Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hearing Impaired Airline Pilot

As a commercial pilot I undergo regular medical examinations to ensure that I am fit to fly. I had an audiogram (hearing test) when I was first licensed, but now I'm just tested without really noticing, as the doctor will ask me a question quietly when I'm not looking at him and when I answer normally he checks a box somewhere. I have had exams where the doctor was more obvious about it, but for the last couple I can't even remember being checked for hearing. Perhaps it was during the physical ear exam, where the poor doctor has to shine a light in my ear and put up with me asking if he's checking to make sure there's something in between my ears.

This weird medical document turned up in a Google alert. I don't know enough about the relevant audio panels to know if there has been some kind of special adaptation for the captains, or if they are just showing his volume level settings.

the hearing impaired airline pilot

Kind of freaky that the hearing aid is bolted to his skull. But then I know so many people that are cyborgs now that it's barely worth remarking on anymore.

To merge the subject of not being stopped by a disability with Caturday, we have another cat with an other-than-normal number of extremities. Avert your eyes if you don't like cute kittens.

Sorry if the videos break people's browsers. I know they do sometimes. E-mail me if it's a problem and I'll remove the videos after a couple of days.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fly In, Fall Off

There was a notice in the terminal window, next to the airside gate, about a fly-in breakfast. Today. The mission specialist (the one who helped with my jelly bean game) and I decide to attend, although we'll be driving, because our airplane isn't here. Here's the airport, so you can see the water landing area. You can see it's two or three times as wide as the paved one, which is already about six times the wingspan of the typical floatplane.

Not being members of the club, we don't know which is the right hangar, but we go to the one that has trucks parked out front early on a Sunday morning, and we are right. Inside there are tables and a few grills turning out bacon, eggs and pancakes. The hangar doors are open onto the apron, and people are really and truly flying in, and taxiing up to park outside the hangar. Most of them are "landing on the grass" type airplanes.

Pancake production is the bottleneck in the operation. There's lots of bacon and eggs. A woman is running a large grill on which she appears to be tending a single pancake. I try to offer assistance without denigrating her multi-tasking skills, and it turns out that the grill isn't working properly. This is the only hot spot on the griddle and it is barely enough to toast the pancake. I admit to her that I had suspected she was such a perfectionist that she had to focus on one pancake alone, and we laugh at that. Bacon dude is retasked to help with the pancakes, and I am honoured to be served the "single perfect pancake" from the recalcitrant grill.

Another drive-in participant has brought a newborn lamb in diapers. A ewe she was tending for a neighbour had triplets and rejected the third lamb, so she is bottle-feeding it. The diapers were just to keep the car clean on the way over. We all pat the lamb and admire its cute fuzziness while making comments about how it's too small to make a meal for everyone. It stumbles around inside a portable enclosure outside the hangar, and drinks lamb nursing formula out of a bottle.

I meet a couple there who run a catering business and he tells me the secret of the grocery store across the street from my hotel. The other grocery store in town has a good produce manager who sometimes rejects shipments if the produce is not up to his standards. When that is the case, the delivery companies take the shipment to "my" grocery store and sell them at a discount. So I know where I should be buying my groceries. I wonder if they have good jelly beans, too.

After breakfast I spent an hour or so doing paperwork, then go out to be a tourist. The town is at 'Mile 0' of the Alaska Highway, so a lot of Americans come through here every year on their Alaskan pilgrimage, and the area is set up to take advantage of that tourism business. At the tourism info kiosk I learn that Pouce Coupé rhymes with Moose Loopy. The university student working at the kiosk from there, and she thinks Pouce Coupé is actually a corruption of something in Cree, and not a commemoration of someone's injury.

Speaking of injuries, after I'd walked around town and looked at the Alaska Highway Museum, the pioneer village and the mile zero marker I stopped to play at a playground. Dawson Creek may be in BC, but it is an honourary Yukon town, because in the same spirit where the airport manager in Watson Lake let us play in an abandoned control tower, Dawson Creek has iron playground equipment with moving parts and sharp gravel underneath. Kids who grow up here will learn that blood is red and that actions have consequences. I fell off a spinny thing that spun in an unexpected direction and landing on the gravel made a hole in my elbow. My blood is still red. It leaked for a couple of hours, then finally stopped. (It wasn't a grievous wound: I'm just not very good at making scabs). I write this up weeks later, and checking out the elbow I see that, damnit, it has left a scar. Permanent consequences. But it's not like I ever worried about the smoothness of my elbows.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another Funny CVR Story

Grant linked to this in a comment yesterday. It is spot on, taking the Onion`s usual formula of perfectly copying the format of a familiar news story while twisting it silly.

Guatemalan Flight's Data-Recording Parrot Holds Clues To Crash

I laughed too hard not to share it with those of you who don't read the comments. (You should, though: Cockpit Conversation readers are witty, well-informed, interesting people).


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Those Are Jelly Beans In Your Tanks

I see from the journey log that the airplane got back late last night. It would have been outside my duty day. There's still enough time left on the airframe for my flight. I do all my preflight things, including splitting the last litre of oil between the engines, and we go out and once again do what we do. Thanks to my groceries, I have a new strategy for tracking time and fuel, because once the power is set, fuel is time. I have a baggie of gourmet jelly beans (told you everything looked good at the grocery store) tucked into a pocket of my flight bag, and every twenty minutes I get to eat one. While it's tucked into the pocket, I can't see into the bag, so I make a game of what colour the next one will be. The mission specialist plays too, but he gets fed up because there are too many weird colour ones. It's pretty hard to predict "yellow with green spots." I can't even figure out what some of them taste like. I wanted normal-style jelly beans, but they were among the things at that grocery store that didn't look so good.

I land with five jelly beans to spare, and offer the specialist his choice, or all of them if he wants. He pretends he's going to take a black one. During the flight I mentioned that the black ones were my favourite, so he's actually just saying that to tease me. He takes some other colour and I eat the rest while waiting for the computers to shut down.

Off to my right a pilot reports on final, "Landing two four on the grass."

Peace River radio instructs him to, "Report off runway." This amuses me, because he's not landing on the runway, so he'll never be on it. He lands on the grass beside the runway. The airplane is a taildragger on tundra tires, so pavement would reduce his directional control and put unnecessary wear on the soft tires.

Someone else calls, "Landing two four on the water," but I can't remember if he was asked to report off runway.

I pull up to the fuel pumps and shut down my engines. I swipe the fuel card. The stupid pump, I might have mentioned earlier, wants me to enter my "tail number" so it can print it on the receipt. That may be okay for the Americans who can just tap it in on the number pad, but I'm not into hitting the arrow keys enough times to spell out all the letters of a Canadian ident. I just bang on one number a few times and hit enter. I think today I'm 1-1-1.

I don't know why they ask for that. I suppose there are various reasons. Some people who get reimbursed for fuel have to prove they bought it and didn't just pick up a left-behind receipt, so they'd have to put their whole tail number in. I assume the information is available to the FBO, and they might track how much fuel was purchased by which customers so they could advertise to them or give them loyalty bonuses. If you crashed later I'm sure the TSB could use it check to see if you bought fuel there for an estimate of how much was on board, in case there was a possibility that your fuel status played a role in the accident. And if the fuel from that tank turned out to be contaminated, they could contact all the pilots who had recently fuelled there to help prevent accidents. But most days I assume it's just there to annoy me. Tomorrow I'll be 2-2-2 or 5-5-5.

After I confirm that the airplane is grounded and specify avgas, the next on-screen prompt asks how many gallons I want. I know my fuel needs in both litres and gallons, because I work in Canada and the US. but the button says litres. Which does it really want? I guess that the prompt should be in litres too, and that the hardware has been localized but not the software. I enter the number of litres I want and it displays a total price that makes sense for litres, so I press the confirm button. After an irritatingly long pause it verifies the credit card and sends power to the pump so I can open the valve.

My fellow pilot arrives. He's taking the airplane to Edmonton again, this time for scheduled maintenance. This time we knew about the flight in advance, so I left him my hotel card key and he put some of his gear in my room before checking out. We finish up fuelling and I clean the windshield for him.

