Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Let Me Help

In declining the opportunity with Eagle, I included the offer to help out in the meantime because I have a number of skills that match the needs of the small company and didn't want to leave them in the lurch. My offer was accepted and the day after I returned to my own province, I was out at that airport doing ... can you guess? Company exams, of course. Deicing, aircraft, ground handling, ops, flight following, all very thorough and properly done. I believe it may be the first time I've actually had the prescribed number of hours tracked for each segment of the indoctrination. There was another new employee there, so we went off to the airplane together and inventoried the survival kit and first aid kit for some independent learning. We checked off and initialled all the boxes, got my name on the insurance and went for a training flight.

Thanks to my experience and the nature of the operating certificate, I actually require minimal aircraft training. It turns out I've flown both the airframe type and engine type for an acceptable number of hours, but never both at once--but I need to learn how the practical aspects of the particular operation, so this is a working flight.

I'm in the left seat, at an unfamiliar airport, stumbling my way through clearance delivery, ground, not taxiing anywhere I shouldn't, and then following an unfamiliar departure procedure. Oh whom am I kidding? I love it. The sky is blue, the engines are in limits, and I quickly see what it is that we have to do to fulfil the mission. My situational awareness is still quite narrow, but I'm learning. Doing it all correctly is another matter, though, and I give control to the owner for the more complicated tasks. I fly a few shaky practice lines, and then the weather changes and we head back for landing. I don't think there's a reason I can't tell you a bit more about this operation, so I will do that next day.

en français:
la piste - runway
la vois de circulation - taxiway
le seuil - threshold
le point d'attente - holding point
circuler - to taxi

Je circule lentement parce que je ne suis certain ou se trouve le point d'attente et je ne veux pas être sur la piste sans authorisation.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Digital Fuel Management

I've spent my career flying airplanes with instrument panels that haven't been substantially updated since the aircraft were designed in the 1950s or 1960s. Anything electronic is a newfangled after-market device not in the original aircraft specifications. Of course I haven't had any trouble using the newfangled stuff with which my various employers retrofit their aircraft. A new installation always comes with a manual, and you can usually find manufacturers' information online, too. I've enjoyed electronic tachs, EGTs, navcoms, and even a Sandel-OMFG-it's-everything-in-one-instrument, please don't let me push the button that makes it turn into a microwave oven just as I'm intercepting the glideslope (okay I had a little trouble with that one, but not as much trouble as the poor guy who owned it and had hired me to help him pass his IFR renewal with it). There's an instrument I've seen a few times, in airplanes I've flown once, or flown for short flights, and never bothered to learn how to use, but now there's one installed in an airplane I will fly for work, so I'd better learn to use it properly.

It's a Shadin Digital Fuel Management System, a fuel flow meter that, given information on how much fuel you started the flight with, should give excellent information on how much is left. See, normally you spend the flight comparing the known time and power setting with the fuel gauges and hoping everything you are looking at is as accurate as the agreement among them. You could have some weird fuel leak on the same day as you had a fuel gauge over-reading error and had your watch stop. It's not likely, but you could. That's the sort of not likely but it could happen scenario that pilots are paid to think about every day. The Shadin is another tool for tracking fuel consumption, and it's supposed to be extremely accurate, much better than fuel gauges, and it's digital, with readouts like fuel endurance so I don't have to peer at parallax, estimate needle widths, or even do any math.

Here's a post based on the manual for the Digiflo model, with notes on the slightly different Digidata model, which I think is on another member of the fleet. I start by verifying the fuel quantity the only way I really can, by visually confirming how much fuel is in the tanks. So this is on the ground, immediately after fuelling. Then I enter fuel on board into the device. It doesn't have a keyboard. In fact it's one of those nifty little pieces of electronics designed to fit in the dashboard hole made for a traditional round instrument, about the size of the bottom of a standard soup can. The picture below isn't quite the right product. Mine has three display windows, three push buttons, one three position toggle switch and a four position rotary knob. The top window normally displays whatever is selected by the rotary knob: NM/GAL, GAL. TO DESTINATION, GAL RESERVE or ENDURANCE HRS:MIN, and is flanked by the GAL REM. and GAL USED push buttons, which while held change the display appropriately. The bottom two windows display the fuel flow per engine.

