Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Posting Process

The plan is to go south for maintenance either today after my flight or tomorrow morning, depending on the weather, and on last minute whims of the client, owner and airplane. This time it will be my turn to go slightly further south for a few days. I understand that there is more than one street at the place we're getting the maintenance done. I look forward to that, for sure. Or maybe I'm just going insane. You know the old Dickens line about income and expenditure and pounds sixpence and happiness or misery? There's something similar to do with pilots, being in the field, having enough to eat and going insane. Six weeks consecutive weeks in is around the tipping point for insanity for me these days.

Let me explain my blogging process: I take notes during the day--on my OFP, in a notebook, on the back of the box the brake pads came in, on anything that will hold the ink, and by taking photos just so I remember the thing I want to blog about. I copy the notes into a notepad file. I used to have a different notepad file for every day, but now I only start a new one every month. It's easier to ensure continuity between blog entries, refer back to things, and make sure I've covered everything when they're all in one place and I don't have to keep opening and closing files to check if I mentioned the hotel key problem or the broken TV yet.

When I have more time, I tweak the notes into a usable post with raw html tags, notations like e' and [photo] or [foxeatingcat.jpg] where I want non ASCII characters and photos. When I have both time and Internet access, I copy paste the text to the blog, make up a title, and then upload the photos and try to remember to expand the special characters. Let me know if I forget one or the other.

I assign each upload the next available date. I leave some gaps so I don't have to move EVERYTHING if I want to put in a more timely posting, and so that the already written entries last longer if I get busy and can't blog. It's better to have one post every two days reliably for two weeks, then to have a week of posts every day then nothing for a week. If there's breaking news I drop it in the nearest open space, moving posts around to get it sooner, if I can do so without unduly breaking up a narrative arc. Sometimes there is a post that I know in advance should go on a particular day: a holiday or date significant to the post, so those go in on those dates and I have to be careful not to accidentally move them as I shuffle things around.

Two or three days, occasionally get as much as a month ahead with queued posts. This summer I fell three months behind turning my notes into posts, then got lazy and didn't write them up as soon as I had a break.

This is the long way of saying that I have no idea what I did today, but it must have involved flying, because the next day I took the airplane to maintenance, and that was a memorable day, so I'll make you wait for it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

That's It: I'm Making a Tag

I leave the phone on again, but wake up at eight anyway, and there's no text message. Why isn't there a message? They should have taken off at least an hour ago. The weather report shows that there was fog for a few hours, but it looks clear now. I have a shower and then when I get out I hear an airplane take off. It sounds like ours. The first time someone told me they could recognize their airplane by the sound I thought they were nuts, and even still I don't really trust myself when I think I hear our airplane. Besides, there was no text message announcing the impending take off. And then in comes the text message. They'll be back in six and a half hours, bringing my turn around about three p.m. again.

Unless they're back early, which they are. The weather turned bad. So it's the three of us at lunch again. Being silly people again. This time it's just the pilots making wild free association on wide-ranging topics. The AME warns us that we're at risk of having our heads explode. The other pilot confesses to a retirement plan involving winning at Jeopardy. The AME isn't stupid either. He just has a dumb guy act, because he's so smart he knows that most places there is a stigma associated with being the smart one. I think it's gradually dawning on him that he can be himself here and he won't stick out as being either too smart or too weird.

He mentions that while he was working at the hangar after the flight today he witnessed a crane migration. Apparently there's some kind of crane that comes through here by the hundreds. One of the other mechanics on the field had told him about it, and he happened to be in the right place at the right time. They're all going south to eat yummy American crops for the winter and then they'll come back in the spring to mate and have their chicks. chicks? Do cranes have chicks? Don't all birds have chicks? No, swans have cygnets, and geese have goslings. But geese are just weird. They don't even have flocks, they have gaggles. Similarly, we insist, you have one moose, multiple meese, and their little offspring are called moslings. Also if they fly in a group, that's called a maggle. Oh wait, aren't geese just a gaggle on the ground and a skein in the air?

The AME looks now like he's ready to cause some head explosions if we don't stop it. At least he has that well-lubricated waitress from the other day to distract him. "Humans," I mention, "are the only animal I can think of that use mammary glands in mating displays." The other pilot nods while the AME asks us what the hell we are talking about. "BOOBS" we chorus in stereo.

When we get back to the rooms the other pilot discovers that her door card key no longer works. I let her in through my room, and it's just as well, because it turns out that the hotel's card coding machine is broken and they can't fix cards after they stop working. There's a new one on order from Texas, but for now, everyone who doesn't have a working card has to get an escort to their room.

I go up to the grocery store for more lunch and snack foods, and to replenish my chocolate supply. They have premium chili chocolate (thank you to the reader who introduced me to that stuff) but I notice that the bars on the shelf are up to six months bast their best before date. That's not even a northern thing. You see that all the time if you check carefully. Stores think they can get away with it because a lot of people don't check the expiration date on their chocolate. But if you're going to pay $3.50 for 100 grams of premium chocolate, there's no reason for it not to be fresh. I throw all the expired bars in a basket and take them up to the front. Maybe if they're lucky the staff will get to eat them.

It appears from my notes that I settled for Oreos. I note from the package information that twelve and a half Oreos will provide the daily recommended allowance of iron for an adult. Also, they claim two cookies constitute a "serving." Anyone knows that a single serving of Oreos is a whole row. I think I'll have a second serving.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rivers, Mountains, and Cuuuute Baby Animals

I'm woken up by a text message on my telephone. Of course we don't fly for days and I do it all right, and then the one day I forget to turn off my phone before going to sleep we do fly, so I'm woken up by the message that I should have gotten after I woke up and turned on my phone. No great harm done: it's 8 a.m. already. Yeah, I slept past eight on a working day. It's my job, so I can work late if need be.