I like clean windshields. I once gave a student a major penalty for presenting me with an airplane as fit to fly when the windshield was almost opaque with bugs. Then he was surprised when I asked him to go and clean it before the flight. I found out that his regular instructor regularly complained about dirty windshields, but had never waited and made him actually clean it. The student didn't even know where the cleaning supplies were kept. The instructor, in an attempt to keep to his schedule, had inadvertently taught the student that clean windshields were nice, but not worth doing anything to achieve.

I wish him a good flight and head back to the hotel, knowing I'll have a day off tomorrow while the airplane is at the spa.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Attitude Does Not Equal Authority

The next day there is no delay. I wake, eat breakfast and go. Today I add two litres to the left engine and one to the right. You can tell we're getting close to maintenance when the oil consumption increases, but I haven't burned that much since yesterday. I'm putting more in than what is required just to replace what was there yesterday. A greater amount of oil will, I hope, amortize the cooling job across more oil so I won't need to use the cowl flaps so much. I text my fellow pilot to ask him if he can buy some more oil today. We're almost out. I clean the windows, give a straightforward briefing to a person who my instincts say would not appreciate the silly one, and we go fly.

We're just five hundred feet below the clouds, working fairly near the airport. A little Cessna takes off and joins us up here too. I later looked it up by its registration and learned that it's a privately owned C150 registered to two owners, one in Dawson Creek and one in nearby Pouce Coupé. I wonder who they are, not living together, different last names, but sharing an airplane. Every time the pilot position reports, she is much lower than us, and having recently been in a C150 I think that's because she doesn't want to take the time and trouble to climb this high. They land after perhaps an hour. Probably she was just up for a joyride.

We fly over Pouce Coupé and kill a few minutes trying to decide how to pronounce it. I think it retains close to the French pronunciation (it means "cut thumb") and rhymes with Moose Toupée, but for all we know it rhymes with Mouse Poop. After six or seven hours of equally inane conversation we are overhead the airport ready to land. "Down in six minutes," I tell the FSS guy, and my touchdown is six minutes and six seconds later. My sense of victory is brief, because I flub the flare glancing inside to check my time accuracy. Dork. Smooth landings require follow through.

After I exit the runway I stop on the apron and set the parking brake. As I wait for all the equipment to be shut down properly in the back, I text my flight follower and discover that I am to fly to another destination right away. Then I get a call from the other pilot saying that he will do the flight, to avoid giving me an overlong duty day in case there's a long hold. He's probably been awake for almost as long as I have, but I don't argue because he didn't fly yesterday at all. And his duty day has probably only just started, He may have been napping all morning. I taxi to the fuel pumps.

There are a couple of people standing in the "secure area" square outside the terminal, and some small pieces of furniture possibly symbolically blockading it. I pull around the outer boundary of the square and park at the pumps. There's a guy there in ear defenders, reflective vest, etcetera and as the mission specialist disembarks ear-defender guy asks him how much fuel we are taking. I hear "You'll have to ask the pilot" so I come out and tell him 700-800 litres, but I want to check with the pilot of the next flight first. He's on his way, so I'll start fuelling while I wait for him to arrive. The guy asks me if I want 100LL or jet and I tell him 100LL and then get out my credit card to activate the pump while he unfurls the hose. He tells me that a Hawkair plane is coming in for fuel too.

"Do you work for Hawkair?" I ask.

He gives an answer that I don't remember verbatim but that was roughly equivalent to "I work for you too." It's not uncommon for the operator of a self-serve pump to provide fuel service when he's around, especially when the pump is busy, so this isn't incredibly irregular. I turn on the pump once the credit card has been verified, and he pumps fuel. He momentarily knocks the nozzle out of the tank and sprays fuel all over the wing. Some pilots freak out about this sort of thing, but it's probably about 30 cents worth of fuel. "It happens," I say, to let him know I'm not fuming at him. He puts the nozzle back in the tank and I open the other tanks I want filled. I tell him that I will be right back. After seven hours in a plane, the sound of rushing fuel is not conducive to continued bladder control. I can also see the other pilot approaching from about 30 metres away, so he'll be here to say what fuel he wants before this tank, which I know he wants, is full. I wave to the approaching pilot and head towards the terminal.

I can see the Hawkair on its landing rollout, as I recall it was a small Dash-8. At this point there's a number of people on the ramp in high visibility clothing and ear defenders, plus a woman in a skirt. She's the only one who isn't visibly doing something, so I ask her, over the roar of the turboprop taxiing in, if she knows if it's okay if I cross the yellow square to the terminal without a badge. She says yes, but I won't be able to get out, and I say yes I know. I have the code. I bolt for the toilet. That done, I go out the groundside door, around the building to the codelocked side gate, dial in the code and jog back to my airplane. The person who was fuelling is now gone, the pump turned off and the fuel nozzle left propped in an open tank, and a number of people, including skirt woman, are glaring at me. "There was someone here fuelling me when I left!" I say by way of apology, and take the nozzle out of the tank so I can restart the fuel pump without risking it ricocheting out.

"It's self-serve fuel!" she says. True, and I have no idea why the guy was helping me, but he was. And my coworker should have arrived to take over before he had to flee. Then I realize that he is at the pumps, but skirt woman has him cornered, as she is chewing him out for walking in between the Hawkair and the terminal. "It's a SECURED airplane," she tells him. "It's going to VANCOUVER!" In fact she's so busy chewing him out that I think she failed to see me do exactly the same thing moments ago. I thought she meant I wouldn't be able to get out again because I wouldn't be able to get back through the CATSA people to exit the terminal, not that I wouldn't be allowed back in the yellow square.

The Hawkair turboprop is now parked behind our airplane and although the Jet A hoses reach it in that position, they can't start fuelling until I'm done, because the keypad that controls both tanks is shared. If she would stop hassling my co-worker we could get out of the way faster. My coworker rekeys the fuel pump and we finish fuelling while everyone glares at us. I mean WHAT? Sure the Dash-8 is bigger than me, but there's no reservation system for the pumps. I was here, pumping fuel before it even landed, and so there's no way I can be accused of having cut in front. If there is some reason why it should have priority, the young man with the reflective vest could have told me to push off and wait. Yes, it does take a while to fuel my airplane. But it probably takes a while to fuel a Dash-8 too, and we're departing immediately to Edmonton, with the pilot's duty day ticking. We have every right to be here. We ignore the glares and chat about how he didn't have a chance to buy more oil yet, but it's available at the airport, and how we should get badged so we don't get hassled for doing our jobs. Skirt woman (who wears absolutely no symbolic or official badge of authority, not even a reflective vest or a clipboard) says it wouldn't make any difference. No one is allowed to go between the airplane and the terminal. It's SECURED! Because it's going to VANCOUVER. We remain unimpressed. We've both been to Vancouver.

When I get to the last tank, I give my coworker the nozzle to finish fuelling so that I can remove my gear from the airplane and let him get on his way. I leave the key on the floor inside the rear boarding door and tell him that. Everything done, I wish him a good flight, pick up my bags and the in-flight garbage and very carefully go around the Dash-8, outside the magic yellow square, not between it and the terminal. At no point during my transit am I any closer to the Dash-8 than I was while I was at the fuel pumps. When I re-emerge to her view on the other side, skirt woman comes over to yell at me.

"You're not supposed to be there! If Transport Canada were here ... This airplane is SECURED to go to VANCOUVER!"

I gesture at where my feet are. "I'm not inside the yellow square." I resist the temptation to touch it with my toes.

She says it doesn't matter, that the nearest I'm allowed to be, "is .. is .. there!" while gesturing vaguely westward. She may be pointing at a distant maintenance hangar. It is not clear. She says I need to be escorted if I go anywhere. I literally throw up my hands. "Escort me" I say in exasperation.

"Where do you want to go?"

"A FOD bin."

She doesn't know what that is, but one of the rampees does and gestures for her. She escorts me to a big yellow drum and I throw out my in-flight garbage, and then continue past to the exit gate.

