me it was on the flight. Except it wasn't. Right after I had explained to the person who came to pick me up that my suitcase had almost gone to Saskatoon without me, the baggage carousel stopped moving and there was a "that's it" announcement. I got to explain the saga again to the YMM customer service people, who got to work on tracing it.

I was just ruing my failure to notice the mis-tagging at the origin, but they were amused that I had noticed and interpreted the codes, and further amused that I produced a printed list of everything that had been in the bag when they asked what was in it. This is actually the first time I remember an airline (not counting Victory: they lost everyone's bags all the time) misplace my gear when it wasn't caused by a late flight and a tight connection.

Damnit, I should have double-checked that bag tag!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On Time So Far

Indications are that I will be landing in YYC as scheduled.

Also, if you copy Buns of Steel IV off an ancient VHS tape onto a DVD, and then you leave that DVD in your computer and hibernate it, the computer will not come out of hibernation until you use a bobby pin to open the DVD drawer and remove the DVD.

Yeah, a bobby pin. Like a 1950s detective novel, eh?

Prepreflight Planning

I'm going to a new place; what do I need to know before I get there in order to look like I know what I'm doing? I can plan a flight to a random place named by the client in the time it takes for the fuel order to arrive, or divert in midair and still be okay, but when I'm going to be based out of a place for a while, I can give myself a head start by finding out a few things in advance.

CYMM has a single runway 07/25, with right hand circuits on 07, making all circuits to the south, away from the aprons. The runway is paved, 150' wide, 7000' long and at 1211' elevation. (Yes, Canadians still use the old imperial measurements for such things. It was, I assume, deemed to dangerous to make an overnight switch to a new system of measurement. Or maybe we're afraid that thirty party suppliers of approach plates and electronic navigation products, would (like Microsoft with its British, American but no Canadian spellchecker), deem Canada too small a market to cater to, and thus we'd be deprived of useful products in our measuring system of choice.) It is served by at least three FBOs, with almost every variety of aviation fuel for sale. It's a small airport choked with oilfield traffic. The Google satellite view indicates that almost every building on the field is under construction.

The aerodrome has METARs and its own 24 hour TAF, with other useful weather coming from YZH, YNR, YOD, YPY and maybe YVT. The weather systems move mainly east and southeast here. Northern Alberta is reporting mainly clear this morning. Seven degrees as I type this, but was three two hours ago, probably sub-zero overnight.

The aerodrome has an RCO to the Edmonton FSS, plus there's an FSS on the field (with, according to one report, hot female staffers). There's a VOR and an NDB, but I'll have to get the approaches when I get there as the only Alberta plates I have with me are way out of date.

There are a fair number of small airports in the vicinity. Fort Mac is the only nearby place with services, but there will be at least telephones and emergency shelter on the ground at:

  • Gordon Lake Airport (23 nm E)
  • Muskeg Tower Airport 30 nm NNE
  • Mildred Lake Airport 26 nm N
  • Fort MacKay 34 nm N
  • Horizon 46 nm N
  • Namur Lake 67 W

There are others. The nearest bigger airport is probably CFB Cold Lake, 138 nm south, and Edmonton International is 216 nm south-southwest, so I'm practically in the big city.

As for the town itself, no one picked up the good news/bad news part of my line about going to Fort McMurray for work. It's not known across the country as a centre of civilization, shall we say. It's known as the place that a young man can go straight out of school and make a lot of money. In the daytime the town appears to have been hit by some bizarre plague that has wiped out every able-bodied male over the age of seventeen. They are all in the oilfields, because no one would work in a service industry in this town if they could work where the money is. And young men with lots of money spend it on trucks, boats, women, alcohol and in many cases stronger drugs.

A coworker reported that the young women of Fort Mac had only two questions for him: "Where do you work?" and "How big's your truck?" He drove an F150 so that was the last question they asked him, but apparently the welder (a welding truck is pretty big) was quite a hit.

So I'm prepared for busy airspace and a cultural experience. Who knows, there might even be barbeque.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Calgary Picnic Meet

I'm meeting a reader just north of the YYC passenger terminal on Saturday, about 11:30 a.m. Calgary time. He knows of some picnic tables near the meeting spot shown, and is bringing me non-airport food. (I just had to brag about that).

View I suggest this meeting place. in a larger map

If you're in the area, feel free to join us. BYOP. Don't come far, because this does involve airplanes, and as such is susceptible to circumstance. I'll try to post an Saturday morning update confirming that I'm on schedule.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good News, Bad News

I have good news and I have bad news. I'll let you figure out which are which.