Around three p.m. it's my turn to actually do my job. It's so exciting. I get to fly an airplane. Water, headset, snacks, emergency supplies, checklists and jump in the customer's truck to go out to the airport. The other flight has already landed but the engines are still turning as they finish shutting down the computers. The fuellers here are good. They understand our operation and have good communication, so they are right there as soon as the engines stop turning, fill us up and then my coworker pays for both loads of fuel together as I start the engines anew. Everything is warm and we haven't forgotten how to do our jobs so we taxi out. I follow the little wiggle in the taxi way that is designed to take me around the end of the tails of the airliners parked at the terminal, even though there aren't any parked there. I always follow the taxi centrelines.

Silent self brief before take-off, notify the FSS that I'm taking the runway, position, power, airspeed, rotate, liftoff, climb rate, airspeed, brakes, gear up, lights out, climb speed, after takeoff checks, and into the weird ballet that starts one of our missions. Today's mission takes us out over a winding river, up its sloping bank to some jagged hills and then over an almost vertical escarpment into another valley. The escarpment curves towards the valley and its lip slopes down from north to south. It's a challenge to put the airplane just where it needs to be on each pass, while maintaining the assigned speed.

It's a great flight, with clear weather for a change, but I forgot to take any pictures until after landing. After I called for fuel and we drove away I tried to get a shot of the full moon. I forgot to turn off the flash on the first attempt, however, and that one zap of the flash killed the battery. I had a spare in my bag, but I didn't want to ask the driver to wait while I switched batteries and tried again to capture the drama of the evening in a tiny five year old digital camera. I'll have to just tell you about it.

What appeared to be a completely full moon has already risen to at least thirty degrees above the horizon while across the sky the sun was just touching the northwest horizon, sunset still a half hour away. That's not the way they described the relationship between the full moonrise and sunset in science class, but then in kindergarten they taught us that the sun rises and sets daily. I love the north.

I love in general when nature doesn't seem to conform to its stereotypes. Like these marvellous shots of baby cheetahs playing with a baby impala. If the game eventually got rough and they killed it, the photographer either didn't capture that, or chose to leave those shots out of the series. I imagine either mother turning up and giving her offspring hell for hanging with the wrong crowd.

Friday, November 26, 2010

For the Memory Bank

Do we fly today? No, of course we don't fly today. We are pilots in the north with winter approaching, and the clients dictate where we stay. We go together for brunch at the landmark hotel in town. Not a Landmark Hotel, just a hotel that's a landmark. It doesn't take much to be a landmark in a town that has one business street. The hotel has been there for fifty years or so without burning down, so it's a landmark.

We look at the menu then all have the buffet. It's edible. A change from the free waffles and bagels at the hotel. A loop on the TV goes through adverse weather in Nova Scotia, childcare options in Winnipeg, and a seeming serious documentary on how to win the lottery. I believe the trick was to buy tickets. When we realized that it had looped around it was time to go home.

We were all laughing as we walked back to the hotel. It started with some silly thing, joking about why the mechanic's hotel room lacked a shower curtain. I'm not going to say it, but come on, in the comments guys, what's the first reason that comes to mind for someone to remove a hotel shower curtain? So we're laughing and walking along. Although the weather is still not suitable for work, lots of low cloud bases, it's scattered cumulus and sunshine filters through. It's a beautiful day for walking down the street. It's just a silly moment with co-workers, but it's one of those things that I want in my memory vault in twenty years, along with the images of snow-capped mountain ranges and the pristine lakes that no one ever sees without an airplane.

After we get back to the hotel, a big dark thunder cloud moves in and makes it look like evening. Rain pounds the hotel. Then it passes and we're back to sun with scattered scud.

Maybe tomorrow we'll go flying.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Do I Need a "Boobs" Tag?

There's a text on my phone asking me if the weather is "flyable." I go to the window and assess. It looks low, almost too low to get in and about six-eighths sky cover, broken. The recent METARs call it a seven to eight-hundred foot ceiling and seven-eighths broken. It's definitely improving, but hasn't broken open yet. I pass on what I know. It's funny how you can look at weather reports all day, but you like to hear from a pilot what they see.

The weather continues to improve, and soon there's a knock at the door. I go and open it, but there's no one there. I look left and right down the hallway. Often in a hotel when someone knocks on the next door room door it sounds like it's on my door. But there's no one knocking on either side door. I'm just about to close my door and write it off as my imagination when my co-worker's voice says, "Wrong door." She's in the adjacent room to mine and she's knocking on the connecting door.

This is awesome, not just for silly jokes and turning our two rooms into one big party suite, but because when I open the connecting door I see that it's constructed so there is a separate door on each side of the connecting doorframe. There's a gap between the two doors where we can leave the aircraft key, the journey log, secret messages, anything we want to pass between each other without having to wake each other up. Nice. Normally we either try to fit the stuff under the hotel room door or leave it at the front desk for each other. It also means I don't have to get dressed again if I forget to pass the key on to my sleeping co-worker before getting ready for bed. And if we don't fly for a couple of days we don't have to keep passing the stuff back and forth. We can just leave it in the connecting compartment.

We leave the connection unlocked then collect our aircraft mechanic and all go out for dinner. One of the waitresses has taken considerable effort in displaying about as much of two of her body parts as you can without being arrested. We all conclude that if someone is going to that much effort to show you something it would be rude not to look. So we look, and discuss whether it's baby oil or sunblock that makes them glisten so. Does she have glitter on them? Who does that? Have I been in the field too long? Yes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

National Opt-Out Day

As the use of whole-body imaging scanners increases at airport security checkpoints in the US, so does public objection to the technology. Voiced opposition is a combination of concern about the radiation exposure, objection to being seen virtually naked (and to the possibility of the resulting images being disseminated), and defence of the American "fourth amendment" which protects citizens from unreasonable searches.

