Friday, September 03, 2010

On The Frontier

We get a call from the customers, still on the edge of nowhere, waiting for both workable weather and an airplane. Today the weather is starting to clear, and they expect it will be good enough to fly by this afternoon or tomorrow, so they're desperate to get the airplane so they can take advantage of the rare opportunity. Their cellphones don't work there, and the one landline available at whatever accommodations they are enduring is so poor that they are almost unintelligible when they call. Before the call is cut off, we understand that they want us there asap, and this message is underscored by numerous texts and calls from our own company president. Yes, we will do what we can to get there today as soon as possible! It's not like we usually dally.

I help the mechanic while my coworker returns to the hotel to reset his duty day, so we can still fly tonight even if it takes us all day to finish up. There also isn't that much left for an unskilled person to do, until it's time to close the cowls. I can crochet okay, but my lockwiring is really abysmal.

I sit next door in the departure lounge for the charter company and do paperwork and, when they give me permission to use their wireless, e-mail. The woman checking in the passengers is a licensed A&P (American version of an AME), and a licensed commercial pilot. We could have used her next door for the last couple of days! I ask her about her career goals, and she wants to be a missionary pilot. I think she's pretty much set. Strong faith: check. Local church outreach experience: check. Can fly airplane: check. Can fix it when it breaks down in the bush: check. She has a tiny bit of flying left to do to complete her licences, because she somehow holds a multi-engine commercial licence without the corresponding single engine one, something that isn't even possible in Canada, because commercial is a licence and multi is a rating for us. That doesn't sound too hard or even too expensive to finish up. I'm sure she'll meet the missionary goal quickly, and I wonder what she'll do next. This business might be a family run one too, so maybe someday she'll come back here and take it over.

At one point when she was talking about where she had flown already for mission work, she held up one hand in a thumbs down gesture, except with the index finger extended as well as the thumb. Picture the "loser!" gesture, but tilted so the thumb pointed down. With her hand held this way she tapped the back of her hand and the knuckle of her index finger, and immediately I saw what she was doing. That is a map of Alaska. The thumb is the panhandle and the index finger the Aleutian islands. It was so cool I immediately wondered what other states or places might have indigenous hand or other signals. I might have used my vertical palm to represent one of the basically rectangular western provinces, but it's not that representative. Do Italians point their toes slightly and tap parts of their foot and calf to describe their travels? Do you have a gesture or hand shape that represents your area? I need to know these things.

Meanwhile there's someone at dispatch answering radio calls. I'm not listening closely, and he's kind of around the corner, but after a while I realize that he's speaking in a Russian-English pidgin. Things like "Skazhi him I'll be tooda ootrom." This really shouldn't be news to me. It's no different than a New Brunswick Acadien sentence like "Je vais hanguper le telephone et callez-vous back." It's normal for a linguistic border with a history of occupation and regime change to have a transition zone where both languages or a combination are spoken. Why am I surprised here? I think it is because it is the Americans, the same people who take to the streets to fend off the encroachment of Spanish. But of course they aren't the same people. The United States is a huge and diverse country and the more I travel in it the more I am convinced that the only thing that unites the whole is the legend of being Americans. This isn't a criticism. If only every country composed of such diverse parts could embrace its nationhood so firmly that civil war was not on the menu.

I wonder now too at how many other borders is there angst about the prevalence of the language from the other side. Certainly Québec has fought hard over the years to maintain its linguistic identity in a sea of English. Do Finns freak out about so much Swedish being spoken? Is there angst in the Alsace Lorraine that there are people there who live their lives in the language of their ancestors, regardless of where the border happens to be this century?

My coworker decides he's done resting and comes back. We help recowl the airplane. I close up all the inspection ports with no screws left over or missing. There's nothing sitting on the wings, the cowls are on properly and there's oil in the engines. I go out to do a run up check. everything checks out, so I ask for high speed taxi on the runway and wear in the brakes according to the package instructions before returning to the hangar. There are no issues or oil leaks, but I spot an open access panel under the horizontal stabilizer I didn't notice before. I point it out guiltily and muse that I didn't have any screws left over. My coworker removed that one and he put the screws on a nearby barrel. Another reason to use a designated screw container, in my opinion. I finish the walkaround and that appears to be the only thing that was wrong.