The Digidata has the "ENTER/TEST" button in the left, a "REM/USED" toggle in the middle, a "FULL/ADD" toggle on the right, a rotary knob, and two display windows, one for the fuel flow and one for whatever is selected on the rotary knob. On that model, to display the fuel flow per engine you squeeze the REM/USED and FULL/ADD toggles together. I'm not sure if this is the right picture.

There are three options for entering fuel on board on the Digiflow. One is if I have filled all the tanks, in which case I move the FULL/ADD toggle to the FULL position and hold it there while pressing the ENTER/TEST button. I can then press the REM button to verify that it reads the full amount as fuel remaining. That's already set for the airplane. If I'm not filling the tanks I have to specify how much fuel I have added, by holding the REM button and pressing the TEST/ENTER button until it reaches the right level. For some reason there's a second way to do this, by holding the FUEL/ADD toggle in the ADD position and pressing the REM button to reach the right number. If I overshoot, I can press and hold the USED button and then press and hold the TEST/ENTER button until the right value is shown.

On the Digidata model I hold the REM/USED toggle in the REM position and hold down the ENTER/TEST button until the window displays the fuelled quantity. If I overshoot, I can remove some by holding the REM/USED toggle in the USED position and pressing the ENTER/TEST button to reduce the displayed quantity.

Once the amount is entered, I press the “ENTER/TEST” button and it should display in succession:

  • 1. GOOd to verify that the display is OK
  • 2. the K-factor (a calibration value for the fuel flow transducers)
  • 3. the maximum usable fuel for the aircraft
  • 4. software & revision version #
  • 5. distance to a waypoint or destination

It achieves the fifth calculation because it can talk to--and I love this old meets new specification--the panel mount GPS or the LORAN C. Someone must have really loved his trusty LORAN C.

Fuel flow transducers are like little turbines spinning in the fuel lines, but if you thought "hmm, the speed of the turbine might not always be directly proportional to the fuel flow rate" then you would be right. If you not only did not pause to wonder that, but aren't sure whether it's worth pausing to wonder what it means, then you should pause instead to give thanks that there are engineers in the world, because it's important. The math to take into account the effect of 'viscous', 'transient' and 'turbulent' flows is probably fascinating. Maybe instead of stealing linguistics, I should have been stealing fluid dynamics. Those classes are probably harder to figure out when you drop in three quarters of the way through the semester, though. The manufacturer also assures us that if a transducer somehow gets stuck and stops spinning, it will not impede fuel flow to the engine.

The readout updates very rapidly and is easier to see than the EGT. I can see that once I get some familiarity with the airplane I will be setting mixtures by fuel flow, and then confirming that the EGT is within limits, rather than peering at the tiny digital or usually inaccurate analog EGT gauges. Also the display flashes if the fuel remaining is insufficient to reach the selected destination with 45 minutes reserve fuel.

En français:
un carburant - fuel
l'essence aviation (f) - aviation gasoline
le débit carburant - fuel flow
à court de carburant - low on fuel
avoir une panne d’essence - run out of fuel

Je veux apprendre à utiliser cet indicateur du débit carburant pour je n'ai jamais avoir une panne d'essence.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Licence Languages

English is the international language of aviation, and all air traffic controllers are supposed to be able to provide services in English, but some pilots can get away without speaking English. First off, they only need enough English to understand basic ATC transmissions, and as anyone who has ever waited for a controller to get a read back from a Korean crew can tell you, that may not be much. Secondly, if a crew is operating only in a subarea of the world where a non-English language is prevalent, they may be able to operate legally using only that language. For example, you may fly in the province of Québec using French only, or between former Eastern bloc countries with only Russian. Pilots who are not native speakers of English undergo an oral exam to qualify as "English-speaking" on their licence, and anyone can test to have French added, too.