There are two technologies being deployed, backscatter x-rays and millimetre-wave scanners. They both produce similar resolution images using different technologies. The US FDA says that passing through a TSA backscatter x-ray scanner delivers radiation equivalent to two minutes of airline flight or 42 minutes of everyday living. Other sources disagree on whether the effect is proportional.

The millimeter wave is electromagnetic radiation at the extreme high frequency end of the radio band. The waves are transmitted simultaneously from two antennas that rotate around the body of the person being screened. The reflected energy is detected and analyzed into a three-dimensional image. The millimetre waves have not been demonstrated to cause any health effects, but the technology is new and this study suggests that terahertz radiation may affect DNA.

There are not yet enough scanners to make them the standard. At checkpoints where the new scanners have been installed, selected passengers are asked to pass through them, with the option of declining the scanner and submitting instead to a thorough manual search, including (through clothing) the genital and breast areas. It certainly makes for good slogans. One way or another, the TSA is going to examine your junk. It's the porno scanners versus the grope search. If you want to get on an airplane, the choice is between having them look at your body or feel it. Excepting Islamic nations, the US has one of the most body-private cultures I know of, and this is where people are starting to draw the line.

A citizen has made a call for people to join in a national Opt Out Day, refusing the scanners and requesting the manual pat down. It's not that the organizers believe that the manual search is less invasive, but that they want opter-outers to receive their pat down in public so that occasional or unthinking travellers can see the extent of the examination. They have chosen November 24th because it is a day when many infrequent travellers who may not be familiar with all the new regulations are in the airports and then afterwards everyone will sit down with their families and perhaps make the airport experience, and whether it has gone too far, part of their family discussion. The action may impede efficient movement on one of the busiest air travel days in the US, but on the other hand if many people are refusing the scanners, then perhaps it leaves the scanners free as a fast lane for those not participating in the protest. Perhaps some of my readers will report back on what it was like. And to my American readers, whether you celebrate or mourn that day, I give you my best wishes for you and your family.

Airline pilots are especially incensed by the intrusion. I haven't been subjected to either type of scanner or the enhanced search yet, but it is inevitable with my travel pattern. I suppose I'll try each way at least once, and probably stick with the enhanced search. I usually prefer human contact over being shut up alone in a box. I have done only momentary research on the topic, but whenever something is proclaimed safe for humans, I remember hearing that in the 1950s they had x-ray machines in shoe stores so you could see how well your toes fit inside the shoes.

If you prefer your radiation in the visible spectrum and to see underwater creatures over blurrily naked Americans, http://www.backscatter.com offers some beautiful images, and the gear used to photograph them.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What We Train For

I'm way too late to the party to comment much on the uncontained engine failure on Qantas flight 32 on November 5th, but I wanted to share with you the cabin PA the captain made during the incident. I'm always interested in what makes these sound frightening or reassuring, and I think this captain did a very good job of this minor detail of the emergency handling, as well as the major job of putting the airplane back on the ground efficiently. They had some hard decisions to make.

The issue that has forced the grounding of Qantas' entire fleet of A380, as you'll know if you've been following the story, is not so much an Airbus problem as a Rolls-Royce problem. The engine failed so spectacularly that Rolls Royce has recalled forty of its Trent 900 engines worldwide, and the incident airframe may be a write-off. Debris from the engine damaged the wing spar and it's not certain how that might be repaired or replaced in this new, composite aircraft. Christine Negroni drew my attention to and summarizes a power point presentation on the extent of the damage, blogged by Ben Sandilands.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm Okay

I was not on the bridge in Phnom Penh last night.

Life Happens in the Gutter

It sure isn't happening in this hotel room. It was another TV day.

I watched a rerun of a Comic Con interview on one of the geek channels. A graphic artist explained, "Life happens in the gutter." (If there's a specific person who should receive attribution for that quotation, please let me know. As far as I can tell, it's traditional wisdom of the trade). The gutter is the groove between the facing pages of an opened book, and by extension, the space between the panels of a graphic novel1. The pictures themselves don't move, so graphic novels depend on the reader's participation in creating what happens from frame to frame. The art of designing them is to facilitate that so that the page looks great, but the reader is never confused about where to look next, and the surprises aren't spoiled.

I mostly read webcomics, not printed comics2 so I'd never really thought about that. It's an interesting insight into the trade, but more interesting to me as a metaphor for actual life, along the lines of "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans," plus the reminder that the static Kodak moments in someone's life aren't their whole life, and that even when you're down and out, living in the gutter, life goes on.

The other movie I watched today was The Life of David Gale. I didn't know anything about it when I turned it on, but very early in the picture I knew what was going to have happened, well before the murder victim was identified. It just so happened that as one of the characters dropped a little clue phrase that was designed to explain the movie in retrospect, I found it interesting enough to ponder how I would approach the issue, and then the rest of the movie fit my solution perfectly. I think the ending was supposed to be a surprise reveal, but the movie was interesting enough that I kept watching. It was remarkably balanced, considering that most of the main characters are anti-capital punishment crusaders. I think in the end that both sides were fairly presented.

The airplane should be back soon, so I can do some work.

1. You can't call them comic books, because a lot of them aren't meant to be funny.

2. I only own two graphic novels: Maus II, which I bought second-hand in New Orleans, and The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. Definitely not comic books.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Amazing Little-Known Aircraft

I really should spend some of the energy I expend reading webcomics and watching Law & Order reruns on keeping up with the coolness of experimental aviation. Here are a few I've been collecting to share with you, none of which I found out about as soon as I should have, so don't expect any breaking news.

