All the BC work was done in one fell swoop, and just as well because it's cloudy the next day. I'm flying back to Alberta via a little airport in the north where we have an assignment. It will be an IFR flight to the area and then VFR work in the area, so I must file a composite flight plan, a combination of IFR and VFR. This is allowed for in Canada, because flights leave urban areas IFR then continue VFR to remote destinations or even more needed the reverse, where an aircraft departs a northern area VFR, maybe on amphibious floats off a lake, then flies south to where radar coverage begins, climbs onto an airway and picks up an IFR clearance into a urban area. The box for flight plan type allows four choices: V, I, Y or Z. V is for VFR, I is for IFR and the other two are for composite plans. If the first leg is IFR, the composite plan is a Y, and if the first leg is VFR, the composite plan is a Z. You can switch back and forth more than once during a flight, but the letter still designates the first leg. I remember this because if the legs IFR, VFR are in alphabetical order, then you get the first letter, Y, but if they are in reverse alphabetical (V then I) then you file the last letter of the alphabet, Z. Not terribly clever, but if you have an operational need for composite flight plans it can save you looking it up again.
I filed out eastbound on V304, the closest to going in my direction and then when I ran out of airways pointing in the direction of my destination, and the terrain got a little lower, direct the destination. I picked up my departure clearance, but then before I taxied out ground called back and said that IFR flight planning wanted to talk to me. I have, apparently, filed eastbound on a one-way airway. Weird. I don't remember those from any part of my flight training. There is nothing I saw on the chart on the chart to indicate that it is westbound only. I ask the IFR flight planning guy, who reroutes me around to the south, how I should have known. He says I should have consulted the preferred routes in the CFS.
Now that makes no sense. If I am going between two centres that get a lot of traffic, or if I'm generally going in the direction someone on such a trip would take, I consult the preferred routes. But there isn't even an airway going to or in the direction of my destination. You'd have to be psychic to divine that V304 was not for use of eastbound traffic just from the fact that it wasn't the preferred route to Calgary or Edmonton. I accept my amended, detouring clearance and depart as advised, accepting vectors all over the place before finally being cleared direct to "maintain one fife tousand while in controlled airspace." You have to read back the "while in controlled airspace" part too, I guess to acknowledge that you are heading out into the great green beyond. (Canadian IFR charts colour regions of uncontrolled airspace green on the charts).
I have two radios on board, but one of them I have been advised not to transmit on, because ATC always complains about the readability. I monitor ATIS on that radio, or monitor the current ATC frequency when I'm using the talking radio to call flight services for something. Every once in a while, maybe two or three times in twenty flights, the receive button for COM1, the listening-only radio, somehow gets activated and I'll be listening to whatever ATIS or other frequency I have up there. I try to unpress the receive button for COM1 but it won't work and I have to reactivate COM2 in order to get it to go away. I guess I must be reaching for something and hitting the wrong button, but I'm never conscious of having done it. Maybe it's because I'm wearing gloves against the cold.
We climb up to altitude and level off over the clouds. I trim out the airplane, set the power up for cruise and finish off the rest of my cruise checks, then get really decadent and put on the autopilot. The autopilot is good not just for giving me a rest from flying, but for freeing up my mind and hands to do other checks. I pull out my pulse oximeter and clip it on the end of my finger. It freaks some people out the first time I offer it, because they assume something that will check their blood oxygen level is going to take their blood, and they don't want to put their finger inside. But it just shines a light through your fingernail and looks at the colour. The problem is that right now it's reading an oxygen saturation level of 79% for me, and that's not right. I have the operator reset my connection to the system and I'm quickly back up into the nineties where I should be. You really can't tell when you're hypoxic until your visions starts to go. It's worse than being drunk, where you usually have a clue. Like being drunk, even if you do notice, you lose the ability to make good decisions about it. As the oxygen mask manual explains, you may decide that you always wanted blue fingernails.
We clear the last of the mountains and reach the Alberta area where we have work to do. I say the magic words "cancelling IFR" and then we're left alone to fly lines under visual flight rules. The operator says the camera is fine, despite our transit through clouds. I don't know why sometimes a single wisp is a threat and at other times half an hour of solid IMC isn't. Maybe it depends on his level of hypoxia. We fly back and forth in really straight lines until that project area has been completely photographed, and I land at a little airport where we can get the fuel pump activation code by giving a credit card number over the phone. We fill up there and I file another flight plan for some higher altitude work. The heater works, but we hardly need it today, both because it's significantly warmer (yay!) and because we're shut down by the daytime cumulus we call popcorn clouds, for their ability to suddenly pop up and cover the area in white spots.
We're right overhead where he wants to land, so I do a shuttle descent, back and forth with tight turns on the ends, like the weft in a loom, because shuttle is named for the instrument a weaver uses to send the weft back and forth through the threads of the warp, to make cloth. Vehicles that go back and forth--be it from the hotel to the airport or from the airport to outer space--are called "shuttles" after the weaver's back and forth shuttle, but the etymology goes full circle because the name of the weaver's shuttle derives from the Old English scytel "a dart, arrow," and from the same root as shoot. The back and forth motion and the turning and the heat makes the operator sick. I feel badly because another human being is miserable, partly attributable to what I am doing, but there is nothing really that I can do, except put the airplane safely on the ground.
Once there, we park at the fuel pumps and then become the centre of attention from two pilots in a King Air 200. They are on one of those missions where you fly your people somewhere and you wait patiently and they are bored enough that two people they haven't met yet is a fascinating diversion. We all share a cab, us to our hotel and them to a café nearby. The cab driver delights in showing us the spot where a drunk driver went off the road at 150 km/h or so. You take your excitement where you can in a small town.
We go shopping and can't find sick bags available, so we improvise with plastic freezer bags tucked into brown paper lunch bags. Tomorrow's mission is in airspace that I'm told we have permission to operate in, but it's marked on the charts as military restricted airspace Monday to Saturday, with hours, other times by NOTAM. I call the number listed in the Designated Airspace Handbook for the controlling agency, and speak to a very polite but unambiguous and emphatic young man who absolutely cannot give me permission to operate there. He's forceful, but not in the least rude. Even as I am frustrated, I am admiring. The Canadian military has taught him this, and this is exactly the way I like to think my country's soldiers are enforcing the rules wherever they are deployed. If you can be this verbally clear without being demeaning, then nobody needs to get shot, but it's also perfectly clear that while this young man lacks the authority to give me permission to cross the line, he does not lack the firepower to stop me from crossing it by any means necessary.
Clipboard security woman, if you remember her from last year, could really use the training this man has received. And I don't just mean that she should be made to take off her silly shoes and march around in the heat or cold for days carrying heavy objects, although I'd be happy to know she was subjected to that, too. She would greatly benefit from training in giving clear definite prohibitions while being perfectly polite and respectful. I would be happy to be that good at it as a captain. I thank the soldier and ask him how I can get in touch with someone who has the authority to give that permission. I have to call back in the morning to get someone. So I will.
I'm not going to mention shuttles for nothing. Did you see this picture showing the same father and son watching the first and last space shuttle launches? It's a little daunting to realize that I've lived through the whole era of the space shuttle. What's next?