Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Booted Indeed

I successfully fended off the cries of the Easter eggs last night, and am looking at NOTAMs after a healthy breakfast. I hate stuff like this:

TIL APRX 1004291800

Not the block of all caps text. I'm not super fond of that, but it's normal for NOTAM. I hate the information about a hazard that I can't do a lot about. Am I just supposed to close my eyes and hope for the best as I go in and out of Regina? (And yes, I phrased like that for all you people who think Saskatchewan's capital city is the funniest thing since Dildo, NL). Also most pilots hate lasers being fired into our workplace, so that's double hate.

The job here is over and I was told at breakfast that I would be released (I'm not actually shackled: that's the word for when they are done with me and I can fly the airplane away) in about an hour. That was two and a half hours ago. So I'm packed, including stuff from the fridge, which I once again forgot to check for proper temperature before putting my snacks in it, so I have a bag of baby carrotsicles. I have instructions from company on where to go next, am flight planned, and ready to go. But I can't go and do a workout, because when the client says "we'll take you to the airport now," that means now, not after I have showered, changed and packed away my workout gear. As it is, all I have to put on my boots, put my computer in my bag, and check out of the hotel.

Just as I wrote that. the phone rang and one of the guys asked "How soon can you leave?" I simply read him the sentence I had just typed, and then met him in the hotel lobby. "Do you have the box of spare parts?" I asked.


Okay, excellent. He helps me with my stuff, and folding the wing covers and things. All very unnecessary, but appreciated. I offer him some carrotsicles, but he declines. I explain that people always turn the fridge up to coldest to chill their beer faster and I forget to turn it down before putting my vegetables in it. He points out that he hears a lot more people complaining about warm beer than frozen carrots, so the temperature is correct.

The fueller happens to be at the field. I guess someone else called him out on Sunday morning. There's a $50 callout fee though, and I think the fueller gets most if not all of that, so he's made some money off us this weekend. He asks me if I need anything, but I'm good on fuel. His daughter is with him so I ask her if the Easter Bunny came to her house. Turns out that that renowned rabbit brought her a bicycle. How awesome is that? The weather is perfect for a new bike, and I think she's the right age to learn.

With my bags all loaded and the preflight inspection complete I fly northwest along a highway. I think every paved road that goes somewhere in this province is designated a highway. The highway parallels a railway and little priarie towns are spaced along it at perfectly regular intervals. Someone told me recently that the spacing of the towns is equivalent to the distance a steam engine could travel before it needed its boiler topped up with water.

I'm ashamed of my reliance on GPS these days. I used to confidently fly all over the continent without one. I never had one during training. Sometimes I'd rent a plane with one in and I'd let the passenger play with it for entertainment. I remember doing time building at night with a student pilot passenger. She had just bought a really fancy tablet GPS; this was years ago, it must have cost a mint. I asked her to keep it hidden from me and periodically quiz me on where I was, how long it would take me to get to the next destination and so on. And I knew. I flew to the southern US in a rented C172 and locals came over to check me out. One guy looked in the airplane and said, "Where's your GPS?" When I told him I didn't have one, he looked at me in awe, "You came all the way from Canada without a GPS?" I remember looking confused, and telling him I had maps. Why would I need a GPS?

Now I'm looking at the GPS all the time, to plan cooling, to stay clear of airspace, to plan my descent. To verify that I have correctly identified the lake on the chart. I try not to look for a while, but I keep slipping up. I can't turn it off, because it's my comm radio now too.

I concentrate on the landmarks. Another highway will intercept the one I'm following and there will be a double set of powerlines five miles back from my destination. I must stay north of the highway to avoid military airspace. I call traffic, slow the airplane gradually as I cool the engine, and find the runway. I add approach flaps, then gear, and on final I double check my GPS groundspeed with the TAS--that's a really useful trick--to make sure I don't have a tailwind. I have four knots of headwind at 1000' agl, but I think none at all at ground level. The windsock is straight across the runway. Windsocks are kind of two-state devices in the prairies. Either the wind is light and variable, or the windsock is straight out. I guess that's because a windsock straight out indicates fifteen knots or more, and fourteen knots of wind is light in the prairies. I touchdown, pull power idle, brake brake brake on the short runway and do a 180 back to the centre taxiway.

I taxi off and look for a place to park. I'm getting an oil change at the FBO here, but they won't be here today because it's Sunday. I would park on the apron in front of their hangar, but a pressurized Skymaster with a November registration has already claimed that spot, and I don't want to park close beside it in case the wind changes and one of the airplanes blows around. All the tiedown spaces that I would fit into on the apron are taken, and I don't want to block anyone in or out of their spot. And I kind of would like to tie down. Maybe it's overkill as this is a pretty heavy airplane and I don't think the wind is too much over 15 kts, but better safe than sorry. There are two spray planes tied one behind the other, and a space with painted tires on either side in sequence behind them. In this context tires like that are usually filled with concrete for tying an airplane to. I know there's not a third spray plane due back any minute, because no one would spray in this wind: the product wouldn't go where you wanted it. I pull into that spot and shut down.