The Goodyear Inflatoplane was built long before I was born, but really that is the sort of thing that legend should keep alive in everyone's hearts, even though the project is long gone. I love inflatable stuff. Inflatable Christmas decorations, punching bags, air mattresses, pool toys, you name it. And "Inflatoplane" is the best name. They really knew how to name things back then. The airplane I learned to fly in was designed in the same age of naming, and its features includes omnivision, paralift and land-o-matic.

Fortunately the fifties named inventions that were yet to be invented, so that this is still called a rocket pack or a jetpack or a rocket belt. It's a bit like the personal videophone though, into the proof of concept phase, but still not really there. Another model leaves the fuel on the ground, and removes dangerous exhaust from the vicinity of the user, allowing for much more flight time, but restricting the flight path to over relatively calm water.

This experimental miniature airplane uses the same flight techniques as the birds I love to watch, controlling their momentum with such precise timing that they come to a full-stall landing on a single point. It's awesome to watch them adjusting everything to make that landing. They mess up sometimes, but because their wingtips and tail sections are made of feathers, they don't need to report for major repairs or inspections when they do. Birds land on power lines because they are available and away from predators, so it's doubly cool that the MAV is using the power line as a food source, actually poaching the current to recharge its batteries.

And finally, last month the Solar Impulse has completed a flight of over twenty-six hours (yes, through the night and into the next day) entirely on solar power. The team is planning to build an even more efficient solar-powered airplane and do a round the world trip. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know about this the same day it happened, because it's the coolest thing ever. I'd love to fly a solar or human-powered aircraft. I should really get my glider licence. Started it once, but then I moved for a job, to somewhere there weren't gliders.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Feel the LOV

A new aviation abbreviation with an F in it has entered the scene. Okay, it's probably not new to aircraft structural engineers, but I only recently noticed WFD for the first time, in a new FAA rule that requires manufacturers to declare and operators to comply with life limits on airframes. The lifespan of an airframe may be given in hours or cycles, but there is a possibility of having an individual aircraft approved for an extension. The term limit of validity (LOV) refers to the engineering data specified about the airplane. Its an addition to the published limits that certification requires an aircraft to be operated within. The rule applies to existing designs with a takeoff weight of at least 75,000 pounds, and to all transport designs seeking certification in the future.

I think in most North American operations, large aircraft become uneconomical to maintain before they reach their LOV. The rule itself states that there will be only one current airplane affected, at a cost to its operator of $3.8 million dollars, but that the new rule will save the industry $4.8 million. I believe that the savings are from changes in inspection programs, but I'm not certain. I've been sitting on this for a while, intending to do more research, but I've been learning Khmer and getting my taxes in order instead. The link to the rule given in the ASN article is broken, but I found it here.

Usually when an aviation abbreviation contains an F, it doesn't stand for fatigue. A while ago I used some netspeak in an e-mail conversation with another pilot who hasn't spent as great a proportion of his life online as I have, and he wrote back to ask me to clarify ROTFL. He said he could have asked his daughter, "but it had an F in it, so I thought I'd play it safe." In this case, it's "rolling on the floor, laughing," but his caution was well-placed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

First a Safety Lecture, Then Bikinis, And Finally Naked Women

The title above is not a clever play on words. It is a factual description of the following post. The links contain increasingly NSFW material, as described.

I am a pilot. My primary job is the safety of the flight. As the pilot of an aircraft without a flight attendant, my job includes briefing the passengers on the emergency procedures for the aircraft, ensuring they comply with safety regulations, and assisting them in evacuation if necessary. A secondary responsibility is passenger comfort. This involves requesting routing that maximizes calm air conditions, proper operation of pressurization systems, smooth control handling, making reassuring cabin announcements, and sharing my jelly beans.

When an aircraft has flight attendants, it is still the responsibility of the pilot in command to ensure that these things happen, it's just that the P-I-C delegates some tasks to the flight attendants. The flight attendants' primary responsibility is the safety of the flight. If everyone is complying with the safety regulations, that leaves the flight attendants time to work on their secondary duties of catering to passenger comfort. This involves serving drinks and meals, handing out headsets, resetting the entertainment systems, and the like. Way too many passengers mistake the flight attendants' secondary duties for their primary function, and think that when the flight attendant asks them to put their carry-on item all the way under the seat in front of them, that the flight attendant is being a busybody. Respect the FA as a safety professional who will get you a drink if all is well, and you'll have a nice flight. Treat them like an inconvenience who won't get you a fifth drink and who has their head in the way of your carry-on during taxi, and you get Stephen Slater, plus the cops meeting your flight.

Fortunately, flight attendants are not often called upon to go to the limits of their training with respect to ensuring your safety, and most seem to be able to tolerate unreasonable passenger behaviour within the limits of their patience. Some of them go above and beyond in the entertainment department, too: telling jokes, singing songs, and otherwise livening up the flight. The rest of this blog entry is about the "otherwise."

Irish discount airline Ryanair -- I believe I have another blog entry about them in the pipeline for later -- publishes an annual calendar featuring members its cabin crew in bikinis. Some people are outraged. The airline gets lots of free publicity. The women who choose to participate get some exposure. The charity-of-the-year gets some cash. A few passengers are stupid about it and need to have their attention drawn to the second paragraph of this blog entry. The thing is, good looking women in bikinis look good. People are going to look. And the thing about advertising is that you have to get people to look.

This ad from Russian airline Avianova starts off with the words "Few know how airplanes are washed ..." The rest is women in bikinis and soapy water. There are a couple of firefighters, too, but lets just say the same care was not taken in casting and costuming. Avianova. Fares from 250 rubles. "Welcome."