We load everything back in the airplane, faster this time--because we now know the best way to load it, not because the clients aren't watching--and secure it down. Wonderful, wonderful tie down rings. But couldn't the stupid airplane manufacturer have provided some tiedown points in the aft half of the airplane? I mean, they expected us to put stuff in the airplane, right?

We bid "do svidaniya," to our new friends and takeoff, following ATC instruction out of PANC terminal airspace (but the Americans don't call it that, what do you call it, again?) and the weather allows us to climb high enough to go through the pass with no cloud dodging, just gradually climbing and then descending through a hole on the other side so we don't get stuck above a layer. It's rugged and beautiful until we're clear of the first range and then it becomes more rugged and bleak. The terrain is crinkled and gray-green depending on the rock to short-fuzzy-growing-stuff ratio. I think I spot some caribou, but I was really hoping to see some, so I may have allowed my mind to play tricks on me. Canadian law doesn't permit overflight of caribou below 2000' agl. I don't know if US law is exactly the same, but if an animal manages to make its living out here, year round, I'm not going to make its life any harder, so I couldn't get a close look anyway.

There's a VOR way out here in the boonies. I keep forgetting its name, saying, "Begins in S. A short sounding name, but it has a lot of letters in it. Sparrevohn. I have the story of how it got its name, but I'll tell that another day. Sparrevohn is also a military aerodrome, so I'm watching for it as a landmark. There's a kind of knack you get for finding airports after a while. You look at the lay of the land and there's a place where an airport fits, both because the people who sited the airport put it in a reasonable place, and because subsequent land development has taken into account the approach surfaces and noise areas. I suggest that it will be in a flatter area ahead, behind the second ridge.

I mentioned Sparrevohn to someone at the barbecue last night as a possible emergency landing site "if the emergency was bad enough to overwhelm the fear of doing paperwork for an unauthorized landing at a military aerodrome," but was told that if I had an emergency I really didn't want to land there. I didn't ask why, assuming that it was a particularly paranoid base. But then I see the aerodrome and now I see why you don't want to attempt it in an emergency. For some reason, perhaps old fashioned defensibility, or shelter from wind for the base on the ground, it's tucked in very closely between two ridges. We don't land there.

Beyond Sparrevohn the terrain flattens out into swamp again. We could tell from the sectional map that it would, because the map is one low colour with hundreds of little smooth edged lakes. Any place like that that I have been has been swamp. There are no trees. I think the vegetation below is grass and lichen and maybe some bushes. We find the destination airport and land, approaching over a lake that has floatplanes moored at it. It's a fair sized airport with a paved runway and paved taxiways and apron, too. A foreboding sign suggests that we needed prior arrangements to park here, even though I called ahead to check on fuel and such and was told there was plenty of parking. There is plenty of space, and We find an appropriate place to park, with the assistance of the tower. We can't find a payphone, but the tower volunteers to call for fuel for us, and the clients turn up in two truck they've somehow managed to procure. We unload everything, sorting it into what they need now and what will go back to the hotel, and then they take off in a chartered Beaver to do reconnaissance.

We drive to our accommodations--I'll describe them and town tomorrow--and unload. There will be be no mission for us tonight, but we'll go early tomorrow.

Oh and the person whose company I enjoyed so much in the air charter company next to the maintenance hangar? She's a regular reader and commenter who had previously e-mailed me a welcome to Alaska and invited me to come and talk to her if I happened to be one of the Canadians who had rented the next door hangar. At the time I received her e-mail I didn't know about the hangar plans, so told her it wasn't us. And then--this is the ridiculous part--I chatted with her face-to-face for hours and did not clue in that I already knew her in the virtual world until months later when she e-mailed me about something else and mentioned that she enjoyed meeting me. I was actually worried at the time that I might be annoying her with all my chatter. From this I conclude that (a) I am a champion scatterbrain and (b) Cockpit Conversation readers are simply fantastic people whom I am delighted to meet even when I don't know I'm meeting you. May there be many more.


Anonymous said...

Michiganders are always using their left hand to represent the Lower Penunsula. I've never heard of the Alaska trick before.

UnwiseOwl said...

I'm amazed by the mix of languages, too. Modern Australia has a very "speak English or stay at home" kind of attitude that I've always found grating. That said, we have a history of adapting foreign words into Australian English, too.
I love these little examples of Russian American English, though.

Tyler said...