I am in general a law-abiding, cooperative person. I have read all the NOTAM and posted signs for this airport and I have worked at airports large and small all over North America. I was actively trying to comply with the security protocol. Moreover skirt woman had ample opportunity to explain her particular security rules. I initially approached her for instructions. Then she stood around and glared at me for five minutes or so while I pumped gas. She could have spent that time explaining her rules. The aren't the same at every airport. I have had many cordial conversations with security people as I stood just outside the magic yellow square. I was willing to grant her the authority to dictate limitations. Just tell me lady, please, what I may not do; tell me what I need to do. I'm not cowed by the mere presence of an airplane bigger than mine, so without further instructions it's business as usual. She did nothing to indicate what procedure I must to follow in order to respect the "secured airplane," until the third time I crossed the ramp.

Sigh. She probably hates that aspect of her job, and doesn't really like confronting people, so that by the time she does she becomes bitchy and ranting. And now I'm bitchy and ranting, too. My customer also ran afoul of her, but because he didn't have to be on the ramp he just fled to his truck until I was done. We go to Canadian Tire on the way back and rant to each other about the difference between authoritative and bitchy. I buy a flashlight to replace the broken one in the airplane. As we leave we notice the "secure" Hawkair taking off. My customer notes snidely that no one is clinging to the tail, and that's enough to snap me out of my rant.

I finally have a chance to get those groceries I've been needing, at a chain supermarket across the street from the hotel. The appearance of the produce section is a bit of a shock. There is hardly any green, and what there is, is rotten. There are paved roads coming in here, but I guess I'm further north, culturally speaking, than I thought. Despite the paucity of produce, I'm so hungry that most other things look good, and I buy a bunch of stuff I shouldn't. The produce truck pulls in just as I'm crossing the street back to the hotel. I hope they are bringing something fresh and green. Also I was so eager to escape from skirt woman that I completely forgot to hunt down that oil.

The customer calls to say that I have a 05:30 report tomorrow, so I eat some of my groceries and go straight to bed.

His Casket Was Almost Orange!

And here's an update too interesting to leave to the people who follow old comments. A few days ago I posted "His Casket is Actually Orange," a short blog entry on the passing of David Warren, inventor of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. His son, Peter Warren, stopped by the comments, and fortunately father and son share a great sense of humour because Peter answered the blog's flippant questions with both a link to a picture of the coffin (apparently they did consider painting it orange, but went with plain wood), adorned with messages from family, the words "Flight Recorder Inventor: Do not Open," plus his actual last words. "I was a lucky bastard."

I love it. I've never seen anything like it in Canada. Everyone is going to die eventually and I think there's a lot to gain in admitting humour and personality to the last rites.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Almost Win A Car

I almost won a car today. Really. Here's how you almost win a car. You get up in the morning, do your daily exercises, and check the weather. Then you go and discuss the day's flying with the client and they decide to postpone take-off for a while, so you use the time to do paperwork and personal stuff. I called the PRM regarding getting an extension instead of getting a mechanic to come up here, or flying south to Edmonton for the next inspection. Then I mended the torn journey log cover with packing tape. While doing that I noticed that the most recent weight and balance update (about half a pound difference because of an autopilot repair) wasn't entered in the front of the journey log. I don't think it's legally required to be there. We carry all the official W&B docs already, but I updated it. There are lots of lines for updates.

The a tech comes by to ask if I need anything from the store. I say no, then think about it. There are still a couple of hours before we go flying so I should go out for a walk, and get some groceries. That reminds me that I have a phone message to cal my home grocery store, something I can do now because it is during business hours and I'm not in an airplane. And that's when I found out I almost won a car.

Last time I was home and bought a load of groceries, they came with coupons and things, including entry forms for a draw. I took the forms home, filled them all out, and then actually made a special trip to walk back to the store and put them all the barrel before the draw date. I remember folding them in my secret winning way, putting each form in and then turning the barrel before the next one, because you don't want them all in the same place. And it turns out that my name was drawn. (No I won't reveal my secret winning folding technique). Now I'm eligible for the draw-off between the winners from different stores, but I can't win the car because I have to be there in person for the final drawing. I asked if I could send a proxy in my place, but no, it has to be me.

My life is so exciting. This really describes the last five years, doesn't it? The end result is exactly the same as if I had stayed in one spot, but I've had the up and down of the roller coaster the whole way. You know what? I guess I still like roller coasters. As long as the ups and downs aren't so violent I am left bruised. I already have a car that I like and it's only five years old, so I probably would have sold the new one and given half the proceeds to charity, anyway.

Back when I was a kid I entered a contest and resolved that if I won I would give half of my winnings to charity. I won. It was a trip for two, and as I was a kid I had to take a parent, and that was a kind of lame way of giving away half, but the prize included spending money so I did gave half of that away. I think it was to the War Amps, because they helped kids that were missing arms or legs and I really liked having arms and legs, so it seemed like a good idea to help such kids out. I still remember my parents receiving the donation receipt addressed to "Mr. <MyLastName>" and asking each other puzzledly if they had sent a donation. They were calling it a "tax receipt" and I knew bad things happened if you didn't do your taxes properly so I 'fessed up to being the one who had made the donation. I'm not sure how a kid managed to send a donation. Perhaps I had received my spending money in traveller's cheques, or maybe I had a bank account that came with a chequebook. Anyway, giving away half of winnings or found money became my tradition, and I like to think that the ensuing karma makes me win a little more often than most.

Then I'm called to fly, before the rescheduled time that I was planning to have bought groceries before. I ask to eat first. The customer understands about fuelling both the airplane and the pilot, so agrees and I say I'll be back as soon as possible. I run down the block to Tim Horton's and inhale a sandwich on the way back, wiping the mayonnaise off my face before presenting myself with my flight bag ready to go. The client is surprised, "I thought I had longer."

"Take your time," I assure him. "I'm at your service, not vice versa." I am literally paid to wait for the client. Five minutes is nothing. A couple of hours isn't really either. Days is not unknown. Waiting for the client consumes a greater portion of my time than flying the plane for the client. I try to instill this in FOs when I fly charter. "If the customer is an hour late, the customer is on time. If we are one minute late, we are late." This applies more if the customer has chartered the airplane for the day, rather than for one flight in a day of flights for different people.

At the airplane I add oil to both engines, then give a quick passenger briefing. I know this guy has heard this a hundred times, so I make it amusing, advising him, for example, of the location of "onboard amenities for your pleasure" while pointing out the fire extinguisher and first aid kit. I show him the operation of the emergency exits, and then add "In case of emergency egress of bodily fluids we have pee bags, sick bags and kleenex." Saves clean-up if your pax know where to find that stuff.

The engines start beautifully and I call up Flight Services as I'm taxiing out. Just as I enter the single mid-runway taxiway, a Cherokee (small single-engine airplane) calls three minutes out. Eh. There's probably plenty of time for me to backtrack, turn around and take off, but I don't see him, and he might be closer than he thinks. I don't want to cut him off. I skootch over to the side of the taxiway so he can get by me as he comes off the runway, and announce that I'm holding short. Then the Cherokee makes another call, "I'm going to join downwind, or base, if that's okay?" Aargh. If he's still deciding how he's going to join the circuit, he's more than three minutes from landing. I should have gone. I could probably still go, but I wait. The FSS guy declines to advise Cherokee dude on circuit joining and Cherokee dude works it out for himself.

He lands, rolls out and just as I am considering keying the mike to ask him if he will have any trouble getting by me on the taxiway, the FSS guy asks him the same question. Nice situational awareness for someone who is talking to airplanes at three different airports, only one of which he can see. The Cherokee pilot says there is lots of room and goes by. I taxi out and as I'm backtracking I hear him asking, "where can I park?" The FSS guy tells him he can pull in anywhere around the edge of the apron. Next question, "I need fuel, is there a truck?" The FSS guy patiently explains the self-serve pumps. "Can I park here?" asks the pilot.

Finally the FSS guy points out, "I'm in Peace River. I can't actually see you, so it looks good to me." I'm at the numbers with pre-takeoff checks complete so I call rolling and add, "and we look good too." I check the clock and it took barely over a minute to enter the runway, backtrack, turn around and complete pretakeoff checks.

Not that I'm never that guy. But I try to read my publications closely enough in advance that I'm not that guy. Anyway I should have known how long it takes to backtrack a runway that size. I should know exactly how long things like that take me. Why don't I? I should time them all.