Not to be outdone, competitor Aeroflot is issuing a flight attendant calendar of its own. As I understand it, these images are part of a customer appreciation gift to Aeroflot frequent fliers. The Russian site that published them has several more images, including a number that represent multiple images for the same month, some clothed some not, as if they hadn't yet decided what level of undress the final calendar would represent. That seems a little suspicious. Wouldn't you decide on the images before turning them into calendar pages? But I suppose considering how easy it is to overlay the name of the month and the dates, and that the look of the printed image is going to influence the shots chosen, it makes as much sense as anything. Adme says they found the images on an Aeroflot flight attendant bulletin board, from which they have since been removed. I admit to curiosity about the missing calendar girls for February, March, April, June, July and December. I want to see some photos of the flight deck. And the flaps.

Notice again the red shoes. My red shoes are more like the ones in the Virgin ad. Much nicer. And to think I left those shoes off my hundred items list. I did, at least, remember a bikini.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sooah-sdey, Kñom moak bpee Kanadah

So this is it. My bags are all packed, including work gloves and pliers (for holding nails, to avoid banged thumbs), and I'm getting ready to leave for the airport. I've read the guidebooks, had my vaccinations, paid my share of the group expenses, and even got ahead on my blogging. You've got a post almost every day I'm away, not quite.

So many thank-yous go out from me to everyone who contributed to this effort. I am inspired and awed by your generosity, and will do my level best to build the best possible homes with the greatest of respect for this community. The project is not so much about bringing Canadians with marginal building skills to a country with lots of unskilled labourers as it is about inspiring Canadians with access to money to bond with the country and fund the project, and to demonstrate to a devastated country that they matter. First, they'll see us there, having travelled from across the sea because of them, and then they'll see that foreign and exotic as we are, we're a bunch of clumsy human beings, not as good at nailing things together as the people from their village who have worked on such projects before. Is not, "The world cares about you, and you're as good as anyone in the world," one of the best messages of hope you could give to anyone? Especially when they get a house out of the deal. Oh and because the group leader used the fantastic response from Cockpit Conversation readers to goad the rest of our group to fundraising efforts, we raised enough to fund a new school as well.

For the next couple of weeks you'll have regular aviation blog entries to read. I'm afraid there's rather an overemphasis on boobs and junk food. I was six weeks in the same location and didn't realize how strange my notes were until I tried to blog them. I'll let you know when I'm back, but will probably take a break through most of December before posting details of my Cambodian adventures.

The post title means "Hello, I am from Canada." I'm afraid my Khmer isn't up to much more.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Old Joke - New Ending

This post started out as me just posting a joke, but then I thought too hard about it.

Passenger: Why was the flight delayed?
CSA: The pilot didn't like the sound of the engine.
Passenger: Did they get another engine?
Old Ending: No, they got another pilot.
New Ending: No, they downloaded new sounds.

They're talking about putting artificial sounds on electric cars so that blind people can hear them. They already have artificial pre-stall warning symptoms (i.e. the stick shaker) on airliner flight decks, to mimic the feeling of the stall buffet in the airplanes most pilots learned to fly in. Perhaps someday there will be a reason to use artificial engine sounds to mimic the sounds pilots are accustomed to in monitoring our engines. Detonation, backfiring, missed cylinders, loose flyweights, or "scary banging sounds."

Usually gauges provide the information we need, but there have certainly been many times when an engine sound has made me look at the gauges. Gauge irregularities make us listen to the engines (make us look at them too, that's actually part of the procedure, to make sure they aren't on fire).

There's an unexpected aviation connection to breaking news. Prince William, who is second in line to the throne and will probably become the King of Canada someday, has just announced his engagement to a woman who is the progeny of a flight attendant and a flight dispatcher. Long live the Queen!

Monday, November 15, 2010

No Work Wednesday

My coworker flew a mission today and then took the bird south for maintenance, leaving me with no duties in a town too small to even have a Tim Horton's. So you're expecting a tale of adventure and cultural exploration. Please. This town has basically one street, a kilometre long, and I've been here for a month already. There are woods, but nowhere destination-like within them. Plus I'm alone and unarmed and it's the season when bears are our foraging to fatten up before hibernation. Adventure does not call.

The Aviatrix catalogue of markers of depraved indolence includes such pursuits as eating nutella out of the jar with a spoon, watching shows like Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek on the Space channel for ten hours straight, remaining naked all day, getting drunk at nine in the morning, rocking out to the Cake Song on my iPod, and surfing internet porn.

You think I'm that depraved? ah you know I'm not. I didn't do all that. I don't drink when I'm in the field, and, if you'll recall, the Internet here doesn't work.

Also I totally think Doctor Who should do a gag where they go to England in the 1950s and there are police call boxes every couple of blocks, and they forget which one is theirs. Not the whole plot, just a one-off gag.

I'm really not under the influence of anything chemical today as I write this up, either, but the fact that I posted this is probably a good indication that a really bad head cold is incapacitating for reasons other than pressure change tolerance. My misery is tempered only by my fascination by the millennia-prolonged evolutionary arms race between the things that make us sick and our own immune systems. I like the organisms that live in me without making me sick, better.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Catch-22 Squared

The next scheduled maintenance task to come due will be a longer than usual one, just based on the hours the airplane has flown, not counting anything that may turn up to have gone wrong out of schedule. The flap wiring is due to be changed, for example, and that's a complex task, because once they take it apart it may turn out that some of the parts that don't have to be changed based on age or wear have to be changed because they are no longer compatible with the replacement parts, and so on for the parts they interact with, for a couple of iterations. We can't just take the system apart to check if that will be the case because, (a) it's almost as much work as changing them anyway, and (b) on account of (a) there's a rule that if the system is taken apart and the wear is beyond a certain point--that it's almost certainly beyond, seeing as they're due to be changed and we often operate the flaps in cruise--then they're required to be changed. At least that's my understanding of my remembrance of the explanation. We can't see if they need to be changed because then they'd need to be changed.