I speak some French. I took five years in school, but it wasn't intensive. It sounds better than Stephen Harper's French, but I don't know aviation vocabulary, and I never learned the subjunctive because we learned new verb tenses year by year, with passé historique in grade eleven and then I didn't take French in grade twelve. I'm going to assume that they taught us things in an order roughly corresponding to its utility, and given that one mostly encounters passé historique on historical markers and in textbooks, I can probably live a long and happy life without ever mastering le subjunctif.

But if I'm going to do work for an operation based in a French-speaking area, I'm going to learn some basic airplane vocabulary and try to increase my command of French enough to get French competency listed on my licence. This is not so much because I want to talk to ATC in French, but so I can talk to mechanics in remote areas of Québec without charades, and simply to socialize with pilots who prefer French.

The vocabulary of today will be basic parts of the airplane, because it's a massive cheat. The French and English were working on airplanes at the same time as the Wright brothers, and innovations and terminology went across the channel and across the Atlantic. Thus we have:

le fuselage - fuselage (main body of the airplane)
l'aileron (m) - aileron (wing trailing edge hinged surface used to control roll)
l'empennage (m) - empennage (tail section of the airplane)
le longeron - longeron (wing spar)
le canard - canard (horizontal stabilizer forward of wing)
l'aile (f) - wing (aileron is a diminutive form of this word)
le train d'atterrissage - landing gear (as in terre, land)
l'hélice (f) - propeller (think 'helix')
le volet - flap (maybe related to voler, to fly?)
le stabilisateur - horizontal stabilizer
la dérive - vertical stabilizer
le gouvernail de direction - rudder

I've taken all these from figure 1 on the first page of Entre Ciel et Terre. Interesting to me is the fact that the gender of the nouns, necessary for using each word correctly in sentences, is not included in the figure. I had to search the text to see which articles were used, or look up the words elsewhere. Obviously a word like aile would be familiar to anyone who spoke French well enough to be using this textbook, and volet is a word with a non-technical meaning that, like English flap, applies to anything that hinges off a main part, but there must be some words on the list that would be new to a new student of aviation. Would they just use their instincts to determine the gender? There are some forms that imply a certain noun gender, but even a native speaker can't predict that with perfect accuracy.

French speaking readers are encouraged to add or correct anything here, and to leave comments on the blog in French, for me to puzzle out, even if you have to use use le subjunctif. And while we're on language, a reader wanted to know how you all pronounce the English words inaugural, jugular, rectangular, and circular. Say where you learned English, and if it's your first language.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flying, Finally

There is time for a Seagull flight before I go home, but the chief pilot has been up most of the night at the hospital, and says he is not fit to fly. This scores more points with me, because it indicates the company's safety culture. The boss doesn't press him for a moment, despite the fact that it is pretty inconvenient, and the boss says he'll take me flying, at which point the chief pilot elects to go along as a passenger.

We go out to the flight line, walk around the airplane. It has a pilot relief tube, something I've coveted for a few years of landing cross-legged. The boss hasn't hired a female before, and this is one of those rare cases in employment where having the boss think about your personal anatomy as part of the hiring process actually makes sense. I know I can manage with products like the TravelJohn, but he's come up with a solution that he thinks is better for everyone. The airplane type already has one passenger seat that hides a toilet, so he's going to re-install those. Zipper placement on the flight suits might be more of an issue if the manufacturer hasn't thought of anatomical variations. Mr. Seagull indicates that the flight suit manufacturer has placed safety over anatomical convenience, giving as an example the fact that the forward hip pockets are actual pockets not open at the bottom. "Ah yes," I indicate my understanding, "So you can't get at the things in your regular pockets." That, too, he admits, but the primary inconvenience is that when you're a guy, sitting for any period of time, sometimes things need adjusting, and that's difficult to do in a flight suit. Flying is a full body job. It's a feminist cry that unless a job actually requires a penis or a vagina it should be open to all, and I don't disagree. I'm just amused that I am coming on board in an operation where the equipment I will be operating actually has a penis-to-airframe interface. I think I can improvise a female-to-male adaptor for it, though.