  • I'm going back to work soon.
  • I'm going to be working in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
  • I had a great time on vacation/layoff.
  • I'm busy getting ready for work, so I'm not blogging this week.
  • I'll be in YYC on Saturday for long enough to meet someone for lunch, if you happen to live/work near the airport.
  • You'll soon have more blog posts that are first hand information about airplanes and fewer of my crackpot theories.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Icing Inexperience

Spring has well and truly sprung in Canada and I've been off camping, paying no attention at all to my blog account mail. I peeked at it recently and it's full of unread mail from you guys and news alerts on the Colgan accident investigation. (I originally blogged about the Colgan 3407 crashthe night it happened).

The cockpit voice recorder transcript was released last week, and a lot of information about the pilots' lifestyle was released at the hearing. If you're reading about a fatal airplane crash, the only thing you can read that can really be said to be a relief is that the crash was misreported, and everyone is alright. That's obviously not the case here. It's still a little bit of a relief to find out some of what happened, because it collapses the network of all the possible bad things that could happened into the few that actually did.

The first thing that hits me reading this transcript is the stunning inexperience of the crew in comparison with Canadian aviation. The captain says he was hired with 625 hours. That would have been as first officer, but you'd be lucky to get a job on a Navajo or a King Air in Canada with that time. The first officer had sixteen hundred hours at the time of the accident, but much of that was as a flight instructor in Phoenix. There she would rarely have seen a cloud, nor below freezing temperatures. In her own words, in the recording made not quite five minutes before she died ...

"I've never seen icing conditions. I've never deiced. I've never seen any-- I've never experienced any of that. I don't want to experience that and make those kind of calls. You know I'd have freaked out. I'd have like seen this much ice and thought oh my gosh we were going to crash."

So she has no basis beyond company training on which to judge the severity of icing. She's never flown northern routes in the spring to places where the most distinctive landmarks are the crashed remains of airplanes that didn't make it. She is depending on the captains she is flying her now to teach her how to make those judgements. And that's part of being a first officer. She's smart enough to know that, too. When talking about the people hired at the same time as her, she notes that many are agitating for an upgrade but that she "really wouldn't mind going through a winter in the northeast before I have to upgrade to captain."

It sounds as if upgrades happen pretty quickly there, and as if not everyone thinks of their period of time as a first officer as an apprenticeship. I originally looked at the fact that Rebecca Shaw had been with the company through a winter and assumed that meant she had experienced icing conditions in that airplane. But I wasn't thinking about the short routes that Colgan uses the Dash-8 on, and that with a southern base, it's possible to go through a US winter without meeting ice.

The captain you would think had more experience, but he accepted the autopilot setting "I've got you in pitch hold," in icing conditions. Regardless of your experience, one of the things that icing training teaches you so you don't have to find out for yourself is that an ice accumulation that looks exactly like the one the airplane handled fine last week may result in completely different handling today. Very subtle changes can have a huge affect on aircraft stbility and handling. Hand flying allows you to notice how the ice is affecting you, if the airplane is needing more trim or more power to hold the same parameters. You don't want an airplane on pitch hold, holding its own nose up without you realizing what it's having to do to achieve that. In ice, that can lead to a stall. And this airplane stalled fifteen seconds after a cheerfully unconcerned radio exchange with air traffic control.

Not only are they talking to ATC, but they are talking to each other. We're getting a complete career analysis from both pilots right through the flight, interspersed with their clearances and checklists. A reader asked me if he thought that women,stereotypically more chatty, were more likely to disregard the sterile cockpit than men. Anyone who reads my blog can tell that I have a lot of verbiage to dispense. But I know what a sterile cockpit is and what it is for and I STFU when required to. I want to be a professional pilot and it's about more than having your hat on straight. Act like one, sound like one. I don't think this is a male-female issue. The captain is keeping up his end of the conversation. It's company culture. The FO says she's been flying with a lot of captains, some of whom can't finesse the rudder, but none of whom have apparently instructed her or demonstrated to her that one shuts up about ones career below ten thousand feet. It's not a difficult culture to instill because how many times would an FO have to have a a captain point at the altimeter or say, "sterile cockpit please" before she never opens her mouth for non-essential communication below ten thousand?

Other evidence from the hearing shows that pilots paid far too little to live at their bases were living far from their bases were commuting across the country and then sleeping on crew room couches before their duty periods. Ever flown a redeye and then had a nap on a couch in a room where people were coming in and out, having discussions and watching TV? Ready to handle any emergency right? And ready to handle three back to back 16-hour shifts? Yeah, right.