None of this is due for a few hours yet, but the unsuitable weather is forecast to persist, so we're possibly going to take the airplane to another airport to get at least some of the scheduled work done early. There there will be additional maintenance personnel available and more sophisticated equipment. Plus we can get the HSI repaired without having to ship it twice.

We don't need two pilots to ferry the airplane, and the other one needs to do some banking that can't be done here. There's no reason for me to go to, so I'll be alone here without an airplane for a few days while she and the aircraft are away. It's a good plan, but it doesn't work out. The morning she is supposed to leave, the weather is too bad to go VFR, but she can't go IFR because the HSI isn't working. So we can't regain the ability to fly in IFR because we can't fly in IFR.

When the weather improves, it has improved so much that the client no longer agrees to release the airplane for maintenance. They want us to stay and try to do some actual work tomorrow morning. So we're together for another night, with the AME. It's Half-Price Pasta Tuesday at Boston Pizza, so that's where we go for dinner. The AME spots an engagement ring on the finger of one of the servers and declares it to be a fake. We tease him for his long-distance gem evaluation skills until he flags another server and grills him on the relationship status of the server with the ring. He's right: it's a fake to keep customers from hitting on her. Too bad she didn't arrange to have her co-workers corroborate the story her finger tells. If I recall correctly, the AME didn't hit on her anyway.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembering Sacrifice

The eleventh of November is Remembrance Day in Canada, a day set aside for us to remember those who died in the service of their country. It's not a victory celebration. It's not about pride in ones armed forces. It's not supposed to be a political statement about the nature of war. It's just a day, and specifically a minute of silence, to remember those who died fighting in the name of their countries. In Canada we wear poppies, or nowadays plastic and felt representations of poppies, as a symbol of our remembrance.

I explain this holiday every year, but this year I happened to have an experience that illustrates how I feel about it, and showed to me that I wasn't kidding myself. I was walking along an unfamiliar road and came across a cenotaph to the local war dead. It was of a common format: a square column with the dates 1914-1918 engraved on one face and 1939-1945 engraved on another, accompanied by a list of the men from the local community who had not returned from the corresponding combats. Of course I'm not old enough to have first hand experience of either of those wars, but those dates automatically bring to mind history class images of mud and barbed wire. I stopped and looked at the memorial, read some of the names and wondered what they were like, how bad it had been for them, wondered if their families still lived in the town. Then I walked on. Around the next corner was another war memorial, very similar to, but a hundred years older than the first. It was from a war I'd never heard of.

It was focus-changing. It reminded me that someday an ordinary person will have no specific emotional associations with the first and second world wars, and eventually even with the most recent gulf wars. Someone who paid attention in history class may recall the official causes and some of the combatants, but it will be nerd knowledge and not a topic of political debate. Does anyone today identify personally with one side or the other of the Thirty Years War? Perhaps some people do. I heard someone use the pronoun "we" with reference to the Saxon tribesmen who harassed the Roman soldiers in northern Europe. I don't think that sort of identification with past grievances is a good thing for a society to keep alive. I believe one can remember and honour the fallen without perpetuating the conflict that killed them.

I know I've made that step because it only occurred to me as I typed this up that the names I read on that first memorial were the names of people who may have either killed or died at the hands of people whose names I have read on other cenotaphs. It was in a village in Germany. May they all rest in peace.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Redneck Lottery Winner

I'm the old hand at this town now, and my newly-arrived coworker hasn't spent much time here, so I'm the one who is supposed to know where the choice restaurants are. It's lunch time and we again don't have any flying to do. I suggest we go for a bit of a walk across town to a ma & pa restaurant where I know we can get some tasty soup and maybe some lasagna or a sandwich. It's the muddy season, and road work in town forces us to go the long way around to get from the sidewalk to the door. When we get inside the complex there's a note taped to the window declaring the restaurant closed for a family emergency. Not much I can do about that.

There's another place to eat only half a block away, but we have to cross an unpaved parking lot to get there. I believe I've mentioned that this town has the world's stickiest mud. By the time we reach the restaurant it feels as if we're wearing manhole covers on our feet. We scrape and bang our feet against the sidewalk curb in front of the restaurant, trying to return our footwear to the appearance of shoes. The restaurant owner laughs at us through the window as we manage to get mud everywhere without significantly reducing the amount that is on our shoes. We apologize for tracking mud inside with us, but he knows it is unavoidable. He says his landlord was supposed to pave the parking lot, but he's still waiting.

The menu is various Asian foods. I had coconut curry and teriyaki meatballs, and then, as we had nothing to do but go and walk in the mud somewhere, we had a long chat with the owner. He was wearing an Edmonton Eskimos jersey, but explains that it's on account of losing a bet. He has the common misconception that as pilots we somehow own our airplane, or are allowed to jaunt around in it whenever we want. We explain that no, we can only go where we're paid to, because it's very expensive to operate, then we fantasize about the aircraft (Zeppelin), pets (capybara)and household staff (personal chef) we'd acquire if we were to win one of those big lotteries.

The restaurant owner discloses that a guy from this town once won the SuperMax lottery. He was out in Vancouver collecting his big prize, so of course they asked him what he was going to do with the money. I could see where this sort of story was going so I interjected, "Oh let me guess, he said he was going to buy a new truck!"

"No," replied the restaurant owner, although I'd supplied him with the perfect straight line. "He said he was going to buy a new windshield for his truck.

I just realize as I post this entry that it has the same theme as the 100 Items one, that of being pretty much satisfied with what one has. Life is good.

Monday, November 08, 2010

100 Items

The hip new thing in the world is minimalism, specifically paring your possessions to one hundred items. I'm going to do it now as a mental exercise. I'm doing this without Internet access, so I don't know the accepted "rules" for defining the hundred. I am, therefore, making up my own rules.

