Monday, June 27, 2011

Mountain Valleys

The next morning's weather actually is better, it wasn't just a procrastination technique on my part. I let the operator know I'm willing to do the flight. The weather at Vancouver is still marginal, but the altitudes I need through the Rockies should be ice-free, so I file an IFR flight plan for the trip. I may be able to do it VFR, depending on when the operator actually chooses to go, but I'd like a chance to fly this airplane IFR before the ride. I also get his okay on doing the approach to destination (in visual weather) with the power to one engine pulled back, so I can see what this airplane flies like on one engine.

We go to the airport, but now the operator doesn't want to leave yet. I unpack various cleaning supplies from the nose and use the leather cleaner to try and make the seats look nicer. They aren't disgusting, just a little grimy, but like all cleaners, the product isn't magical and while my effort makes the rags noticeably dirtier, it doesn't make the seats seem a lot cleaner. This is an airport where people have security badges like crazy, and I don't have one. I go on the airport website to try and find a ramp badge policy, but there doesn't seem to be one. I know I could get in trouble if I'm standing about poking at an airplane with no badge, if I'm supposed to have one. But I can't tell if I am. I call security to ask about the south side badging policy. The guy puts me on hold twice. I get the idea it's his first day. Or maybe he's the team enforcer. He seems to be telling me that it's the responsibility of whoever's hangar we're working out of. That would be the maintenance unit that looked into the EGT overtemp situation, but they aren't escorting me. They said my pilot licence would do the trick. I try to get security guy to confirm that my pilot licence is sufficient ID for a ramp check here, but he defers to my employer. Well of course THEY say I can be here. How does he know I don't work for a radical BC Separatist organization that wants to bomb the local legislature? I ask if it's possible to get a temporary badge, but apparently it would take a couple of weeks just to get an interview to apply for any sort of badge. Funny that. A friend who works at Air Canada said that the non-union temp workers they brought in to cover during the strike all seemed to get badges overnight.

I get an e-mail with an examiner's name and instructions to call and arrange the ride directly. I leave voice mail with my own e-mail and phone number and the fact that I am on the road, but am hoping to be there to do a ride on Tuesday. My guess for when we are leaving is about to expire, so I call back to flight services to change my filed departure time, just guessing a new one, I can change it again later. While I am waiting to be told to I sit down to study the aircraft operating handbook and the CAP GEN for my mysteriously situated PPC ride. I think I know most of it. I was well-prepared last time, but I'll never forget the ride I was underprepared for. It was a similar situation, "I did a ride recently. I know this stuff," but I didn't. So I study again.

When the operator is ready to go, I discover the weather is pretty good now, and also good on the webcams through the mountains. He only wants to get across the first mountain range tonight, to be sure we won't be trapped in Vancouver by coastal weather. I call Flight Services to file a VFR flight plan (can probably do the whole trip around 9,500' and get out of here more efficiently) to possibly replace the IFR flight one (at 15,000'). For some reason this is a big deal for them. It turns out that I've called on the day that some kind of changeover is happening, so they could have done it easily yesterday and will be able to do it effortlessly tomorrow, but today it's an issue. They can't have two flight plans in the system at once for the same airplane. I suggest that they put the VFR one with a proposed departure after the ETA of the IFR one and then I can change it just before departure if I go VFR, but that doesn't work for them. I can't remember how we resolved that, possibly by departing IFR and then taking advantage of the phenomenally poor tower-terminal relationship to cancel in the air. Or the ground controller was surprisingly accommodating and helped me have the best of both worlds. There's a massive banner on the control tower, cheering on the Vancouver Canucks hockey team.

I was originally planning to fly eastbound along the Fraser River to Hope and up the highway, but once airborne, I see that the more northerly route looks better initially, and that ties in with the worst of the weather being to the south, too. I request an altitude that will take me through the passes up the valley overhead Whistler Mountain, where the 2010 Winter Olympics were. I'd show you pictures, but did I tell you? My camera is sort of broken. In some sort of cosmic joke, while I fly a giant camera around, the one in my flight bag doesn't work. It still thinks it is taking pictures, but all the resulting saved images are just pure black rectangles. I hope maybe there's just a broken spring (do cameras even have springs anymore?) somewhere and that the shutter isn't opening properly. I'll try to get it repaired, and in the meantime I may be able to borrow one.