I commute across the continent that, but only once a month, and the company ensures I've had eight hours in a hotel bed before I'm expected to work. Three back-to-back 16 hour duty days is criminal. I'll work three fourteens and I'm beat. There's no way I'd be safe with another two hours on each of those days. I worked back-to-back sixteens like that back when I was seventeen years old. After a few days of that routine, I slept right through my alarm and was late for work. But I didn't get in trouble. The doughnut shop *manager* got in trouble for scheduling me that way. Yes, I was working in a doughnut shop, not flying an airplane. It seems that Canadian doughnuts and coffee are deemed by company upper management to deserve more alert supervision than the controls of a Colgan commuter airline. The FO also seems to have had a cold--she sneezes more than once during the flight and the captain is inquiring about her ability to clear her ears as they descend, even planning the descent profile for her comfort.

A manager at Colgan suggested random audits of the CVR for compliance with sterile cockpit procedures. That's not where professional flying comes from. Train and examine people to the standards you expect. Spot checks? What is this, summer camp? If you have to do spot checks of basic safety proedures, you're hiring the wrong people or training them incorrectly.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Snakes on a Plane

So guess what's on TV. It's Snakes on a Plane. I've never seen this movie but I've been watching way too many episodes of Mayday lately, so I'm all revved up for bad acting and overstated dire emergencies. I know it's possibly the stupidest movie on earth, but can it be stupider than an China Airlines crew nearly destroying a Boeing 747 because they couldn't keep it right side up after losing power in one engine? I'm about to find out. And so are you unless you stop reading, because I thoroughly spoil any movie I blog about. Much like the movie, this occassionally devolves into random scenes and pithy remarks.

I knew it was a bad movie, but still, it doesn't start well. I almost turned it off because I thought it was the wrong movie. It starts with a violent scene where a Hawaiian surfer dude witnesses the revenge killing by gangsters of a public official. The justification for the rest of the movie involves the surfer being taken under police protection to LA to testify. The titular snakes are apparently the bad guys' best shot at offing this witness. I would have thought a movie this crazy could get away with no justification whatsoever, and considering this scene I would have preferred that.

In order to get the witness to LAX, the FBI protection dude, played by Samuel L. Jackson commandeers the entire First Class section of a Boeing 747 passenger flight. This is, according to the movie, permitted by an FAA regulation that says the FBI can do whatever they like. I gave it a few points there just for trying, and I suspect that my flight attendant readers can confirm that the behaviour of the displaced Premium Club fliers was true to life.

We see the bad guy communicating with his agent. He apparently has the power to have dozens of illegal deadly poisonous snakes from all over the globe loaded on a plane in Hawaii at short notice. (It's illegal for private individuals to import or own snakes in Hawaii). He has the access required to spray all the farewell leis with attack-inducing snakes pheromones. But apparently that's the only last best desperate move he can make against our hapless witness.

I even gave them a few points here for handwaving the special snake pheromone and not just pretending that snakes prefer hunting down, lunging and biting people over lying quietly in warm places and digesting the food they've already got. But I was forced to take the points away later when they belaboured the point several times, each one more and more blatantly, until they got down to explaining what pheromones are. So this is an all access movie. Everything is set up, Let the snakes roll.

The flight attendants were depicted much more competently than is typical in movies. I don't think any of them succumbed to screaming in panic, and they had some sass, too. There's an exchange I liked after the sole occupants of first class noticed some hostility from one FA. Jackson's character calls her on it.

She's still ticked about having to put up with the bitchiness of all the Premium Club fliers she had to deny F-class seating too. Another time, she suggests, "You people give us some warning."

"You people?" says Jackson archly. Even though it's completely obvious to everyone that "you people" meant the FBI, Jackson forces her to realize that she's used a term (she's white and he's black) that can be used to lump everyone with the same sort of skin together in one stereotype.

I'd want to roll my eyes and tell him he knew perfectly well what she meant, but the FA backs down. She doesn't get an apology out before Jackson admits that he's joking. I thought it was clever, and it set the race relations tone for the movie. It reminded me of a piece I heard on the radio where a woman described people saying "oh I don't care if you're black or blue or red or green. I just see people." The woman pointed out that that there aren't red or blue people and by saying that, you were denying an important thing about her. I can appreciate that. I guess it has shades of "I don't care if someone is a man or a woman, now shut up and act like a man." Equality shouldn't mean that everyone has to become just like the people they are now allowed to be equal to.