I take the left seat and we go for a short local flight, where I do some standard manoeuvres and I would discuss the rest of the flight but instead I will report a conversation from the day before.

Me: I guess I have one more question. You know I keep a blog. I don't name companies, coworkers, customers or anything that I think could place the company in a bad light, are there any aspects of your operation that ...

Him: No, you can't blog about this.

That also explains the Xs, Ys and Qs you might have wondered about in the previous post about potential work locations. I'll still tell you stories, I'll let you know what I'm learning, and perhaps the friend of Mr. Seagull who connected me with this company will have a chance to explain that my style reveals nothing, and get my leash loosened, but as a show of good faith I'm cutting off here, even though it was an interesting flight.

I went back to the passenger terminal and flew home, expecting to be called for a contract in a month and a half or so. My houseguest has forgiven me for abandoning her, but hasn't been as successful this week as I have. And there waiting for me at home is a very polite rejection letter from the previous company that interviewed me. That's good in a way. Never being told is like never finding the body.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seagull Versus Eagle

Most people spent their whole lives waiting for an opportunity that was good enough, and then they died. While seizing opportunities would mean that all sorts of things went wrong, it wasn't nearly as bad as being a hopeless lump.

The morning dawns with miserable drizzle and low ceilings, too low for training. It's forecast to clear up later, so we'll wait on it. Boss picks me up and then the chief pilot comes into the office and we're introduced. He's francophone so I speak a few sentences in French because again I think it's polite. It's like you go to the boss's office rather than asking him to come to yours. It shows my willingness to do things his way, and also demonstrates what he's working with in terms of my ability in French. The company operates in English, I checked that out before I came, and our conversation switches quickly back into English. We go over the exams, he answers some more of my questions, and then we all go for lunch. The weather may be good enough to fly after we get back.

We've all travelled enough that no one is left out as our stories and hangar flying ranges all over the world. In fact the chief pilot is from a French-speaking European company, not from Québec at all, and it turns out that most of the pilots are. I knew I was an outsider in Québec for being an anglophone, but once you speak French you're still an outsider because you're not fluent, and then it's because you're not a native speaker, and then apparently it's because you're from France or Luxembourg or Belgium instead of from Québec. My boss has a stable of pilots who have had trouble getting jobs elsewhere in the province because despite their fluent French, they are not "one of them." It's pur laine or nothing, apparently. When does cultural and linguistic pride veer into insularity or racism? I think true pride in ones culture and nation includes enough confidence in its strength to welcome newcomers and teach them to embrace what you do, and make them one of you, rather than holding them forever at bay, one of "them" living among you. I notice myself that I may have a slight "them" feeling about someone whose accent doesn't match that of some region of my own country, but when they care about the same issues I do, not necessarily even supporting the same side, just understanding them in a Canadian context, that they become Canadian to me.

The sky opens up blue, but the wind is picking up and they nix the training plans again for today. I think it's odd at first, who doesn't fly in wind, but then the wind becomes quite extreme. I worry about a Tim Horton's sign coming down on me in the parking lot. So instead we massage my resume into the format in which he presents pilot résumés on proposals. My experience is now a resource for him to use. And yes, this is not all an elaborate ruse. He does want to contract my services, probably starting a month and a half out. He's confident that I'll get along well with clients, not get into fistfights with my coworkers and have the maturity to make good decisions. And he figures I can probably fly an airplane, too.

We quit for the day. There may be time before my flight home tomorrow for a flight, but I really have to give a decision to the other potential employer. I've already held them off and I know their timeline is tighter than here. I'm going to call that job "Eagle" and the Québec-based one "Seagull" in recognition of the fact that the real life company names are similar, and there are certain aspects of the jobs that match up. I like both eagles and seagulls; neither term is intended to disparage or praise the company I've attached it to. I just need to stop saying "this one" or "the other one."