Texans show it much like the alaska trick, except with the index finger pointed up (Map of Texas). Massachusetts residents (Bay Staters, to be technical) represent Cape Cod as a flexed arm (Map of Cape Cod), and San Francisco can be shown as your right thumb, with the golden gate bridge extending from the tip of your nail and the space between your thumb and the rest of your hand representing the bay: San Francisco map

Aviatrix said...

Tyler (and Anonymous), those are awesome. I'm surprised this is the first time I've met any of these.

Unwise Owl: That's what you get for living on an island. You need some borders. But I understand that Australia does have a few healthy aboriginal languages in the Northern Territory and Torres Islands. I guess there's not much of a pidgin developing there, as there is such a status difference between the languages, and most speakers of the lower status language already have a good command of the higher status one.

Aviatrix said...

Terrible typos in that one, sorry. I've fixed two of the theirs and an it's. I really do know English.

A Squared said...

Commercial is a license and Multi is a rating in the US as well. However, when you take your Comm, checkride, you only get commercial privileges in the class and category of the aircraft in which you took the checkride. If you take your commercial checkride in a multi engine airplane, you only have Comm privileges in Multi engine aircraft. You still only have private pilot privileges in single engine airplanes. (assuming you had a SE rating on your private certificate before you took the Comm Checkride)
Along the same lines, I only hold ATP privileges for Multi engine airplanes. My other ratings are at the Comm level.

It is also entirely possible to do all of your training from hour one in a multi-engine airplane. Not necessarily advisable, but certainly possible.

A third way you might end up with a commercial pilot certificate without Comm SE privileges, is through the Military. In the US, Military pilots may be issueda civil pilot certificate on the basis of their military competency. Frequently this is a commercial pilot certificate with a multi engine rating only. Depending on your career and branch of service, you may have spent very little time in a single engine airplane. A friend of mine has only a very few hours in a t-41 (C-172) other than those few screening flights, his training began in the T-37, a twin engine jet.

None of this this true in Canada?

Aviatrix said...

In Canada when I got my licence you were required to demonstrate a spin and recovery on the private and commercial flight test, and I know of no multi-engine airplanes that are certified for spins. You were allowed to provide a separate airplane for the spin than for the rest of the ride, but at some point you would have to be able to fly the spin-capable aircraft. When I stopped instructing the spin was only on the commercial flight test, but the same logic applies.

Once you have a commercial licence in Canada you may fly commercially in any airplane your licence covers (seaplane/wheelplane single/multi) but you probably need a separate type rating, pilot proficiency check or company training. Likewise an instructor rating entitles you to instruct on anything you are qualified on, with certain minimum experience levels, such as 50 hours on seaplanes to give seaplane ratings, and ten hours on type to teach multi-ratings.

For example, my licence said "All single and multi-engine non-high performance land and sea aeroplanes" before I had ever flown a multi-engine seaplane. I did my multi rating on a wheel plane and my float rating on a single.

("High performance" means a different thing in Canada, which I found out when I laughed at an American who was doing his "high performance" rating in a C185. He was insulted, but I'm still laughing. High performance? On a good day you can get it off the water and over the trees).

We have more differences such as the night rating--automatically included in an American licence and the rare VFR-OTT rating.

Now someone explain me up the British IMC versus IFR rating again. That one boggles my mind every time.

A Squared said...

OK, I'll bite, what does "High performance" mean in Canada?

It ain't a rating though in the US, it's a one time endorsement in your logbook.

A Squared said...

We have more differences such as the night rating

When i initially received my pilot certificate, I didn't have night flying privileges

Aviatrix said...

From the CARs:

"high-performance aeroplane", with respect to a rating, means

(a) an aeroplane that is specified in the minimum flight crew document as requiring only one pilot and that has a maximum speed (Vne) of 250 KIAS or greater or a stall speed (Vso) of 80 KIAS or greater, or

(b) an amateur-built aeroplane that has a wing loading greater than that specified in section 549.103 of the Airworthiness Manual; (avion à hautes performances)

That is, it goes like a bat out of hell, has to be landed faster than most training airplanes can fly, or turns into kleenex in a steep turn. You can see why I laughed at the C185!

Aviatrix said...

What are the US requirements to act as PIC at night?

Aviatrix said...

Oh and we don't have "logbook endorsements." You're not obliged to allow any messy-writing instructor to scrawl in your log book in Canada. The pilot keeps her own records, and if you are approved for a new rating, whether by experience, recommendation or flight test, you send in paperwork to Transport Canada. You used to get a new licence, but now you get a new sticker for your licence booklet. Ooh, stickers! They aren't sparkly though.