Yes, I'm managing to squeeze social relevance out of a movie that features passengers getting attacked by snakes while making out in an airplane toilet stall. It's not like I was too busy contemplating the complex plot and message of the movie to have time to think about other things.

We cut to the snakes, somewhere in an avionics bay, ferociously biting the electrical wiring. Naturally, sparks arc wildly off the avionics and I'd laugh, but I've had that happen to me, showers of sparks right in front of where I sat in flight, coming out of a hole in the instrument panel. It wasn't all that funny then, although it turned out to be one loose wire from a deferred inoperative eyebrow light. So I can't say the Star Trek-style fireworks were unrealistic. We now cut to the cockpit.

One of the pilots announces, "We've just lost avionics." It looks like they did, too. The whole panel goes dark. One snake and they lose all cockpit avionics. Nasty. You'd think they'd have more redundancy in the B747 electrical system. Oh wait, I'm not watching Mayday anymore.

"Notify LAX," commands the captain. And so he does. Um, if they've lost avionics, what does he call them with? Apparently the radios are on a separate circuit that they don't consider to be avionics. At first I thought that seeing as he's calling LAX and not Center they must be pretty close to landing, but he position reports 1500 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles. I applaud him for tracking his position manually, so as not to depend on avionics for that information. And apparently he's so confident in his no-avionics navigation that he's going to continue to LAX even though that position puts him only a third of the way there. I suppose it's a lot harder to miss the coast of California than the Hawaiian Islands when flying by dead reckoning. Or he has a heck of a tailwind. It's such a no-brainer decision for him in fact, that not only is there is no cockpit discussion on the matter, but ATC doesn't even ask his intentions. I believe the whole conversation shown was:

Pilot: Mayday. We have lost avionics.

ATC: Roger. You have have priority.

Priority for anything, apparently. Oh and they still have autopilot function, too. I'm thinking maybe someone just turned the brightness down on the multifunction displays. Look, Aviatrix, this movie is not about command decisions and aircraft circuitry. It's about snakes. On a plane.

Back to the snakes. Now guys, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you would normally pee in an airplane toilet while looking at neither the toilet nor the appendage channelling the pee? I would think looking ninety degrees off to the left was a recipe for getting urine all over at least the washroom and likely your pants. But nevertheless this happens, as does the completely predictable appearance and target of the snake. And apparently you can smash an airline toilet mirror with your head. I was kind of relieved to have gotten the obligatory stupid snakes biting people in the naughty bits gags out of the way fairly early on, so we can get down to snakes chasing people all over the airplane.

The captain must have decided after a while that flying a compass heading all the way to LA might be pushing it, so he's gone down to the avionics bay to investigate the failure. The giant size of an airliner crawl spaces is a given in movies, forgivable out of cinematic necessity. The captain is descending into one just as the FA shows up. I think the cabin lights had gone out too and she'd come to ask what the problem was. The captain explains that he's going to fix the problem, but he never comes out. So the FA goes into the flight deck to tell the FO that something has happened to the captain. The FO immediately gets up, to investigate too. I guess that autopilot really works. I missed a bit here, phone call or laughing too hard or something, but the FO then returns to the controls and declares another MAYDAY, informing Los Angeles that the pilot in command has suffered a fatal heart attack. Wow. He went down there and autopsied him already. Los Angeles is as unimpressed with this emergency as they were with the original one. The FO does mention in passing that it is now shorter to continue than it would be to turn around, so we're making good time.

There are a couple of cute kids on the airplane, of course. They're even wearing UM (unaccompanied minor) necktags. It was an unexpectedly authentic touch. Maybe the aviation technical advisor on this picture was a flight attendant. That would fit with everything. FA competence, a thorough passenger briefing, FAs have the run of the airplane, picture depicts what they have to put up with, but has them come out on top. I love the scene where an FA steps on a coral snake to immobilize it, then deftly picks it up by the tail, slings it in the microwave, and sets the oven to quick cook for 2:10. My favourite part is that he needs not a moment's hesitation to know how long to nuke a snake. This is a professional at work.

There's a bitchy first class passenger with a little dog in her handbag. The dog meets a bad end, which is too bad. It was at least as smart as some of the passengers. It was a shame no one had a mongoose in her handbag.