Years ago in another century, the first time there was a big overnight windstorm at the airport where I had my first job, I couldn't sleep after the wind woke me up. I got up and went out to the airport at about five in the morning to check on my airplane. It was fine, but some other airplanes were loose. I called an emergency number posted outside a flying school, because one of the airplanes was theirs and the person on call called a few other people so we became an airplane capturing team. I discovered that it's almost impossible to manhandle an airplane against the wind. They really have been designed to point into the wind. I also saw that the worst damage was from airplanes crashing into one another. And I saw the way the majority of airplanes had come loose from their tie downs. They hadn't broken their ropes. As long as the rope was long enough for a knot to pull tight before it pulled through it wasn't poor knot tying by the pilots that allowed the airplanes to escape. It was almost always the rope coming untied from the tiedown point on the ground. Since then I have disciplined myself when tying down an airplane to always look at what it is tied down to and I have found a surprising number of really solid tie-down points, such as doubled over rebar embedded in a buried concrete anchor, with a rope tied in a thumb knot with only five centimetres of loose end left over. That will pull through quite easily if you wiggle it back and forth.

Like this.

I retie the anchor knot into a bowline, which results in my boots becoming filthy with mud. It's some kind of especially sticky unwipeoffable prairie mud. I think it's made out of cow pee and manure or something. You can follow everything I did after that by the footprints, going to the nose locker to get the chocks, placing them, then back to the boarding door, then crawling in on my knees trying not very successfully not to get mud on the floor while I retrieve my bags, then checking the tie downs one more time, then running after my bag which blew over, then writing a note for the maintenance guys. I haul the bags into the lee of the hangar and call a cab. While I wait for the cab (yeah I thought of calling it while I finished up, but you can never predict how long that will take) hangar cats meow soundlessly at me through the window of the FBO.

At the hotel I turn on my computer and it makes all the right noises, but nothing comes on the screen and I realize there is no hard drive activity at all. I turn it on and off forlornly a few times, then flip it over and pull out the battery. There is a tiny bit of water on the bottom of the computer, but it's not inside the battery compartment. It doesn't work without the battery either. I remove and reseat the hard drive. No joy. Damn. It must have hit the ground harder than I thought when everything blew over. I thought the case would protect it. I open some more things that probably contain no user-serviceable parts, but nothing seems to be loose or wet. Still doesn't work. I guess I'll have to fax the paperwork.

And then I go to another compartment in the same bag that has the paperwork and it's sopping wet, as is a brand new book on GPS that someone gave me. A waterbottle with a not-quite-screwed-on lid has flooded the bag. I don't know which aperture the water entered my computer through, but it's not happy about it. I wrap the books in towels and upend some of the hotel furniture on them to keep them flat and squeeze out the water. I prop the opened laptop up on one side and leave it there to dry while I go and do a workout in the gym.

A few hours later I try the computer again. It works. Resurrection! It is Easter Sunday after all.


Tyler said...

It must be the time of year for resurrection--my computer just came back from a few months of coffee-induced hibernation just a few days ago!

Michael5000 said...

Aww, I love a story with a happy ending!

Sarah said...

The Silence of the Easter Eggs....

I guess working trumped the rabbit dinner?

GPS has totally spoiled me. For vfr flying around a class-B it gives tremendous peace of mind. To get from point A to point B, it's nice but not so essential. True, the 430 radios are essential, but you can always flip to a "useful" page like 'nearest airport' if you want to wean yourself from moving map dependency.

Aviatrix said...

Yeah, I had my rabbit dinner at Groundhog Day this year. I should have had groundhog for Easter, but I haven't figured out how to catch the little guys.

I don't actually use the moving map that much, having only had that for a couple of years. Text GPSes are much more entrenched. The 430 moving map isn't as nice as the 496 was, either. Nearest airport is probably the page I have up the most, next to the CDI page. Bearing and distance to every airport in the vicinity is a fabulous situational awareness tool.

Sarah said...

Ok, "nearest airports" is a bad example. There are some useless pages on the 430, my instrument instructor had no problem finding one.

on final I double check my GPS groundspeed with the TAS..

A quite useful trick. I also find the DTK ( desired track ) handy to compare with actual ground track. This tells you if you've got the wind correction dialed in correctly when tracking a VOR/ILS.

It's too bad there is no instant readout of the wind. All you'd need to add is airspeed & bearing. Maybe fancier glass panels can do that. My $100 soaring computer continuously updates the wind display, and even has a plot with altitude. Of course, it's made more accurate and easier to do because I'm often doing a spiral upwards and it just has to compute drift.

And finally. It figures, that anyone who would eat bunnies at Easter would dine on .. gasp ... baby carrots. It's OK though - these are usually just shaved down odd shaped full-grown carrots.

Anoynmous said...

I hate the information about a hazard that I can't do a lot about.

Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but it looks like a point-sized (okay, a quarter-mile-sized) hazard. As long as you aren't directly overhead, there's no danger. Stay away from the vertical beam, just like you would a physical tower, and you should be fine, right?

A Squared said...

I should have had groundhog for Easter, but I haven't figured out how to catch the little guys.

Here you go I've eaten groundhog. they're quite tasty

Jamie & Sam said...

while in the military i had a flight surgeon named Dildo, yep dr. dildo. he had a great time with it. his wife, who was also a doctor in the same clinic, was fun to tease. i remember being in for a flight phys and him having his receptionist page his wife "Dr. Dildo, Dr. Dildo, Dr Dildo paging Dr Dildo" i think they had six children in 8 years of marriage. he was fun