It's windy today at altitude, so tough to maintain proper groundspeed and engine temps too. And it's a bit bumpy. I eat almonds and sesame snacks. You know those Sezme things from Poland with four flat sticky wafers in one package? If you don't, you should, unless you're allergic to nuts or something. I love them. They are tasty, unsquishable, not damaged by melting or freezing and last forever in my flight bag. Well until I eat them.

The customer is talkative and friendly, which makes the day go well. He can live with the bumps. We talk to Ft. St. John radio for a bit and then come back to Peace River. They really have the picture over there. After six hours of flying in and out of the Dawson Creek area the person on the radio still knows who we are and what we are doing.

We circle above the airport for a bit. (Don't ask, it's one of the mysterious things we do). Just as I am ready to land, a medevac--might be the same crew as yesterday--calls nine minutes out. I start my timer to keep track of him and call, "Be down in five." I fly away from the airport in order to drop down and circle back. Big circle, because I have strict constraints on my bank angle today so can't crank it around like I'm flying an airplane. Nothing over twelve degrees. (Again, don't ask).

The five minute mark passes while I'm on final and I note that my wheels actually touch at 6:20 elapsed. I exit the runway and call clear, noting that that medivac was down at eleven something. I'm thinking everyone underestimates their time to the field. I'll bet those Peace River guys know that and can handicap us for it, too.

I approach the fuel pump just as a Cessna 180 pulls up. I offer to let him go first, but he demurs. I fuel the airplane. The fuel comes out the nozzle at a reasonable rate, but I need rather a lot of it. Hundreds of litres later, I shut off the fuel pump, and take my receipt. Instead of coiling the hose all up, I just move the unreeled part out of the way and lay the nozzle on the ground, because Cessna guy is still waiting, and this will be quicker and easier for both of us. I start up and pull away to park. I walk back by the pumps to apologize for taking so long and just then he is picking up the nozzle to fuel. It is somehow jammed on, and he gets fuel all over himself before he can shut it off. He says the nozzle was locked open, which is weird, because unlike car gas station nozzles, avgas nozzles don't have the lock-open tab. Plus I know I didn't lock it open, and I definitely turned off the fuel, because that's what triggers receipt printing. He doesn't blame me, which is good because I can't see any way that it is my fault. I commiserate and note that at least it's not Jet A. That stuff is nasty.

After pumping all that fuel I have to pee, but the terminal is locked, so I get in the truck and go back to the hotel. I had dinner with my co-worker at Boston Pizza, and told him about how I almost won a car.

Friday, July 23, 2010

His Casket is Actually Orange

According to Yahoo News, David Warren, the inventor of the aircraft "black box", died last week. He was an Australian, and his father died in an airplane crash when he was nine. Here's an Australian article, with different details.

"Black box" is the nickname given to both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, both of which seem to have been included in Mr. Warren's invention. To come up with the idea of such devices was pretty visionary in the 1950s when instant recording was a novelty and data recording usually on paper reels. I wonder if the idea was germinating in his mind waiting for the technology to be up to the task. And then he made the idea into a working model. Both the idea and the technology could easily have died without being adopted, as I'm sure many useful safety ideas have, so credit to Australia for putting it into law.

The CVR/FDR comprise a peculiar piece of safety technology. They do no good whatsoever to the pilots or passengers whose aircraft they are installed in, but can provide huge benefits to others, later. I have worked in an airplane with a CVR and in another that was supposed to have one, but for which management successfully obtained a waiver from Transport to spend the money on a more immediately useful piece of technology. Most of the time the airplane was flown single crew, which I think was the grounds for the exemption.

Neither article cites Mr. Warren's last words. Do you think they were "Oh shit" or "What's it doing now"?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dawson Something

After picking up a part in Regina, and stuffing it in the nose locker so it will be available wherever we are for the next maintenance, I'm going to Dawson Creek. That's Dawson Creek in Northern British Columbia, not to be confused with Dawson City in the Yukon, Dawson's Creek on the WB network, or just plain Dawson all over the place, including a crater on the moon. Yeah, not going to the moon this trip. The O2 bottle only holds about ten hours of supplemental oxygen. The CFS tells me that there are two aerodromes in town, but I am not going to accept dispatch to the one that has a 2000' sloped turf strip and is operated by the Flying L Ranch, so there's no need to call the client to confirm the landing site. The Flying L Ranch sounds like a cool place, but so does the main Dawson Creek airport. It has two separate prepared landing surfaces: one for landing on wheels and one for landing on floats. That is, there's a runway-shaped water-filled trench to the left of the main runway. There's no tower, but the mandatory frequency there is remoted to Peace River radio from 1330Z to 0530Z, which means that when I call, a guy in Alberta will answer.

Weather looks agreeable between hither and yon, despite a steep pressure gradient so I depart, with the addition of another crew member who happens to have been working in the area on his other job, making it an easy pick up. I'm not quite sure what happened to his vehicle. I know a pilot who can tell you off the top of her head how much it costs to ship a car by train from one part of the country to another. Others just own semi-abandoned cars in various places. There ought to be a special pilot car insurance rate for people who only get to use their cars when they aren't flying in another province.

The fuel number is listed in the CFS under "Military" for some reason. Maybe I misread it. They agreed to sell us fuel even though we carry no firearms or bombs, and came fairly quickly.

Dawson Creek is north and west of here. I flew and he manned the charts and radios. We passed fairly close to Saskatoon, so gave them a call to position report and update the weather. I initially just tuned the YXE ATIS for a local altimeter setting, but it was almost an hour out of date and it's always good to talk to someone en route; the FSS will volunteer SIGMETs and other hazards. We check the charts carefully looking for the new boundary between Edmonton and Winnipeg Radio before we call. We identify ourselves and position report, saying we are VFR between Regina and Dawson Creek. Our request is very standard "an altimeter setting and current weather at destination." We at first assume we have a Winnipegger on the line, as he had to ask for the ident of the reasonably large airport that is our destination, but then the conversation got weirder.

Us: It's Yankee Delta Quebec.

Him: Dawson Creek altimeter two nine nine three.

Us: [Silence]

Him: Did you want the rest of the weather?

Us: Yes please

Him: [reads entire METAR for YDQ]

Us: Thank you

Him: [Silence]

Us: [to each other] He's not going to give us a local altimeter setting?

We call back and ask for a local altimeter setting and he provides one. That probably doesn't sound weird to most people, but usually you can't talk to an FSS without being given at least one, and often a whole string of altimeter settings for the route ahead. An altimeter setting is the FSS version of "hello." It was especially relevant that day because of the rapid change in setting along our route. Newbie, I guess.

We could see we would clip the edge of Edmonton's control area. I gritted my teeth as I reached for the CFS, hoping that they weren't one of the zones that have started demanding advance codes for transit. I'm going to have to start making that a part of my VFR flight planning now. I look at where I'm going and where I'm coming from, but I am too often guilty of assuming that the old rules apply for VFR transit. Calgary, I learned the hard way, insists on an advance telephone call for a transponder code. Edmonton, fortunately, doesn't yet, but I promise to check each new edition of the CFS before each planned transit through their airspace. We looked up the appropriate frequency for Edmonton Terminal and let them know where we were and where we were going. No problem. They gave us a squawk code (and an altimeter setting) and cleared us through their airspace. We saw three different airports we've worked out of in the last year or so and then we passed out of their airspace to the north and they cleared us en route to squawk VFR. And updated our altimeter setting.

I was flying at 6500', a VFR altitude appropriate for going west, high enough to be out of the daytime turbulence but not so high as to require oxygen or turning on the heater. As I continued east a layer of daytime cumulus cloud was starting to form, building to just about my level. I dodged a few, and then as the layer thickened, mused about my choice, "Up or down? the eternal question." Down would put me into more turbulence, closer to control zones and terrain. Up requires me to increase the power for the climb and then readjust everything again, and the cumulus tops will build another couple of thousand feet before destination, requiring me to do it all over again. Pilots, if you haven't gathered already, can be really lazy. You want me to move levers? It's not a really difficult choice, just a topic of conversation. Pilots can be hard up for those, too. I got a new altimeter setting form flight services. It is higher, good news weatherwise, but putting in a higher altimeter setting shows me at a higher indicated altitude. If I descend again to an indicated 6500' feet I'll really be in the cloud tops. So I take the head start and climb to 8500'.