I'm going to assume that:

  • items that are normally assembled into a single item (e.g. camera, battery, SD card) get to be counted as one item,
  • items that are multiple in and of themselves (e.g. a pair of socks) count as one item,
  • I have someplace safe to live where I keep this stuff
  • plumbed appliances (toilet, sink, shower) are considered part of the home

If I were living out and had to carry everything with me on a bike, it would be a different list. Written in the order I thought of them, influenced by what I can see around me.

1 Camera
2 Charger for camera battery
3 Computer & cord
4 Aviation headset
5 Flashlight
6 Black socks
7 Colourful socks
8 Warm socks
9,10,11 Three pairs of underwear
12 Black pants
13 Jeans
14 Silly t-shirt
15 Pretty t-shirt
16 Plain t-shirt
17 Regular bra
18 Workout bra
19 bicycle
20 bike lock
21 bicycle helmet
22 bicycle repair kit
23 pair of shorts
24 running shoes
25 eyeglasses
26 pen
27 Swiss Army knife (includes scissors & tweezers)
28 toque
29 winter gloves
30 waterproof jacket with zip-out warm lining
31 wallet
32 nail clippers
33 non-electronic address book
34 nice dress
35 stockings
36 dress shoes
37 GPS
38 cooking pot
39 wooden stirring spoon
40 bowl
41 eating utensils
42 sweater
43 compass
44 first aid kit
45 watch
46 pretty earrings
47 knapsack
48 sunglasses
49 swimsuit
50 crayons
51 desk
52 comfortable chair
53 ergonomic chair
53 bed
54 sheets
55 blankets
56 refrigerator
57 stove
58 towel
59 moccasins
60 pepper grinder
61 water bottle
62 iPod
63 mug
64 frying pan
65 razor
66 toothbrush
67 pillow
68 a toaster oven
69 car
70 school textbook I'll never read again but that no one would buy and that I can't bear to throw away velveteen frog
71 sewing machine
72 leather coat
73 baseball cap
74 book I'm reading
75 book I've just read and haven't decided whom to give to yet
76 book I think I ought to read but haven't got around to yet
77 nice boots logbook
78 kayak
79 paddle
80 lifejacket
81 instrument air filters
82 toilet paper
83 moisturizing sunscreen
84 facial cleanser
85 regular person-washing soap
86 lip balm
87 toothpaste
88 shampoo
89 binder full of flight instructor notes pilot licence
90 high quality kitchen knife
91 windbreaker
92 eyeliner
93 vegetable peeler
94 notebook
95 skis
96 ski poles
97 ski boots
98 bike gloves
99 lipstick passport
100 big suitcase that can hold almost everything but the vehicles, furniture and cooking vessels

This exercise required surprisingly less paring and decision making than I expected. I do own a lot more than a hundred things, but most of them are duplicates of (e.g. I have a box at home full of new toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap bought on sale) or variations on (I own four aviation headsets) the items already on the list, or things like #70 and #89: from another phase of my life. I own more clothes than are on the list, mostly because I like to do laundry in a washing machine every ten days, not in the sink every night. I have a lot of books and DVDs and VHS cassettes that could mostly be replaced with electronic versions. I own way more dishes and cooking utensils that are on the list, and that abundance of kitchen supplies is probably what I'd miss the most if I were forced to live with my hundred-item list. I began my culinary independence with a big mug (for measuring, ladling & drinking), a big bowl (for baking, eating & mixing) a cast iron frying pan, and a knife fork and spoon. You can bake cookies in a cast iron frying pan, but they don't turn out as well as when you have a proper baking sheet.

Originally as I made the list, I decided that consumables (e.g. toilet paper and sunblock) did not count towards the total, but when I left them off I started to run out of things I actually own and was starting to put things on the list that I'd like to own. which kinda runs against the concepts of minimalism and anticonsumerism which I assume underlie the meme.

I'm sure I forgot lots of stuff that I want far more than the things on my list. I'm sure this is going to turn into an embarrassing example of how much I take things for granted, so go ahead and remind me, so I can switch it for something I don't need as much. I didn't forget a hairbrush, by the way. Green hair doesn't brush out.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Half a Movie

Okay, let me see if I can return to some semblance of a normal posting schedule around here. I'm going to start with every second day, and if I get far enough ahead to take me through the Cambodia trip, I'll come back and fill some in.

I wake up and there's a text from the a.m. pilot, asking me to call her when I'm up. They didn't fly this morning, because the weather isn't suitable. I call and we meet downstairs for breakfast: first breakfast for me and second breakfast for her. I guess we're being good little hobbitses today. There are zebras loose in the streets of some American suburb on the TV news. The cops are running around trying to catch them,and they keep eluding capture. The zebras are lucky they didn't get tased. I adore zebras. Their stripes are mesmerizing.

The weather is still unsuitable and forecast to remain so all day. We mooch a ride from our maintenance guy out to airplane to pay for last night's fuel and to get the aircraft journey log in order to complete the weekly company paperwork. And that's pretty much it for our official duties today.

I go back to the hotel room and seeing as there is still no Internet I turn on the TV, The Space channel is running all the Star Wars movies in order, so I leave it on that. It's the one with the Ewoks. The top portion of the TV doesn't work at all now, so I see feet and people falling to the ground. but not people being hit. it lends a whole new meaning to "I watched half a movie."

I leave the "do not disturb" sign on the hotel door, because I don't need the room cleaned again, but I attach another note to it "unless you're fixing the TV!" because I don't want the TV repair person to think I'm sleeping and pass me by. As I'm putting it up, the cleaner (I partly want to say "chambermaid" but I'm sure that went out with "stewardess") expresses surprise that it still hasn't been fixed and says she called maintenance again for me.