John said...

It's been a while, and I'm sure the rules have changed, but I recall that when I was initally licensed, and on subsequent BFRs, I simply flew with an instructor at night over some distance (BVY to PWM was popular here), landed, and returned. Then I was "signed off" for solo night flight. It was not automatic upon passing my PPL flight test.

Critical Alpha said...

Not quite a hand signal but nevertheless a linguistic and cultural link between the human body and a state: In Australia when you talk about a woman's "map of Tassie" you are referring to Tasmania and its similarity in shape to a woman's patch of pubic hair...

Sarah said...

US requirements for PIC at night are a PPL or better ( light sport or recreational are day VFR only ) or student pilot solo, with instructor endorsement.

To carry passengers, you need 3 take-off and full stop landings at night within 30 days in the same category, class and type, if applicable.

There are no night licensing requirements ( other than a night dual x/c for the PPL ) and many private pilots just don't fly at night. In many ways this is wise, at least until the IR.

There are, of course, complications and exceptions.. in particular, one for commercial pilots without the instrument rating, who can only carry passengers within 50 miles of their departure point in the daytime.

--studying, always studying

Anonymous said...

UK IMC: The training for the Instrument Rating is very stringent and costly. Because of this, the UK CAA also issues the IMC Rating, which is a limited form of instrument rating which is a lot simpler to obtain. It allows flight in instrument meteorological conditions but only in certain classes of airspace and with restrictions on conditions for take-off and landing. This is a national rating, meaning it is not ordinarily recognised outside of the UK. (Wikipedia)
I've seen "British VMC" defined as "pea soup but away from airways".

My verification word looks like Russian...

Echojuliet said...

I am guessing the reason that Canada has night flying in a specific rating is similar in reason (Part 61.110) to Alaskans ability to get their private with the limitation of "night flying prohibited": Its really hard to find adequate darkness during the summer. One of my friends pulled an all-nighter just to get her night cross country in late August.

The next subpart gives exceptions to cross country requirements for pilots based on small islands.

With both of these cases, the regulation goes on to say that the pilot has a year to get the limitation lifted, or the pilots license becomes invalid.

According to this, I am guessing A squared got his license in Alaska during the summer. Did you just wait till fall to get the restriction lifted? Or am I wrong and you got your certificate under some other regulatory law?

Edu said...

I don't think Finns are very conserned about swedish speaking minority even though there of course are some quarrels (especially among young people) in the areas where there are a lot of both. What people are mostly complaining about that all Finns have to study Swedish for 3-5 years at school.

To me it's just pity that there are so few occasions where to use the language that I would have to make considerable effort to maintain my language skills.

A Squared said...

Echo Juliet, yes, that's exactly what happened, I got my PPL in the summer in Alaska, when night conditions were pretty much non-existent, then got the required night training in November IIRC, to get the restriction removed.

A Squared said...

What are the US requirements to act as PIC at night?

Possess a PPL.

That's pretty much it. (plus the currency requirements)

The PPL training requires a certain amount of night training, and including a night cross country flight. As EchoJuliet said, there's a specific exemption for pilots in Alaska, in which case you have a night flying prohibition specifically listed on your certificate, but aside from that, if you hold a PPL, you are night qualified. I'm not sure what John is referring to but it's been that way for 25 years or so.

Aviatrix said...

The PPL training requires a certain amount of night training.

How much is a certain amount?

Canada requires five hours dual night, including I think it was two hours of cross country and five hours solo night, including ten takeoffs and landings, plus ten hours of instrument time. The instrument time can be by day or night, but any given hour can be recorded as instrument or night, not both. There's no flight test, but an instructor's recommendation is required, so if you're navigationally challenged you may need extra time.

Canada's night currency requires five night take-offs and landings in the last six months to fly with passengers.

A Squared said...

3 hours of night flight training, including a cross country of more then 100 nm, and 10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop.

zb said...

Washington State: Make a fist with your left hand, thumb outside the other fingers. Look onto the inside of your hand. Thumb = Olympic Peninsula.
Part where thumb meets index finger = Puget Sound... You get it...

Once you have the entire collection, you could do a nice picture (Like one of those kids' pictures with a apple and an A and a bike and a B...).

Don said...

Almost everyone here in the midwest uses their hand for locating things in Michigan. Turn your left hand palm out and you've got a pretty good map !