This works fine for a while, and then the clouds, as predicted, build back to my level. By this time I'm in the vicinity of Grande Prairie. We won't be in their zone, but call them for traffic advisories anyway. Their new altimeter setting puts me back in the tops again, so I descend back to 6500', which is now cloud-free, thanks to the fact that cloud bases tend to gradually rise during the day, and that my new 6500' is a few hundred feet below my old 6500', thanks to the rising pressure. People who have blindly memorized "from high to low, look out below" without close regard for the underlying physics may need to stop and ponder that for a moment. We report the altitude change and call clear as we continue to the west. They thank us for checking in. It's good when towers do that. Sometimes pilots are ambivalent about calling an air traffic agency we don't have to, and when the controlling agency's response sounds like we've bothered them or that they couldn't care less, it results in subtle pilot behaviour modification. But every one who acknowledges the utility of just knowing there's an airplane out there beyond their sphere of control reinforces our motivation to call.

Now we're almost at Dawson Creek. We call the FSS and the guy in Peace River answers us, as advertised. He can't see the traffic out here in BC, but he keeps track of it. There's someone in a single departing, something else small and slow arriving, shouldn't be any conflicts. Then a medevac faster than us checks in behind us. We're almost overhead and hear a five miles out call. Is this going to work out? Oh phew that five mile call was the slow, departing traffic, not the incoming medevac. We land, after jokingly lining up on the water runway for a photo op, then call clear and taxi for fuel.

It's a more civilized-looking airport than we expected. It has a classy new passenger terminal with a big yellow "secure area" square painted on the apron outside of it, a little tower building (probably vacant, seeing as the radio service is remoted to Alberta) and lots of paved apron. There are two fuel pumps either side of a sign that gives prices (good prices, too) for avgas and jet, but while the right tank has a Jet A sticker on it, there is no avgas marking on the left tank. Weird. The paper cover of the journey log tears on the seat pocket as we take it out to record the flight. Grr. I always buy the hardcover version when I have a choice. But they keep replacing this one before it's full, dunno why.

We unload the airplane and I give the receipts for the ferry fuel to the customer: they are responsible for that. The Regina receipt is just a truck fuel ticket, not a credit card receipt, because the truck driver didn't process the credit card, just called in the information. Client needs a proper receipt. I didn't bring a CFS in from the plane, but the fuel number is in the recently called list in my phone. They fax a copy of the credit card receipt and everyone is happy.

Dinner is at some chain restaurant where they casually offer you garlic bread with your entree, then charge you $3.50 for it. One slice.

I did get a chance to call the airline captain who was one of the first to encourage me in all this. As I was approaching Regina, he had been just leaving, ferrying a smaller airplane in the other direction. I believe that brings his home collection of aircraft to five. He's well, just retired, still happily married to his original wife, and having a great time. I'll see if I can get out to see him when work and other aspects of life let up around ... January I think.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Baffin Island Hatchlings

This video is perfectly named, because the behaviour of the parachutists in their wing suits is exactly like downy chicks trying to copy their parents flight before they have developed the feathers, muscles and cardiovascular system required for flight. They jump up and down, fall on their bellies and crash into one another, all of which tones them up so that when they are fully fledged they can fly, albeit with an initial amusing lack of directional control.

I like they way they have used the tent as an egg metaphor, too.

On a completely different topic,

This is a good review site for pilot-related iPod apps.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More Evidence Pilots Can't Count to Three

Exactly eight hours after I put my head down on the pillow, the alarm tells me to wake up and go back to work. I get out of bed, switch on the computer, and put on my clothes while it reloads windows. And I see that the weather gods have rewarded me for my scrupulous adherence to duty time laws, as the fog at Regina has not materialized. Why should weather gods care about duty time? I don't know, but I feel virtuous so I accept the reward.

Breakfast will be a meal replacement bar out of my flight bag. A "company note" (flight itinerary) will stand in lieu of a flight plan. I call down to the front desk to let them know I am looking for an airport shuttle. It's on another mission and won't be back for over half an hour. Aargh. I come down to the desk and check out, asking about taxis. It turns out there's one sitting outside. That will do.

I ask the driver to take me to the airport, but not the passenger terminal, the Kelly FBO, "It used to be the Shell," I explain. He asks me which airport. "The big one, the international, Winnipeg International ..." Damnit, it has another name. Which dead politician or war hero is this one named after? "The one Air Canada flies into." Good thing he asked. I'd have hated to end up at a cropdusting strip or one of the flying school fields around here. I put my head down and start texting my flight follower. Then I look up. We're approaching the passenger terminal. "This is the wrong side," I explain. "I need to be on the other side of the runways, where the Esso is." The Esso hasn't changed names lately, I hope.

"You said the big airport," he counters.

And my realization dawns. To non-pilots the airport is not the place with the runways. It's the terminal. To him this is two separate airports, the one with the big airplanes and the one with the charter planes and scruffy pilots like me. He drives back around the runways and I'm at the FBO only a little later than I had planned. I've yet to find the perfect words to explain to cab drivers where I need to go.

I paid for my fuel last night, so I just go through and preflight the airplane. No water in the fuel, lots of oil in the engines (or maybe not and I added some). All the airplaney bits are still attached in the right order. I load my flight bag and overnight bag into the airplane and secure them in place, then open the CFS to get the clearance delivery frequency and check on any special departure procedures. And there is one I hadn't planned on. Aircraft not on a VFR flight plan must call flight services at least 30 minutes prior to departure, in order to obtain a transponder code. Sigh. I shut down. They're doing this everywhere now. I call clearance delivery and see if I can get away without one, but he is unbending. I call flight services on the radio and ask if I really have to wait half an hour. "Try in five minutes," he recommends. I start up again and then a guy comes by in an Esso truck and signals for me to shut down. I do so and he tells me there's something on the ground by the plane. I open the door and look and it's the little bag in which I keep my wallet, licence and passport. It fell out of my flight bag while I was loading. I thank him profusely and check to make sure my head is screwed on.

Restart the engines. Clearance delivery has my transponder code, ground gives me a prompt and easy taxi clearance, and tower clears me for takeoff. Vroom into the sky I go, approved for a left turnout. There's a little bit of mist over the ground, in low spots, but other than that it's a lovely day. I climb out to some bush pilot like low altitude and level off. I hear a call from a flight number "911." I think it may be that company's standard medevac flight number, but they do have a 9-1-1 of sort. They also have just taken off and are requesting a return for landing because of fuel leaking visibly out of the tank caps. Someone else is having one of those mornings. They decline all emergency services, fire trucks and other offers of assistance. I think I would have left off the reason for my return in my request, and just let ATC be curious.

About 50 miles outside of Regina I make a call to traffic on 126.7. It's not strictly necessary, as I'm going to call tower in a few minutes and they will provide traffic information in the vicinity of their control zone, but it's what I'd do in the bush approaching an airport, so I do it here. A voice answers with my real name, recognizing my voice even though it's been a long time. It's a mentor, my very first aviation mentor. The guy who gave me a postcard with an A319 on it on my first cockpit visit. He is so awesome. He gives me his phone number and I promise to call tontight.

I copy the Regina ATIS and call tower. They sequence me and ask me if my destination is apron II. I look at the airport diagram in the CFS and see apron I opposite the terminal, apron IV way down taxiway Charlie, and II and III down that way too. I'm not sure which of II, III or IV is right, but it's down that way, so I answer in the affirmative. I'm cleared to land, do so and then call ground.