We go out to lunch. Same restaurant, same waitress. She's coming around, at least looks at us now. It's cheesecake day today. Yum. The service is really really slow here, especially at the end of the meal when it comes to getting a bill and getting payment collected. Usually we just go up to the till, but we don't have anything else to do, so we just wait until the whole transaction is complete, with fifteen to twenty minute gaps between each stage.

Back at my room the "do not disturb" sign looks slightly disturbed. I enter hopefully, but my note is still on the TV. I turn the set on anyway and then realize that it is a new note, on paper torn from the same notepad and taped in the same place, saying that they will bring a new TV.

I'm sure many of you are, so for the record I am aware enough to be embarrassed that here I am complaining about hotel amenities like TV and Internet, while preparing to build someone a home with no TV, Internet, or even electricity. It goes to show how technology can make us miserable. There's a "100 Items" meme where people reduce their possessions to just one hundred items. Hard. I don't think I could become a Buddhist. I love my stuff. I'll have to think about it.

Today I'm spared the introspection, as the maintenance guy brings me a new TV. I blog while Return of the Jedi plays in the background twice in a row. Damn those Ewoks are ugly. Both halves.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

And The Winner Is ...

I would be disappointed with your response to the Jet Age book giveaway except that it tells me something amusingly wonderful about the community of people who read this blog. You really do think it's better to give than receive. That is, when I asked you to donate something to help me help Cambodians recover from decades of brutality, so many of you responded, and so fast and so generously that I literally lost count. But when I had an opportunity to give a prize to you, you had some fun telling stories, but there wasn't much enthusiasm in voting or competing for a prize. I guess for the American majority there's been too much talk about voting this week.

What votes there were produced a tie between Chris's story of the downed C172 pilot:

A friend of mine told me a story of his service in the Royal Australian Air Force - it even has a Canadian connection.

He was ferrying the original flight of DHC-4 Caribou aircraft from Canada to Australia which necessitated a number of stops, the Caribou being relatively short legged and not equipped for inflight refuelling. Somewhere over North Africa he picked up a very faint distress signal on 121.5. He diverted to the source of the signal and because it was so faint they had a hard time tracking it down, often losing it entirely. Eventually he found a lone pilot standing under the wing of his wrecked C172. Circling for a bit, the crew dropped some food and all the water they had, then bid the pilot farewell and flew on for their destination, reporting the crash site at the next aerodrome. They flew onward but before reaching their original destination of Australia they were again diverted - this time for South Vietnam. He never learned of the fate of that bloke, stranded in the sea of sand.

Years later, standing in a bar in Laos in a small village in the middle of nowhere. An Air America pilot heard the Australian voices and came over shouting the whole crew a drink. He said bought drinks for any Australian flight crews he met because years earlier he had an engine failure ferrying a C172 across North Africa, crash landed and was on his last legs when a Caribou dropped food and water and sent rescuers to his position...it was the same bloke whose life they had saved.

... and an anonymous reader who e-mailed me before posting to identify himself:

When I was a boy I listened to Tom Rutledge tell a story about when he was a young man. Tom worked for the Wright engine company and was tasked with building J5 engines and “running them in”. A variety of plane and pilot teams were then attempting to be the first to cross the Atlantic non-stop. Since the Wright J5 was the a reliable engine most were choosing it for their planes. Tom’s coworkers with more seniority were allowed first choice of whose engines they would build.

After assembly, the J5 engines would run on a test stand with the valve cove removed so that one could “hit” the valve rocker arms with a rubber mallet when the valves became stuck. The valves would stick sometimes until they had been run for a time. While Tom was working with an especially difficult engine, whacking on it with his mallet, he was introduced to Charles Lindberg, his engine’s owner.

I like both stories. Note that they both were stories the teller had heard someone else tell. Telling each other stories is part of aviation, for sure. Together they illustrate some true things, good and bad about aviation. The risk involved in crossing stretches of water in smaller airplanes. Dependence on our engines and our mechanics. Looking out for one another, and paying it forward. All favours and bribes are paid in beer. And no matter where you are, if there's another pilot there you'll have a connection.

As I have to cast the tie-breaking vote, I'll choose the C172 story. Chris, please send me your mailing address.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Insert Reptile Here on a Plane

I have been on the road for the last couple of weeks and ISP issues kept me mostly without e-mail, so I haven't caught up on comments yet. I'm amused that you're all way better at telling stories than you are at voting on your favourites, so it looks like I'll have to pick a winner myself, probably tomorrow.

For tonight, the first pass through my e-mailbox gives me a much forwarded story about a crocodile bringing down an airplane. It seems that on August 25th of this year a Let-410 turboprop (that's the same type as in the famous lions-under-the-wing photo) was en route from Kinshasa to Bandundu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shortly before landing the aircraft crashed, with no prior reports of difficulty. The single human survivor, a passenger, said that passengers had stampeded to the front of the aircraft to escape a crocodile that escaped from a passenger's luggage.

Initial analyses were skeptical about the crocodile, but later ones confirm this was the testimony at the hearing.

The best comment I've found on the subject is from David Learmount on his blog Learmount, when he says,

"The painfully obvious solution to prevent further accidents like it is to prevent passengers bringing crocodiles - or other dangerous animals - on board. But in the DR Congo, which has had the worst aviation accident record in the world for two decades, this sort of event is, unfortunately, just 'part of life's rich tapestry'."

I'm not guaranteeing a blog entry tomorrow: I've run out of already-written buffered entries and don't have a lot of time, but I have a lot of story notes and will try to transfer them to the blog so you have something to read while I'm away. Meanwhile, if anyone out there speaks Khmer, can you teach me some basics?