Oookay, they're going to build a snakeproof barrier out of carry-on baggage. I don't have to tell you how that works out. Ahh, I've just realized that that is a special effect, not something going occasionally wrong with my TV. We get to see some of the scenes in snake-o-vision, overlayed with green prismy lines, from the point of view of the hormone-crazed snakes. Wait, are these poisonous snakes or snakes that cause fatal bleeding wounds? Everyone who has been bitten by a snake is marked with a lot of blood.

Oh why is the FO still running around the cabin?



We have to suck out the poison. I should have seen that coming. They're using the airfone to communicate with a snake expert who has a remarkable command of logistics. In the scene with the snake expert and the FBI guy it's as if their dialogue hadn't been marked with who was supposed to say what and they were just randomly sharing a script. Each character seemed to fluctuate randomly in intensity, command and knowledge of snakes. We get the idea, however, that this is a whole lot of very dangerous snakes from all over the world, and our expert knows that there's only one man that could have got this many snakes onto this plane. And it's important to know what kind of snake someone was bitten by, because you give them the wrong antivenom and they'll die. There's a passenger on board who is a competent and experienced snake venom sucker-outer. Olive oil. You can get an incoming call on an airfone?

"Hey," I suggest to the TV, "how about using a digital camera to photograph person with snake, so we know who was bitten by what." They take my idea and they do it one better. They are going to e-mail the pictures to the expert. Using an internet connection with an acoustic modem over the airfone, I guess. I know some airlines are now experimenting with internet on board, now, but when this movie came out? Available technology is kinda fluid here. And good lord there's a lot of breakable glass on this 747.

They now have abnormal vibrations on engines one and two. I wonder if it's snakes.

The aircraft is heating up. It's apparently because they have "lost power to the outflow valve motor." That's related to pressurization. The breaker for that is down in the cargo hold with the snakes. So presumably the outflow valve motor is stuck wherever it was when the motor failed. I'm guessing the valve isn't stuck open, or else they'd have trouble holding pressure. Masks haven't deployed and the cabin temperature is rising. But the outflow valve is normally closed in cruise. There's enough leakage that the cabin would depressurize with it closed anyway. But if we're going to ignore that perhaps we can make a new outflow aperture by firing a bullet into some appropriate point in the rear fuselage. That would be suitable for this movie. Presumably the FO can advise you on this.

The next line of the movie after I have these thoughts is, "That gun goes off in this pressurized cabin we all die." How can you talk about an outflow valve, i.e. a big hole in an airplane designed to let the air out, in one scene and then the very next scene subscribe to the "one tiny bullet hole and we all die" theory? Also a B747 has two outflow valves, a left and a right. I suspect they don't share the same motor. Maybe they should descend and depressurize. Oh wait. They're going to depressurize, but not using the checklist or the aircraft controls. When the captain said "avionics" he meant "pressurization controls." That must be it. The good guy (yes, the good guy) fires a couple of shots and shoots out two of the airplane windows. In the passenger cabin, right where people are seated. About six square metres of the fuselage around the windows departs too, turning this into a scene from yet another episode of Mayday. All the snakes are sucked out of the airplane, but the humans hang on and are not.

So now it's time for the emergency descent. Someone tell the pilot. And now after the FAs have been barging in and out of the cockpit for the whole flight, the cockpit door is locked and the armed maniac, er I mean the good guy, has to shoot it open. The FO has, of course, been eaten by snakes, so the FA puts out a call for a passenger who can fly an airplane. No one volunteers, but the famous rapper points out someone in his entourage who talks about nothing else but all the flying he has done. He does admit to having over 2000 hours. I bet to myself that it was in Microsoft Flight Simulator. I was wrong. It was on Playstation. And one of the funniest lines of the movie for me was when ATC quicky identifies this guy (from his unorthodox radio work) as a videogamer and not a pilot, and he protests, "It's not a video game. It's a flight simulator." If you ever want to annoy a flight sim enthusiast, tell them that you like to 'play' Microsoft flight simulator sometimes. That's authentic.

The would-be pilot doesn't understand the big problem. "Just give me the VOR numbers and radar vectors," he demands. They say that you laugh at the unexpected, which must explain how hard I was laughing when this movie suddenly started displaying some of what I would expect from real world aviation. He asks what runway to expect and ATC tells him they're in the process of clearing traffic so he can use any runway, but that the wind is favouring 24L. My expectations for this movie are so low I'm whooping in delight because they understand the concept of landing into the wind. They even explain that the tailwind on the straight in will have him landing too fast and lead to an overrun.