I plug a few coordinates in on the GPS and set it in terrain mode, but mostly this kind of flying is about looking out the window and making sure the valleys in real life match the valleys on the VFR chart. There are clouds above, but not in sufficient numbers to hamper my turning around if some low ones block the valley, and I don't think they will. Their bases get higher as I go up the valley. I do reach one wall of cloud. It's a cumulus build-up along a ridge that I thought I could hop over by going visually between peaks. There are too many clouds to do that, so I turn south along the valley the ridge defines, to climb in order to turn back and go over them. Normally outclimbing a bank of Cu is a poor proposition, because there tend to be higher and higher ones beyond. This I'm pretty sure is just at this ridge, with a lower plateau without the buildups beyond it. I'm right, but as we climb over it, there's a kind of a slapping sound, like a loose strap or a hatch come open. Maybe it's the new headset. Wouldn't that be rich, buy a new headset and have it be defective.

There's that noise again. Maybe it's a cable slap. The ailerons make some odd noises as a result of rerouting for the camera port in the belly. That's a little freaky, but it's all STCed and frequently inspected. The sound stops. I ask the operator if he heard it, and he did. I pull my headset plugs out to see if he still hears it. There's a long pause, but it happens again without my headset in the system. And then it's quiet. Maybe the ANR screwed up the intercom. I've been blamed for intercom problems before, back when I was an early adopter of ANR technology and everyone else with passive DC units would blame problems on freaky electronic headset girl. But the operator still hears the noise when he unplugs from the intercom.

Some minutes later I hear it again, variously a banging, slapping, popping sound. I have to adjust the trim as the operator wanders around trying to pinpoint the source. It seems more on the left than the right, sometimes further forward, sometimes further back. There is no yawing or fluctuating engine indication. We keep thinking it's stopped, then it starts again. The operator suggests turning off the heater, and I try that. It doesn't happen for a long time ... then it continues to not happen for a further long time. It seems to have stopped. Not good. The heater burns fuel. We hate to think what it's doing when it malfunctions.

We continue without further incident over the plateau and then dip down over the lake to land at Salmon Arm, the same place in the BC mountains where I surveyed last summer. I make a call on the traffic frequency and there's a small airplane up. He tells me the wind is calm. I cross over the town and join downwind, the narrow valley clearly showing why the CFS recommends using this airport at night unless you are very familiar with the area, and all the hazard beacons are operating. I land close over the trees and the golf course and roll out to the exit. There's a guy in a little airplane in the run up area. I wave and taxi in for fuel, which according to the CFS is available for another thirty minutes.

We park at the pumps and call all the numbers listed for fuel, with no reply. I walk over to the hangar where the pilot has parked and ask him when the fuel is open until. He agrees that it should still be open this time of year and says the guy was around recently. He gives me another number, and I call that. It's now about seven minutes to the time the CFS says fuel closes. The fueller doesn't want to come out now, so he agrees to come in a bit early the next morning to get us going on time.

Meanwhile, it's obvious the heater was the problem. There's a stream of soot down the belly of the airplane. I wipe off what I can and put "soot remover" on my shopping list. The pilot is done in his hangar and gives us a ride into town where we get a hotel and a quick meal. The waitress is intrigued by our "detailed maps" as we pore over the next day's flying, and she is very helpful in packing "to-go" meals for tomorrow's lunch. The time we have to leave in the morning is the same time breakfast starts at the hotel, but we can probably grab muffins and fruit to go as the cab arrives.


cockney steve said...

My daughter's camera did exactly the could view pictures in memory, but only take black ones, though it started with black streaks which rapidly got worse.

Check on the internet, there was a huge batch of faulty CCD's produced by one of the two major world producers,- these were fitted to several upmarket brands (Sony, Canon etc.)

I phoned the camera-maker's service-depot,who gave me a freepost acknowledgement card arrived promptly, detailing a 10-day turnaround, the camera was returned within a week, working perfectly, no was a Sony "mars bar"...about 4 years old ,so well out of warranty,but probably they feared UK "fitness for purpose,/ merchantable-quality" consumer legislation.

On the other hand, they may just be a fair and honest manufacturer, just like your headphone company. :-)

Anonymous said...

Strange noises in flight over hostile terrain.... shudder. I hate days like that. You handled it with aplomb (good word!). I would have had to invest in new underwear.