Ground gives me taxi instructions that don't gyve with my destination. I look at the CFS diagram now that I'm not flying an airplane, and realize that the area I'm looking at isn't marked II and III, but is marked III in two different places. Apron II is off on the opposite side of the terminal. I call back and admit that I can't count past two and need to taxi the other direction, which he approves. It's twenty to eight as I pull up, but there is no one waiting impatiently for me. I've made it. I shut down and fill out the journey log.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Déjà Flew

For the first part of my flight there is very poor visibility in smoke. At Ottawa (because that's where it was, and I have no doubt you've guessed it correctly by now) the ATIS called it four miles visibility, and that's about right. It very slowly opens up. I mentally note how far ahead I can see until finally around Petawawa it opens right up and I have normal visibility. I call flight services with a PIREP to that effect, and get the latest weather from them. I'm flying towards a front that has some low ceilings and thunderstorms associated with it. When I checked the weather before take-off, I was expecting to meet the front over Lake Superior, but it's moving faster than anticipated and now it looks like I'll hit it just past Sudbury.

Sudbury lies exactly on a straight line between Ottawa and Thunder Bay. Considering how few big centres there are in Canada, and that most of them were founded before air travel, it always seems to me that a disproportionate number of them lie on a direct line between others. The highways aren't straight enough to explain the phenomenon. I imagine there is some kind of computational analysis that could be done to determine if this is true, or if it's just selection and memory bias, but it's nice how often it works, especially when the town in the middle is just right for a fuel stop.

I'm approaching the Sudbury area, and tune their FSS frequency just in time to catch part of a long PIREP about the thunderstorms. I didn't hear the type, but background noise suggests its a helicopter, and he's encountering numerous cells and poor visibility in moderate rain. I position report, get a new altimeter setting, and prepare for the onslaught.

Just past Sudbury the scattered cloud above me solidifies into a broken ceiling, and I deviate slightly to the north around an obvious cell with rain associated. As I get far enough around it to see past, there's nothing more. A bit of mist, maybe some scud, but not even enough rain to wash the giant northern Ontario bugs off my windshield. Different cruising speed and altitude, and twenty minutes time can all make a big difference to the weather experience. Or the thunderstorms have spent their thunder on Chapleau or thereabouts, with nothing left to rain on me. Once I circumnavigate the dark area I encounter clearing skies and good visibility before the lake comes into view.

So here I am again, only a week later, over the northern reaches of Lake Superior. This time I'm going about three times as fast, and I can cut the corner over the water so long as I remain within 50 miles of shore and within 60 minutes (at one engine failed speed) of a suitable emergency landing site. But there's something about northern Ontario that makes time pass slowly. I think I'll start a tradition of donating to the Terry Fox fund every time I pass this way. I think this is a long trip? Terry ran it. Why do you think he maintains his status as a Canadian hero a generation after he died? He travelled across northern Ontario when he didn't have to. Canadians respect that, regardless of how many legs a person has.

Weather across the lake past the front is fine and I'm soon descending into Thunder Bay. Back to the same FBO as last week, and the C150 is still parked there safely. I order fuel then update my weather and call company while the fuel is being pumped. The boss wants me in Regina tonight. I'm not sure that will work with my duty day: I legally started my duty day a few hours before take off from Ottawa and I'm keeping it properly in zulu time, so I know I won't go over. I initially say that I will overnight in Thunder Bay, but then decide to continue, because the weather between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg can be an obstacle--as we so recently discussed. I promise up and down that I will be there at seven a.m. tomorrow, an hour before the eight a.m. time at which the airplane is supposed to be available. This will be fine with tomorrow's duty day, too.

For my route to Manitoba, the current forecast period, the GFA shows scattered thunderstorms coming from the south. I would be able to make Regina within my current duty day, if it weren't for the headwinds. I decide to make it as far as I can legally make it and then land for the night. I plan to Winnipeg. Right after takeoff I remember one more thing that I should have done on the ground in Thunder Bay: clean the bugs of the windshield. A clean windshield is not just so I can take good photos for you, but it is important for a good lookout for traffic. And it was right around here where a well-known failure of the Big Sky principle of traffic separation occurred. It's very difficult to see an airplane on a collision course until right before it hits you, so you have to keep looking for it, all the time.

I climb into the somewhat darkened sky and level off a bit lower than I'd planned on account of a cloud ceiling. It's raining to the southwest. I slalom around a few cells, getting a few raindrops on the windscreen. I snap on the pitot heat switches. No need for windshield wipers: I'm above the placarded speed and the rain all slides off the window anyway. It's funny how instantly cold the airplane gets as you fly into rain. I guess it's partly psychological and partly evaporative cooling. It's as if I can feel the rain actually falling on me. Hey! I can feel the rain falling on me. There's a leak somewhere. I don't see it coming in anywhere, but I'm not breaking out in a cold sweat. I knew I wasn't flying a pressurized airplane, but I thought I could at least expect it to be waterproof.

I call up flight services and file a PIREP. It's not necessary, as the weather is exactly as depicted on the GFA, but I might as well let them know they are absolutely right, and other pilots know that it isn't any worse. The briefer has access to weather radar and based on my position advises me to deviate north as far as Dryden for the next one, because it's a really big one. I do, amusing myself by taking pictures of tranquil weather out the right side of the airplane and foreboding thunderheads out of the left.

This dodging has used up some more of the time I was going to use to get to Regina tonight. The GPS predicts my arrival time at about five minutes late, and that would be ten or fifteen minutes late when I add in time for slowing down to land, then taxiing in and shutting down. I oscillate between pushing it and being legal. I could pretend I wasn't smart enough to get the winds before the flight or to use the GPS and that the fifteen minutes was due to unforeseen circumstances. But headwinds on the prairies are foreseen circumstances and who wants to draw attention to yourself and company by filing the paperwork required to make up for an duty day overrun? I could lie in the journey log or my duty record, but I don't do that. It makes me look lazy to break off for the sake of fifteen minutes, but in truth it's more work to do it this way, because it will be another airport, another landing and another takeoff. But I can do that in the morning. I land in Winnipeg.

There's some confusion at the FBO because it used to be a Shell but is now Kelly something, and there is a new Shell in a different place. They haven't quite sorted everything out with the new name and billing procedures. They sold the Shell franchise and kept the business, I think. They're very friendly and helpful and I think to myself that Canadian FBOs are finally catching up to US ones in terms of service. It's no longer "you have to buy fuel from us anyway, so shut up and deal with whatever kind of service we give you."

The hotel they recommend is not expensive and has a shuttle. When I get there I grab a reasonable approximation of supper, log on to the company website to send my daily flight report, and open the windows for tomorrow's weather.

FIRETRUCK! Tomorrow morning Regina is calling for 1/4 mile visibility in fog. Nothing I can do about it now. I make a short but heartfelt plea for the weather gods to be merciful to me, and then go right to sleep.

Oh and here's the El Al, probably on a diplomatic mission. I believe there were RCMP officers in dress uniform and Israeli and Canadian flags hoisted.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

As Easy As Picking up A Rental Car

Happy Bastille Day, everyone. I'm at a a swanky FBO within easy walking distance of the passenger terminal at a large Canadian airport. There's a spacious waiting room with windows looking out on the runways, and I can recognize one of our company airplanes parked outside at the back of the large apron. Inside there are leather couches, a big TV and a fancy coffee machine.

I order the tanks all topped off, which based on how much should be in there right now, will probably mean three or four hundred litres of avgas, but the FBO lady say there might be a problem. Kind of two problems. The first problem is that the avgas truck broke down this morning, and the second problem is that the totalizer on the avgas truck indicates that there is barely more than four hundred litres in the bowser. This may or may not be the amount that can be actually pumped, so they might have four hundred litres or they might not. I guess they don't always reset the totalizer properly, or something. I didn't press for an explanation.

They estimate that the truck will be operational in about an hour. I tell them that as long as I'm getting good fuel that I'll take what they have once the truck is ready. The FBO woman lets me leave my luggage in a conference room while I go and get some lunch at the terminal. It was Swiss Chalet, or Subway or something. And an apple. A fast food restaurant on the terminal concourse was selling apples and oranges. There might be hope for the world after all.

When I return, the good news is that the truck is fixed, but the bad news is that it only put out two hundred litres or so. I've lost track of the number of FBOs--or entire airports--that I have run out of avgas. I go out to the airplane, noting to myself that if you buy fuel for an airplane, you can get access to the airside at this international airport without producing a ramp pass or any ID. I don't think I even gave my name. Everything is in order with the airplane, but it does need a couple hundred more litres of fuel. No problem, there's a flying club that sells avgas, at the other end of the airport. I start up and call ground for taxi clearance.