Our pilot doesn't want to turn around, though. I get the idea that he hasn't mastered turns yet. And I give the movie more points for sparing me a drawn out approach scene. We just cut to an under the fuselage shot of a pretty damned good touchdown, and then hilariously a bounce. Now a bounce is more likely to be the consequence of carrying too much airspeed, not groundspeed, but perhaps this guy has both. The tires do not disintegrate on touchdown. He goes straight off the end of the runway, and then is advised by the good guy (sitting in the right sit all this time) to turn left, in order to miss something I didn't see, because I was laughing too hard. Approach lights or an NDB antenna or something, I guess.

He somehow ends up on the apron, where ambulances storm the set. Oh no, it's not over yet. They evacuate via the slides. One of the cute kids was bitten by a snake and his brother displays a lovely crayon drawing of a cobra. "I couldn't find the snake that bit him, so I drew a picture."

And then the witness has a snake burst out of his shirt, Alien-style. WTF? And the good guy shoots him in the chest and he falls down the emergency slide. Wait what? Oh Duh. Witness is revealed to be wearing a bulletproof vest. He was shooting the snake. They really do they have every cliche ever in this movie.

That was a lot better than I expected. I might even steel myself to see Soul Plane now.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Liquor Replacement and Dollar Coins

I paid for my restaurant meal and the receipt said, printed at the bottom, that 25% went to the Liquor Replacement Fund. I was puzzled by this for a while, and then a barely visible sign on the door of the restaurant gave me a clue and a hypothesis. The sign said that this was a private club and that alcohol would be served only to registered members. My guess is that this is thr remnant of a very old local liquor law, that everyone has worked around instead of changing. I speculate that by putting my name on the list for a table, I was registering as a member of the "club." And that the notice at the bottom of the receipt explained that I wasn't exactly purchasing liquor, but rather being served liquor from my private club's reserves. And that the restaurant wasn't taking a profit but rather saving the money to buy more liquor for the members.

Liquor laws can be funny. Some places in Canada you can't serve alcohol without "a meal" so in those places you can buy the most minimal meals known to man. You can collect ten bucks from a bunch of people to buy a few cases of beer, but if you then put them in the fridge with a can on top and ask people to contribute a few coins towards the next case for every beer they drink, you'll get in trouble for selling beer without a licence. At least some places. The laws can be quaint.

When I say "a few coins," I mean more money than I might if I were talking about American coins. Canada doesn't mint one or two dollar bills. We used to, years ago, but now we have one and two dollar coins instead. So when I'm working with money, looking to pay for a cup of coffee or expecting change from something, it's natural for me to go for the coin purse not the billfold for amounts under five dollars. When I first get back to Canada I'm momentarily surprised by getting a handful of coins as change from a ten for a small purchase.

The US does have one dollar coins. I got several once as change from a stamp machine. And they have two dollar bills. I decided to use them. I went to a bank in Texas with a twenty dollar bill and asked for ten ones and five twos. The teller managed to scavenge seven ones from her own and another teller's drawer, but denied having any twos in the whole bank. Well so much for that plan. I took my metal ones, and the rest in paper ones. I can get more coins from post office stamp machines.

Using the US dollar coins isn't a problem with people. The reaction is usually one of slight positive surprise and "hey cool" scrutiny of my proffered dollar. No one has refused a coin or asked me to give them a banknote instead, but I get the idea there are a few people who have never seen one. I read that when Canada introduced the loonie, our one dollar coin, they made sure to mint tonnes of the things to overwhelm the "hey cool" response that would cause people to keep the first few they met as a souvenir. Perhaps the reverse effect helped to cement the switch: people hoarded their last few dollar bills as souvenirs, hastening their withdrawal from circulation.

I can see a reason why the dollar coins might be unpopular in the US. You can't use them in vending machines. A newspaper cost a dollar. The box says "Use Any Coin Combination - Do Not Use Pennies." What the box means is "use any combination of quarters, dimes and nickels." The dollar coin shown doesn't fit in the slot.

Because the denominations of commonly circulating US coins hasn't changed in over a hundred years, but prices have, vending machines compensate in other ways. Many US vending machines accept banknotes. You unfold any bent corners and line up the picture of the president on the bill with the picture on the slot. The machine feeds in the bill, whirrrs it back and forth a couple of times and spits out your chocolate bar and a pile of quarters. If the machine doesn't take bills, there will often be a change machine nearby. There are change machines in Canada, but not as commonly, and of course they spit loonies.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Crash Landed

I started this before Captain Sullenberger landed in the Hudson and I think I gave up on the whole landed/crashed/ditched after that, so didn't post the entry, but hey, it's still a blog entry, right?

