Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not the End of the World

Did I get to the part where we fly the airplane yet? Seriously, did I? We did fly the airplane this rotation. Twice, even. And if you think the blog took a long time getting there, try real life.

Just as hotel keys get deprogrammed when you're wearing the least clothing, the client is ready to fly when you are the maximum number of minutes from being conveniently ready. If you really want to fly, do laundry at a laundromat. You'll be required to go to work right now as soon as the clothes are all wet and soapy. (And then sent to another base for a week while your clothes rot). In this case I wasn't doing laundry. I believe I'd already tried that trick. I was out for a walk about as far from the hotel as I could get and still be in civilization. My coworker came to pick me up. We stopped fro my flight bag and then off to the airport to get things going.

We took the tarps off the airplane, the flimsy polyethylene sheets so stiffened by the cold that they handled like stiff canvas. Fuel tanks were still full, so no leaks, and the oil levels were good. I jumped inside and closed the door, then flicked on the master and all the lights while my coworker gave me a thumbs up on all the exterior lights being operational. Everything else looked good inside, and the clients were arriving, so I went back outside and finished up unplugging cords and putting away tarps.

As soon as the engine heaters are unplugged, the engines start to cool, and you've seen what happens when we try to start cold engines, so we board right away. "I'll start up while you brief," I say as I jump in the left seat. Technically these guys are crewmembers not passengers so they don't need a briefing every time they board. I keep it to once per rotation, so they are at least apprised of any configuration changes and seasonal issues. Today, for example, there are parkas up the back behind the electronics rack, the first aid kit and fire extinguisher in the cockpit, and extra winter survival gear in the nose.

My coworker is an experienced pilot but he hasn't flown passengers commercially. He laughs as he climbs in the right seat, "I haven't given a passenger briefing since my commercial flight test." Both engines start easily and everything warms up okay. I fuss with the checklists, conscious that I haven't flown yet this month. The left throttle is really twitchy, you hardly move it at all for a big change, and the right propeller lever has very little resistance. It's sort of the opposite of the left propeller lever being sticky. It's exactly a friction setting issue, because everything else is correct, but perhaps there's something crooked in there making the tension uneven. These aren't no-go items, just things to say "hmm" about and pass on to maintenance in case they presage something more momentous.

I call taxiing and backtrack for take off. With checks complete, brakes released, airplane rolling straight, gauges green, keep it straight, airspeed alive, rotate. Positive rate, beautiful cold weather performance, insufficient runway remaining, gear up. Engines turning, tweak the propeller lever that is nudging rpms into the red, keep straight, set climb power and make a slow left turn on course.

There is forecast to be mist tomorrow morning, so we're alert to the possibility of it forming early. There is some present, but we conclude that it is not a threat, and that we will be able to see if it starts to spread to where we do care, even after dark.

The point of there being two pilots here today is so that my new coworker can find his way around this cockpit at night. So as the sun goes down I show him where all the lighting controls are and hand over control. He flies the airplane as you would expect a professional pilot to do, with no trouble at all. He gets an opportunity to observe how hard it is to tell you're rolling as you do a flat turn with no lights on the horizon, but there's only one dark quadrant in this area. There are a lot of farms in the area and some towns, plus whatever it is the military have going on over there, so lots of light.

What do the military have going on over there? There's a weird glow from the direction of the restricted area. We turn around and go the other way for a while, but when we turn back it's more pronounced. There's something on fire. We hope it's just an unoccupied farm building, but it's a little freaky. We don't think the military are hiding dangerous superweapons around here, but maybe that just means they are really good at hiding their dangerous superweapons. And then after another pass we figure it out.

It's the moon rising on the horizon, and its light is interacting with cloud and mist. The shape and variable opacity of the cloud made a a very convincing exploding secret missile base.

Plus, someone just forwarded me this:

STL approach: "United XXX best forward speed to the marker, you're number one."

United XXX (male): "Roger, balls to the wall."

STL approach: "American XXXX, you're number two behind a 737, follow him, cleared visual, best forward speed."

American XXXX (female): "Well I can't do 'balls to the wall' but I can go 'wide open'."

-Radio silence-

Unknown Pilot (male): "Is American hiring?"


A Squared said...

Well, since it is a reference to aircraft anatomy and not human anatomy, she was every bit as capable as he of going "balls to the wall". In reality, I doubt either of them had firewalls in front of them or balls on the end of their engine controls as did the airplanes which engendered the phrase.

Sumit said...

Talking about airplanes is a real interesting topic. I also wanted to be a pilot by myself but some reasons occurred and i wasn't able to. Its a wonderful life to be a pilot.

zb said...

Not sure about the story, maybe just an urban legend... I've heard somewhere that during the Cold War, Super-Power A almost started a noo-kee-lar war because some threat-detecting military machinery thought the rising moon above the horizon was not the moon but approaching missiles from Super-Power B.

My knowledge of this story is so weak that I don't even know which way to assign the variables A and B to the values {US; CCCP}. I liked the part about the moon.

In addition, I am really happy about the way I got surprised by the joke. At first, I thought that I had already read it somewhere. And I had, but only up to the first punchline (wide open). You can guess that I was happy to learn the version that also has a second punchline (hiring?). Thanks for sharing!

Curt Sampson said...

It's not an urban legend. In fact, since it involved operations in northern Canada, it's probably even on-topic for this blog. :-)

I can't say how close we really got to nuclear war (I'm sure we weren't right on the verge), but the issue was that just after they set up the Dew Line apparently unanticipated radar reflections from the moon very low on the horizon caused some consternation.

Unfortunately, I haven't time to look up the references and details right this second, but I'll do it later if nobody else beats me to it.

Curt Sampson said...

Ok, it wasn't the DEW line, it was apparently BMEWS Thule in 1960. And no, it doesn't appear that a nuclear war was almost started (it appears more that people realized that the data they were looking at were quite borked), but if you're that interested I tracked down refererences and you can find the rather dull full story here.

Aviatrix said...

Curt, thanks for looking that up. It really does look dramatic. I think at one point we even considered and dismissed the possibility of it being the moon. It was too square looking, thanks to some coincidental cloud placement.

zb said...

Curt, thanks for providing information on the topic.

Aviatrix, I trust that if your mission had included nuclear weapons, you of course would have made sure you were not blowing up the moon by accident. Nor anything else.