They give me clearance, and a simple routing. I read back the hold short instruction and trundle along, in that direction, keeping my nosewheel on the yellow line. I can check it by looking in the mirror I use to ensure the gear is down, but I don't have to. Even though the line is only about the width of my hand, I know when my nosewheel is on it just by looking ahead through the front window. I remember my first or second lesson, when I asked the instructor if I could just taxi today, because I needed more practice. He told me it wasn't necessary, I'd get enough practice as part of normal lessons. I guess I have lots of practice now.

I pass an El Al jet, just sitting there off to the side. There's a visible security presence, so I guess they know how easy it is for me to get onto the apron with my airplane full of shoulder- launched missiles and high explosives perfectly innocuous, harmless cargo. I taxi on by, hold short of a runway and then am cleared across.

The general aviation area is a little crowded. Ground instructs someone else to hold for a Katana, and then me to hold for someone else, and then I find my way to the avgas pumps. And there's someone already at the pumps. I stop and idle waiting for him. He sees me and makes elaborate, "do you want to come here?" gestures. I nod emphatically and then he pushes his small single-engine airplane out of the way. There's a yellow line painted on the tarmac leading up to the fuelling area, but I don't know what wingspan it's for. I'm afraid it's a little too close, so follow a bit to the left of the yellow line. Someone appears to marshall me, so I follow his instructions, still watching out for my own wingtips. It would still be my responsibility if he directed me to taxi into something. When I'm opposite the pumps, he signals me to shut down, so I do, but by the time I get out of the airplane, he's gone again.

I inspect the pumps and they don't look like self-serve. I go up to someone getting out of a light twin behind me and ask if the pumps are self serve. He says no, so I go inside the building to place my fuel order. When the airplane is fuelled, the guys at the hangar say they don't want me to start up there, because I will blast the hangar as I turn out. Someone comes back with a tractor. The tractor is dragging a lawnmower attachment, and on the back of the lawnmower is a hook, and on the hook is a sort of trailer, a tongue pulling a little platform with four wheels on it. And, after a bit of winching, on the platform is the nosewheel of my airplane. This contraption tows my airplane out to where I can start up without blasting anyone, and I do so.

Ground control states the wind and asks me if I can accept the small runway at the flying school end of the field. I glance at the CFS for its length, then at the OAT, and answer in the affirmative. It's not hot enough or high altitude enough for me to have to pull out the chart and do the exact calculation to accept this length. I have a number in my head that I an accept in calm winds up to 2000' density altitude up to 20 degrees. I'm number one on the taxiway and cleared for takeoff after a Cessna 172 lands. I use lots of the runway, but not all of it, and climb out on vectors.

Post continued after you folks have fun deciding where I am.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Putting the Fun Back In

An aviator I met many years ago had a retirement party not too long ago. I have attended a number of formal ceremonies marking the end of various pilots' careers, but this one is special. I'll tell you why in a bit.

I don't know the pilot especially well. I remember that before I met him I happened to be following his car on the highway and noticed one brake light wasn't working. We rarely do a walkaround on the car while someone is in the driver's seat activating all the lights, so it's the sort of thing that gets missed. I check for two headlights reflected back at me from the back of the car in front of me at stoplights at night, but you don't often get a chance to check your brake lights. I guess backing into a parking spot would do it if there is a reflective window behind it. When I saw the same car parked at the airport, I went into the business it was parked in front of and told him. So I guess that's how we met. He owned the business.

We worked together indirectly for a while, but what I'll remember him for most is that one day, after I got a better job, he said casually that he was glad to hear that, because I was too valuable to be wasted here. It came at just the right moment for me. It was probably just a casual congratulations to him, but it did it for me.

That's not the reason I flew out there to see him though. It's because of all the times I've been invited to a gathering celebrating the life of an aviator, this will be the first one at which I will be able to shake the pilot's hand. All the others were funerals.

It was worth it. I got a ride right from the airport to the party and he looked so well, all the stress gone and looking forward to flying for fun during his retirement.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Different but not Wrong

Here's your Caturday post. Note that that is not just any old cat lounging on any old piece of paper, it's a twenty-four toed cat lounging on one of my op spec sheets. The standard specification for a cat includes eighteen toes: five on each front paw and four on each rear paw. But this cat is different, and has six toes on each foot. It's different, but fully operational and this cat still complies with all catly requirements, like the one to always insist on being on the opposite side of any closed door, or to lie on anything a human is using.

Polydactylism is quite common in cats, and doesn't seem to pose any handicap. The owner of this cat was second in line to adopt it, after a person who rejected it for the abnormality, saying that it would probably cost a lot to have the extra toes removed. I can't imagine being so wedded to normality that you would consider cosmetic surgery for a perfectly functional cat.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Cleared for Sliding

Now I'm at YEG, which brands itself as EIA: Edmonton International Airport. I'm here two and a half hours before the flight, a little excessive, but that's when I got here. I saunter leisurely to the bag drop. The suitcase I wanted to check weighs 54 pounds. I crack it open and pull out my bag of cords and battery chargers, stuffing it in my carry on. Now the big suitcase weighs 52 pounds. So, "how much," I ask, "will it cost me to check a suitcase weighing an extra two pounds?" The answer is fifty dollars plus GST, so $52.50. Yeah, the marginal value of my stuff is not $25 per pound. I go over to another scale and pull random other stuff out of the big bag until the suitcase weighs 49.9 lbs. I zip it up and check it. I try to zip up the carry on. Not quite. Sigh. I'm getting too comfortable on the road. Have to slim it down. After the suitcase has been tagged and marked with a Heavy/Lourd tag, I consider shoving the stuff that barely fits in the carry-on back into the suitcase, before I drop it on the conveyor belt, but I have friends who chuck bags for a living, and fifty pounds is heavy enough.

I head out with my overstuffed carry on towards the gate, looking for things to entertain me as I wait. There's a big colourful playset with the words YOU ARE CLEARED FOR SLIDING written down the slide. It's so inviting. I look around for a bit and don't see any rules posted. "Do you see any sign with an age limit?" I ask a woman who is sitting near the playset, watching a boy climb inside.

"Go ahead," she says. "I've been in it with my kids."

I don't need any more of an excuse than that. I take off my boots and go for it. The playground is really well-designed. The way up and in is a steep slippery ramp with little clouds to step on. That's trickier than it looks, a mini-climbing wall and a barrier to access for kids who shouldn't be on it. And also for adults who don't have the toe and arm strength to navigate the little footholds. Once at the top I go left into a twisty plastic fuselage with little airplane windows. There's a crossroads in the tunnel where a boy asks for my ticket. I take a moment to dig out an invisible airplane ticket, which he inspects before letting me pass. There's a spot to sit in the cockpit and look out the nose, and then around the corner to a curvy slide. I call out a warning as I go down it, in case there's a child at the bottom, and then find myself in a little cage made of rollers. I have two squeeze myself out like I'm laundry in an old fashioned wringer washer, to escape. It's awesome. I go back up and try a few more paths through the game before going back to the chairs and sitting with my stuff. There's a guy there now, instead of the woman.

"That's a great playground," I say as I crawl out and sit next to him in the chairs.

"She designed it," says the man, gesturing to the woman I spoke with earlier. She is just coming back with the boy.

"Really?" I say. What are the chances? "You're funning me!" But it's true. Her name is Elizabeth and she is in charge of graphic design and appearance at the whole airport. She was hired, I think she said fourteen years ago to do graphics like I suppose the signs that tell you where the baggage carousel is, and her job expanded to fill her area of expertise. She figured there should be a playground here, so she designed it, told the airport how much space it would require, had all the components built and put it together. She is not the paperclip. I wonder what I would be doing if my job could do that!

I rave about her play structure, but she probably had the most sincere compliment she could get from me the moment I was so captivated by it that I had to put down my luggage and play in it. Later when I was photographing it from different angles I found a small sign that restricted use to ages twelve and under, but if you ever go there, know that the designer thought it was just fine for grown-ups. Just remember to have your invisible ticket ready if there are any kids inside.