Someone sent me a link to this story about a Mooney that had an engine failure and ended up in the sea. First off, people in BC, you have to stop driving airplanes into rocks, glaciers and oceans. If you want to gawk at the sight some more, there's a video here; it's just eight minutes of helicopter footage circling the submerged aircraft and the rescue hovercraft. Nothing happens in the video except that a boat circles the site a couple of times. The pilot has lnog since been picked up by a passing twin otter. (And I can't get it to work anymore. Perhaps it's been removed).

The text story describes it as a "crash landed." Do you think that was a crash landing? I've had enough of the term crash landed used to describe every airplane accident that involves an airplane coming to rest on the surface of the planet. The only terms related to wrecking airplanes that are legally defined in Canada are accident and incident. The former involves serious injury or death resulting from an aircraft, major damage, or the aircraft being missing altogether. The latter applies only to large aircraft and includes abnormal conditions like shutting down an engine, or the incapacitation of a required crew member. In media terms, accidents (and many things that aren't accidents) are "crashes" and incidents are "scares." Although I suppose if a large airplane went off the runway and ripped off a wingtip fairing, some stories would call that incident a crash.

Everything bad that happens to an airplane isn't a crash. There has to be an actual crash no? To me, a crash occurs when there is either a loss of control of the aircraft, or a high-speed collision with something, and something more significant than lights and fairings gets bent or smashed.

So a gear up, whether through forgetfulness or mechanical problems, assuming the aircraft doesn't skid off the runway or flip over, is not what I'd call a crash. Catching a wingtip and ripping off a winglet is not a crash. I think a crash landing is an attempt to land, in an irregular situation, that involves loss of control before touchdown and results in a seriously damaged airplane.

If the airplane or pilot or landing area is seriously compromised, but an attempt is made to land, a possible result is a crash landing. Sioux City was definitely a crash landing. The airplane landed, and it crashed. Easy. The pilot points the airplane towards something with the intention of landing and puts the airplane on the ground, but the result is such that the airplane cannot be used again promptly. Yeah, that was a crash landing.

A deliberate landing of a wheel or ski plane in water is usually called a ditching. (Captain Haynes referred to the possibility of attempting to land the DC-10 off-airport "ditching" too, but I myself wouldn't use the term that way). Landing gear, engines, fairings, even wings and tail may be torn off, but if the cabin is sufficiently intact that people get out, I'd call it a successful ditching. In an unsuccessful ditching the airplane may cartwheel, or impact the water at a high speed or angle, causing it to break up. The result of an attempted ditching may be indistinguishable from a crash into water, but that Mooney was successfully, and I would judge skillfully ditched. As a pilot of a single engine airplane, he probably made sure he was within gliding distance of land, but it doesn't take a pilot to see that the land in the area was inhospitable. So he dithed close enough to shore that even badly injured he'd be able to swim to it.

Was this a crash in your opinion? Would you say you "crashed" your car if you lost control and drove it into the water where it sank? Do you used "ditch" to describe non-water off-airport landings?

A better CBC video clip had clearer information on the accident and used the phrase "gone down" instead of crash.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Licence Plates

A long time ago a friend told me a joke, and immature as it is, it's still funny. It's a bit like adding "in bed" after a fortune cookie saying. The joke is that someone who moves around a lot always gets a personalized licence plate reading MY BODY. It's an affirmative statement that could be New Age-y, a political statement, or a fitness buff showing off. It doesn't matter. The joke just needs some rationale to display it on different licence plate.

The fun comes when you combine the personalization with the slogans already embossed on various jurisdictions' plates. Head over to the Acme License Maker to see what I mean.

Wisconsin, Idaho and Ontario made me laugh out loud, but Alaska, West Virginia and and Washington DC were worth it too.

I always find myself looking at licence plates. They stand out as different every time I fly to a new state or province, and I try to find some pattern to the numbers. Sometimes there is a different first letter for a different year, or a different part of the state. And I like to wonder about the significance of personalized plates.

Here is a real personalized licence plate I spotted on an old station wagon in Scarborough. I'll let a reader comment on the significance of this one, for those who don't already know.

In California I'm sure there are more cars than in all of Canada put together, so they have seven characters on their licence plates. They also use the letter Q, and have strange characters like hearts. I think the hearts and the like are only for personalized plates. This picture I took to show the heart and the Q, oddly raised, to distinguish it from an O.

