Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Now It's MY Way

My camera still isn't ready. This is like airplane maintenance: they have to wait for the parts to arrive, and can't say when that will be. The DG works, though. They tell us that it was installed incorrectly to begin with, with not enough screws, and there wasn't even a hole for the missing screw. Odd that it worked for so long.

We're going to Vancouver again, but the GFA shows IFR conditions en route with mixed moderate icing to 16,000'. I look at the shape of the forecast areas in space and time, and judge that by my route and at the time I will pass through the area, I will be safe to file at 16,000'. On V304, that one-way airway I was told I couldn't use earlier. At most I expect a few tendrils of ice-bearing cloud above that altitude and I should be able to get a deviation around them.

The actual weather observed for the first part of the route shows the GFA to be startlingly accurate. The brown scalloped line dividing two types of weather went right through the dots representing the three Edmonton area airports that report weather, and overhead Edmonton there's a cloud shield with its edge running so precisely along that line I wonder if I'm in a simulator. I can see the International, half of City Centre and none of Namao. At sixteen thousand I'm also comfortably above the clouds, for now. And the new heater is still working. Groundspeed is low, though. The operator can see the ETA on the GPS and asks about it, because it's a good bit later than I suggested at the departure briefing. "Will we have to stop for fuel?"

"I'm not planning a fuel stop. This should switch to a tailwind as soon as we get into BC."

The clouds rise ahead of us, some convective shapes, which is why the forecast calls for icing even though it's well below freezing. A pilot expects ice in visible moisture (i.e. cloud, mist or rain) when the temperature is close to freezing, because more than a few degrees above zero, water droplets don't freeze and more than ten degrees below freezing and most of the water is already frozen, thus is unavailable to freeze onto your airplane. In convective cloud there is a lot of rapid vertical motion, so liquid water can be churned up from below into the cold levels above. The GFA is again amazingly accurate at forecasting these clouds sitting just at 16,000'. It is a tremendous economic and safety benefit to have such good forecasts. Anyone who works in Edmonton or Montréal putting out these charts, be proud.

A little further on there are a few tendrils of that cloud poking above 16,000'. I flip on the pitot and prop heat before passing through cloud tops, emerging with just a skim of ice on the windscreen and wing leading edges. It's useful to me to note where I see ice first on this airplane. Out in the sunshine again the ice sublimates. I dodge a few tops and then I'm into another cloud for a bit longer. Yeah, I guess now that I know (I believe I have Sarah to thank for the link) that there's ice in there it's time to enact my avoidance plan. I call ATC to climb a couple of hundred feet. They give me a just a moment, then call back with "flight level 200 approved." Uh, that's a bit more than I need. As I apply power to go up I realize what they heard. I explain that I need "two hundred feet" not "FL200" and they assign me 16,000' blocking 17,000'. Perfect. I'm out of all ice and have a nice view and clean wings. There's an overcast in the vicinity of Vancouver that could be interesting, depending on where they hold me. The freezing level is right around the forecast cloud tops. If necessary I can ask for an expedited descent though the region of icing, but I don't expect much, just light rime for a few hundred feet. It will be warm enough below to melt any accumulation off before final.

The headwind switches to a tailwind, an even better one than I had planned on. We'll be a little bit early. The clouds are thinning a little and I can see mountain tops poking through. It's hard to believe that we're over 2000' above the minimum obstacle clearance altitude. The rocks look to be right there. They always do, whenever you fly an IFR procedure in visual conditions, too. The controller asks me if I'm done with the altitude block and I am. The clouds are lower and this type of cloud shouldn't have ice at this altitude, either.

I've put the en route frequency up on COM1, my listening radio and am looking for a good FSS frequency to call to find out what to expect at Vancouver when the operator starts reading me METARs off his iPhone. Is this the way of the future? The FSS won't have anything more current than the METARs, so I try Vancouver's ATIS. I'm still too far out, but at least I have it tuned and ready.

I review the published arrivals for Vancouver and after the next frequency change tell the controller I'm ready for a descent. I'm not pressurized, so it would be nice not to have to dive for the airport at the end. He gives me a couple of descents, first down to fourteen thousand then ending at ten thousand feet, which is just above the cloud deck, and just at freezing. I'm laughing. Everything below me is above freezing, so I don't need to worry about ice on the descent. The controller tells me information charlie is current, and to expect a runway eight.

I'm still unable the ATIS, and I already have a post-it flagging the non-RNAV arrival for the 08s at YVR. I flag and review the ILS for 08R, the runway that goes to the non-secure side of Vancouver airport. I'm coming down V304 towards the airport, but so is everybody and I'm slow. They vector me off the airway, to the north which is a little unnerving, because I'm in IMC and that's where the mountains are, but then they vector me south, to the other side, and then east, away from the airport, descending me to 5000', then 3000', then another vector then another. I hear them advice an American Airlines that they are doing a runway change, so I pull up the approach plates and find the pages for the other end of the runways. The controller tells me to expect 26R, that's the big girls' runway. I tune and identify the ILS and accept another vector, and a descent clearance to 2000', which I'm told to expedite, then another runway change to 26L. I intercept the localizer and am immediately visual and cleared to land. You know, I'm glad I have the autopilot. That was a crazy disorienting set of vectors.

It's actually quite nice at the airport. The weather is all to the east. That's good, because we have work out to the west. Tomorrow.

There's a Comfort Inn right near the airport, but like most of the places I stay, I don't have a chance to enjoy more amenities than the bed and the internet, which tells me the weather will be good again tomorrow, so I should be prepared for an early start.


Cedarglen said...

Thanks for another nice post, A'trix. Your 'tween aircraft and the varied requiments are a challenge to be sure. A couple of questions pop up... First, regular readers know that your heater was out for a good while. That may be OK at 5k agl, but at 15k agl, it is not cool. (OK, is IS cool, but not comfortable.) Is this normal SOP? Next, you often report flying in the mid-teens, for shoots as well as ferry trips and some extra O2 is necessary. Do ou use a mask, or just suck on a tube? In one post I note your use of a SaO2 monitor. Damn good idea!! the first I've ever heard of pilots using them, but SMART! While 100LL may still be available at your regions airfields, AV-O2 may not be as common. Do you ever have trouble topping off your O2 supply? What is the typical cost for O2 and how much duration do you carry - for pilot and operator.
Thanks again. I enjoy the informative and well written posts.

Aviatrix said...

It's summer now, so two bodies and seventeen computers keep us warm to an OAT down to minus five or so, which covers up through the mid teens.

I'll answer your O2 questions in a later post.

Rhonda said...

SEVENTEEN computers?!?!?!

That's got to be the plane with the most computational ability ever :-)

leisuresuitwally said...

We sent a ship to the moon with less computing power than my graphing calculator.

Aviatrix said...

I think the computers are mostly there to causes errors by disagreeing with one another.

Except for my iPad touch, which is just there for me to look up things.

You're right, Wally: my iPad touch probably has more computational ability than that whole room full of computers you see in the old films, manned by the guys in black bakelite eyeglasses.