As I get up to find my gate, there is a PA announcement reminding the owner of Charlie the Tank Engine to return to the gate for a toy left on an airplane. A few minutes later the FO comes through the gate area, asking us if we've lost it. So sweet. I hope Charlie and his young owner are reunited.

Seeing other people being nice makes me happier. It makes me look for an opportunity to be nice to someone else and keep it going. By coincidence, today I had another opportunity to link two people I only know through the Internet. One of them hopes to work in airline logistics, and the other already does. I told the former I'd get in trouble from my blog if he was Muslim, but he says he'll have to get back to me on that. He thinks his grandmother might have been. That's a sleeper cell in deep cover.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Recurrent Training

Next day I go for a flight with my chief pilot. Due to a variety of SNAFUs, there hasn't been time to book an examiner and do the required training for a PPC renewal, so although my IFR expires in a few days, we're not doing the six hours of training required to renew it, just the one hour for the company annual. I'll be restricted to VFR flight only, and to part 702 work--no night VFR with passengers--until we get that straightened out.

The flight is practice and demonstration of competence at a few procedures that I never do in the normal course of work. We start with steep turns, 45 degrees of bank, maintain altitude and airspeed, roll out on the initial heading. My first one is terrible, but I try a few more each way and determine the sweet spot. Still not stunning, but the chief pilot is satisfied. Not banking is generally what I am paid to do.

Stalls are simple. Reduce the power below the setting at which the airplane can maintain level flight, let the speed bleed off and trim down to blue line or so, then maintain back pressure on the control column and hold altitude until the angle of attack approaches a critical point. If I let it continue right to the stall, the nose would pitch forward as the centre of pressure moved aft. It's not entirely dissimilar to the feeling when you're not pedalling a bicycle hard enough for the grade and it slows to a stop and would flop over if you didn't put your foot out. The standard for the exercise calls for me to recover at the first sign of a stall, which in this airplane is the stall light and horn, so when it flashes and bleats I apply full power and pitch the nose down just enough to fly again. We repeat the exercise with the flaps and gear extended. This time I have to raise the gear and reduce the flap setting gradually to aid recovery.

My worst exercise is recovery from the engine failure in the overshoot. Considering that I do mentally practice for an engine failure on take-off, and that I know I'll be given a failure as we simulate an overshoot, I should have been much better at simulating the feathered engine while maintaining speed and heading. I do another and the procedures are better but the airspeed control, but the third one is the charm. I'm fairly horrified, but the chief pilot is tranquil. I remind myself that the purpose of training is to train, not to be perfect already, but I hate being bad at things I should be good at.

Once I have the airplane cleaned up with the simulated engine failure, my next instruction is to turn to a heading. It is the reciprocal of the heading I am on. I look for traffic, and then bank, saying out loud, "turn away from the dead engine." Pilots who turn towards a failed engine can find themselves unable to control the airplane. And it turns out the instruction was a test.

At the end I do an ILS approach, go missed, fly a circuit and come back and land. I'm signed off for another year of company service, and we'll try and schedule a PPC before too long.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Coffee & Anarchy

I'm on my way to work. The coffee should be cool enough to drink right now, but I have put the lid on the travel coffee mug backwards, so it's hard to drink. I try to fix that, which results in my spilling coffee all over myself. At least I can verify that it is now not too hot to put in contact with my lips. I stand up and shake some of the liquid off my jacket, but that doesn't do anything about the part that is all over the front of my pants. An observer with a poor sense of smell and an imperfect grasp of female biology might think I have wet myself. I could change into one of the other pairs of pants in my suitcase before I check it in for departure, but then all my luggage would become coffee scented. I'm not in uniform, so have no one in particular to impress. I'm not worried about horrifying the biology impaired. In fact, horrifying the biology impaired could be legitimately listed as a hobby of mine. I decide to run with Mark Twain's live toad theory and look forward to the rest of my day.

Boarding the flight there's someone ahead of me in the jetway, also not in uniform, but his luggage includes a familiar rectangular leather case with B737 stickers on it, so it's pretty obvious where he works. The case has been almost completely destroyed through use, with giant holes in the bottom. I comment on its state of dilapidation and the pilot says he bought it eight years ago to celebrate his upgrade. By the look of it, the reasonable lifespan of a pilot brain box is about five years. I thought they'd last longer. I used to think that the very young guys with tattered cases were toting hand-me-downs.

I have one, as a result of it being abandoned at an office I worked in once, and me being the only one patient enough to pick the combination lock. I don't use it at work because I don't have the cockpit space for it, and I prefer a bag with a zillion pockets so I know where to find everything. We keep the charts on board the airplanes.

During the flight I complete my company annual exams, verifying that I still know things like how to operate the emergency exits, how to extend the gear if the regular method fails and what types of deicing fluid are appropriate for my airplane. Coffee wouldn't be a good idea, but there is some flexibility.

In the following report, the flight crew of a U.S. air carrier landed at a Russian airport on a scheduled flight only to find that ice had formed on the upper surfaces of the wings due to fuel cold-soak. Perhaps because it was June, the Russian ground crew didn't have deicing fluids available -- but they did have another kind of solution -- and it worked to Absolut Perfection. The Captain's story: "...upper wing ice formed due to fuel cold-soak. No glycol at airport... [Airport] possessed no fluid as well...So, had Russian ground crew spray wings with hot water, then immediately sprayed 25 bottles of Russian vodka on top of wings...[with] garden sprayer. Wings were subsequently checked, they were clear of ice. Normal takeoff."

From NASA.

At destination I meet with my chief pilot and we go over my exams. I've specified the wrong position for the fuel to tee off from the fuel system to the heater, I've chosen the less perfect answer to a question on why we don't use pure glycol, and I didn't have a list of the specific operational specifications my company has. Op specs are deviations from the CARs (Canadian Aviation Regulations), approved specifically for individual companies. For example we have one that allows me to work a fifteen hour duty day instead of the regular fourteen.

When I studied for my commercial pilot written exam, back in the ancient times of the 20th century, I noticed that almost every rule that governed commercial flying concluded with "unless otherwise authorized in the air operator certificate." In fact, when I wrote flashcards for studying, I made up a special symbol, I think it resembled the anarchy symbol: a capital A in a circle, to represent that phrase. Aviation, more than anything else I've done seems to be actually concerned with safety over rules. If an air operator can demonstrate that they can do something safely in a way that is not in strict accordance with the rules, they can get that op spec. It encourages innovation but not anarchy. If as a pilot you're in a dangerous situation you can disobey the rules to get out of it. There will be paperwork, but not blood.

We go over everything that I have wrong, then we both sign the exams and my chief pilot puts them in a file. See? Anarchists don't keep files.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Fireworks and Stuff

Happy Fourth to my American friends. Long may your country prosper and enjoy the freedoms your clever forefathers proclaimed for you.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Fans of the guy who says "rodge"

There's a Facebook group dedicated to one air traffic controller named Michel who says "Rodge" on the radio in acknowledgment of calls. He's currently working for Toronto Terminal. Air traffic controllers are supposed to, and for the most part do adhere to very strict limits of procedure and terminology such that there shouldn't be an operational difference between the experience between being handled by one or another. But this guy reveals just a bit more personality than most and has what amounts to a cult following among pilots. The Facebook tributes to this guy have built into aviation-themed Chuck Norris jokes. His bosses must hate it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

One Hundred and Forty-Three Years

It will be Canada Day on July 1st, and I think I'll be celebrating it both in Canada and with friends for the first time in years. This will involve a backyard barbeque, beer, face painting, and I'm going to sing God Save the Queen and O Canada. I won't go to the fireworks, though. Fireworks displays are kind of boring for me. I think appreciation of extended explosions is linked to the Y-chromosome.

So if you're Canadian, whether you're celebrating the continuation of the country of your birth, being accepted for immigration into this society, or not having had your people totally eradicated by the newcomers, I hope what you're eating is tasty, what you're drinking slakes your thirst, what you're doing is fun and whom you're doing it with are a joy to you. I'll raise a cold one to those of you who are working, and hope that you're enjoying a good day.