Florida has a lot of different designs and colours for affiliations with things like sports teams or "Protect Florida Whales." I don't think it takes much to get a special licence plate designed for an affiliation group.

I think I just liked the old grille on this car. The only thing special about the plate is that it's a handicapped one.

I didn't see this one myself, it was on Failblog, but, if the photo isn't a fake, a big "You GO Girl!" to Gina for managing to sneak that by the California DMV. I'll bet they recalled it.

This school bus plate was on a perfectly ordinary car, not a schoolbus at all. I don't know why it had a special plate. Perhaps the driver was a schoolbus inspector or this was a very, very short bus.

And the piece de resistance of my collection, no this is not my car, and I didn't take the picture. "Aviatrix" is quite a common handle for my ilk. There are probably hundreds of pilots who use the pseudonym in one context or another. I know two pilots with the same first name and very similar e-mail addresses using the word. But still, "hey it's me!"

If you see any other licence plates that could be mine, please send them my way.

Monday, May 04, 2009


In which Aviatrix tries to get to the point that eluded her last time.

My last blog entry wandered off on a tangent, but I hope not before making the point that equally intelligent people can come to completely different conclusions from the same data just because they believe the world to be constructed of different kinds of cheese. What is self-evident to me may be a crazy idea to you, so if I want to convince you to take an action, I must create a logical path to that action that begins with something that is self evident to you.

A while ago I had a long e-mail exchange with someone whom I knew to be intelligent, logical and compassionate. He was, and still is, very concerned about the spread of the Muslem religion in the world. He believes that it will lead to a global decrease in human rights. He exhorted me to act. "But what do you want me to do?" I asked. And at every iteration he responded by saying that hope was not enough. I finally said, "Are you asking me to take up arms against every Muslim I see? Write letters to my congressman? Sneer at women in headscarves?" I of course didn't think he wanted me to shoot anyone, as he is respectful to his Muslim neighbours and customers. His problem is with the proponents of fundamentalist law. I was hoping by my question to get him to say what action he was actually asking for. He is very concerned about people being complacent to the threat, and spent a lot of energy urging action.

We remained cordial, but he never answered the question in a way that made any sense to me. After a few revolutions of the argument we both accepted that it was something that just wasn't going to cross between our minds. He said "I've made it clear enough.....We just don't speak the same language." And we dropped it.

It came to mind recently as an example of a baffling impasse and I mentioned it in an e-mail to someone who was helping me understand why Texans were getting angry at me for being scared of them, and he had an explanation for this too. It still doesn't entirely make sense to me. It may not be the correct explanation, but it is an explanation, and even brings this whole thing back to an aviation example. He wrote:

Ah! Ok, he wants people who believe in the rights and freedoms that are enshrined in the Constitution, to defend those rights. He won't tell us how to do that (though he may give advice if pressed), because one of the things he believes we need to defend against is one group of people telling others what they should do. He may not have understood your question, but if he had I would predict it wouldn't help. He would probably say something like "Do what ever you can".

It's really quite extraordinary that we have this invention caled language, that, most of the time allows me to make noises, or transmit squiggles, and you to hear the noises or look at the squiggles and a reasonable facsimile of my thought appears in your head. I should really be amazed by how often it works, rather than being confused by the times it doesn't. Sometimes the gulf can be bridged by stating the obvious, but it's a skill to articulate the obvious. The people who have, say Newton giving his La ws of Motion or Descartes equating thinking with being, are lauded as philosphers. They say things that we kind of already knew, but never knew we knew. What 17th century farmer hadn't noticed that stuff stays where it is unless you push it, the same push has a greater effect on smaller stuff, and that if you push something, it pushes back at you? But to recognize those as axioms of motion -- that took Newton.

Thomas Jefferson is also held to be a great man, and he put into words some things that he and free thinking people of his time were coming to believe.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

If you don't consider these things to be self-evident truths, then you are going to be baffled by some of the arguments made by people who do, unless those people are clever enough to build their case from another direction.

And finally, I promised to bring this back to aviation, my correspondent gave this example.

You have run up against one of the principle differences between Canadians and Americans. Canadians believe in building consensus and the few making small sacrifices for the good of the many. Americans believe in personal freedom and personal sacrifice to defend it. The rules around VFR flights are a good example of this. In Canada we can't fly more than 25nm without telling someone else where we're going. In the US as long as we avoid controlled or restricted airspace we don't have to tell anyone. Personal freedom trumps making it easier for SAR to find us.