It's a difficult decision. I should be savouring this more. After all both potential employers have called me "perfect" to my face. I'm in demand. But that's stressful. I make myself a spreadsheet comparing schedule, aircraft, pay, travel opportunities, coworkers, organization, stability, gut feelings, and everything else I can think of. It gets really elaborate with me rating each company on each aspect, and then going through and rating how important each aspect is to me, to create a multiplier. I know without doing the math that Eagle is the sensible job that gives me almost everything I could ask for at this level of the industry and Seagull is the slightly crazy one that could be terrifying or miserable. I can't believe I'm being such a hopeless lump. I haven't quite finished the elaborate spreadsheet but I find I've made up my mind.

I e-mail Eagle with thanks for their patience, to let them know that I will be taking the offer from Seagull, but that as they won't be needing me for a few weeks that if there is anything I can do for them in the meantime, I'd be happy to help. Yeah, that's right. Who says I have to choose just one company?

The lead quote is, rather embarrassingly, from Harry Potter fan fiction, but I'll defend myself with words from aviation philosopher Richard Bach's Illusions

"You are quoting Snoopy the Dog, I believe?

I quote the truth wherever I find it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Funny Way To Make A Living

The potential employer picks me up at the appointed time, well actually a bit later because he forgot about me until his assistant asked if I was coming today, but I spent the extra time sitting in the hotel lobby reviewing their procedures manual, so it wasn't a waste of time. The original plan was for me to go flying with the chief pilot today, for me to see to see how the operation worked and be persuaded that I wanted to join, and for them to see how I work. The flight would also count towards the required training to put me on his operating certificate, but the chief pilot has not come in today, due to a family medical emergency, and the boss is too busy to do the flight, so we're improvising.

So we chat for a while. I'm not sure it counts as an interview, because no one asks me what kind of tree I would be, what my greatest strengths and weaknesses are, or what I would do if the pilot I were flying with stated an intention to go below minima. We're telling each other stories, comparing our philosophies of life, flying and les politiques des deux solitudes du Canada. The smart psychology people amongst my readers are shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at the screen now, saying "You idiot, Aviatrix, that was the interview," but hell then, my whole life is an interview. Remember when I had a line check and didn't know it until it was over? That was awesome, too. We get along amusingly well. I tell him a story that illustrates the freedom and responsibility of being pilot-in-command compared to terrestrial rules. I've probably told it on the blog before, of driving my car on an icy, windy day, keeping my speed at what I judged safe for the conditions, which happened to be below the city speed limit. As I approached an intersection, the traffic light turned amber. On a normal day, I might have braked to a stop, but today I knew the ice would make my stopping distance longer and that locked wheels would make the car less manoeuvrable if it skidded through the intersection, buffeted by a crosswind. I elected to continue through the intersection at my cautious speed. There was no cross traffic. The combination of my low speed and a rather short duration light left me still in the intersection when the light turned red, and I knew that intersection was equipped with a red light camera, where they snap your licence plate and send you a ticket in the mail when they catch you. As far as I was concerned, the red light rule is secondary to safety, and it so happened that I had made a chain of safest decisions that contradicted the red light rule and was fully prepared to defend my decisions in court should I be issued a ticket. And there my prospective employer picked up the baton because he had had exactly the same experience--it's a Canada thing, I suppose--and he had been issued said ticket, and he had defended himself in court with weather reports and diagrams and calmly reasoned arguments, and he won. So it seems I don't need to paint any walls white for this guy.

He has work to do, so sets me up with another task, something amusingly familiar. I'm writing company exams. "Writing exams" sounds stressful, but in ten years of writing them at least once a year I can only remember one occasion in which it was a timed, competitive, closed-book event (and in that case I scored so well that the chief pilot teased me about it). It's really just an exercise in demonstrating that a pilot has reviewed all the company manuals and is familiar with their contents. You typically complete the exams as you read the manuals, noting the speeds, baggage arms, wingspan, fuel capacity, and other items that the chief pilot has chosen to test you on. There are similar manuals for icing, ground handling, the ops manual and other special aspects of the operation.

The boss pulls up an example of something on his computer. I can't not notice that it's in Xxxxxxxx. There's a chance of me flying in Xxxxxxxx! I know it's probably just like Témiscamingue or Deep East Texas with different accents on the radio, and squiggly letters on the airport terminals, and people excited about buzkashi instead of hockey or football, and mares' milk instead of poutine or barbecue, and ... oh face it, it would be totally different from Témiscamingue and Texas, and I would wrestle on horseback over possession of a goat carcass for the opportunity to go there.

I go back to writing exams, figuring out all the details of the company deicing rules. I hear the boss next door fielding a call that implies that a client has urgent need of his services in Yyyyyyy. He's telling them he has an airplane and a pilot ready to go, and can dispatch them today if need be. Replace buzkashi with surfing, and mares' milk with little drinks with umbrellas in them. The boss's assistant comes into the room where I'm writing and hisses excitedly, "hurry up and finish those exams!" gesturing with her head towards the Yyyyyyy conversation. I grin and nod, but voice reality, "That's not a mission the new hire is going to get." I'm more likely to get the mission to Qqqqqq that I think I heard him negotiating for fuel for. But hey, replace buzkashi with the knuckle hop, and mares' milk with seal blubber. I don't have to leave my own country to find an exotic culture.

If this is all a test, or some sort of set up, who cares. If someone wants to fly me to somewhere in the world, put me up in a hotel and buy me a few meals in order to have me write exams and then be told that I'm not needed after all, I'm okay with that. It gets me out of the house and gives me travel, new people to meet, and at least the opportunity to feel like I'm going to get a cool job.

I finish all the exams and get a tour of the maintenance hangar. There's a garishly-painted partial airplane in there, but I'm assured that it's the parts plane, and not representative of the appearance of the fleet. We'll try again for flying the next day.

Back at the hotel my card doesn't work. I go back to the lobby and tell the desk clerk. I always feel that in someone else's territory you should at least attempt to speak their language. Although I usually waive that rule at service points in highly traveller-oriented places like hotels and airports, I know that this clerk is francophone, so I say, "le clef ne marche plus." The key doesn't work anymore. He says the same thing I've heard a hundred other times I've experienced this, it happens, you need to keep it away from your telephone. I pull my telephone out of the same pocket and display it guiltily. I knew that. I'm clearly out of practice for hotel living. He remagnetizes the card. And then I realize that he continued the conversation in the same language as I started it. Usually bilingual Quebeckers switch into English right away in response to my French. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and presume that they are being polite and accommodating rather then implying that my French is too execrable to listen to. I haven't been here for a while though. Is it a political wind shift, or just that this guy really prefers to speak French, even at the cost of having to listen to my accent. (The word Quebeckers looks so wrong written down, but lots of people say it aloud. I've almost decided that it's the anglo pronunciation of Québecois). I know it doesn't represent any great improvement in my ability.

Oh and did I mention that potential employer number one wants me for that operation? I've stalled them while I check out this opportunity. I find that stressful.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I'm in the back of a jet, flying as a passenger to a city in La Belle Province, where I'll meet a potential employer. We got along well on the telephone. I know I have experience he can use, and his operation goes to places I'd like to see. I want to know that it's safe and that I'll fit in with what sounds like a testosterone-charged crowd. He says to call when I get in, but that we'll meet tomorrow. And yes, I still have that friend visiting me. Social events are sort of like laundry in aviation: put a load in the washer or have someone over and you will get called out to fly somewhere. There's food in the fridge and I left her with my home and my car, and explicit permission to drive it wherever she likes. She drove me to the airport and assured me without prompting that she would take good care of it, and not give my car a reputation for being driven rudely. I feel like I've matured a notch, because I'm relaxed about it. I was never good at sharing my crayons.

The airplane has seat-back TVs and I'm watching a show called something like Take This House and Sell It, in which the experts come into someone's house and make it more marketable for a quick sale. The featured house looks pretty good to me, not to cluttered, interiors nicely painted in warm colours. The furniture is a little worn, but not a difficult-to-show house. Then the team come in, rolling their eyes and snickering at the cinnamon-coloured walls, a nude painting in the living room (you can see one female nipple), and what they call disastrous kitchen cupboards. "Is there some story behind that?" they ask the homeowner about the painting. They had the restraint to check their mockery slightly when informed that a niece had painted it, but it still had to go. They repainted the walls white, hauled off most of the furniture, and replaced the doors on the kitchen cabinets with ones that didn't really look better to me. I knew why it all had to be done, but I disagreed. I didn't get to see what else they did, or whether the house sold immediately at the asking price, as we landed and I headed out with my gear.

I called the prospective employer to tell him I've landed and he says he'll come by. So I'm standing on the curb, with my stuff, dressed in the manner of my occupation, waiting to get into a vehicle with a guy I don't know, so he can take me to a hotel. Is there anyone who is not a prostitute who has done this so many times they couldn't say how many? It's a part of my job. I have a moment of realization that seeing as this meeting was set up through my blog, it could be a kidnapping. Sure I've looked at the company website, but did I check with Transport Canada that the company even owns those planes? It could be a fake website. Or a real company but how do I know the guy is who he says he is? And I've just stepped off an airplane with no checked luggage so I'm totally unarmed.

Someone in this conversation with myself watches too much Law & Order. The truck he described arrives, we thrown my bag in the back and go to the hotel. He has a couple of company manuals for me to look over and we set a meet time tomorrow morning. He asks about the flight, and right there I make a decision that just as I'm not selling my body on streetcorners, I'm not a house to be renovated either. You get me or nothing. I tell him about the decorating show, and that it's just like interviewing for an airline job, really. You have to whitewash over all your colourful spots, hide anything about you that is different or quirky in the garage, and replace some perfectly functional opinions with the ones designated for you. I tell him about the airline interview prep course where they told me what my hobbies should be, because mine weren't correct. I let him know that I am structurally sound, well-maintained and in a good neighbourhood, but that I just might have cinnamon walls. I'm not such a rebel that I'm not willing to put a couple of coats of paint on my personality to hold a good job, but I'm going to let you know what's underneath.

Some of you readers probably think I'm an incredible idiot for this. But it's worth rather a lot to me not to lie about who I am. And I've judged him correctly. He doesn't need that.

The hotel is comfortable, and across the parking lot from a Thai restaurant, which turns out to be mostly a Chinese restaurant, with some Thai dishes. There is adequate but not amazing food and friendly service. I saved my fortune cookie fortune to share with you, and moments ago I swear it was on this table, but now I can't find it. I think it said, "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance" on one side and something like "Un coeur joyeux rend le visage serein" (the same thing in French) on the other. I initially assumed it was something they made up in fortune cookie factories, but a bit of research shows that it's a bible quotation, and really only half of the message. It finishes "... but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken." It's probably not even the original source of the 'positive thinking' message but it's notable that it doesn't promise success from positivity or even threaten failure from negativity, just states that if you feel good you're going to smile and that it's hard to fight on when you're sad. It might as well say, "A good night's sleep makes you rested." I try for that.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hats Not Cats

The electrical system in those airplanes I once flew (someone suggest a nickname for it, eh?) underwent a few changes from version to version. I remember that the first one was the first airplane I flew equipped with generators, not alternators, the functional difference being that a generator will not charge the battery at low rpm, but it can be used to charge an absolutely flat battery (assuming the battery has the capability of holding a charge) while an alternator can charge at low rpm but needs there to be a bit of juice left in the battery to excite the field so it can work. You know what? I've recited that a hundred times, and can continue, but in order to ensure I really know what it means, I shall try to build an airplane electrical system from stone knives and bearskins. Let this be my apology for weeks of soul-searching, arts classes and lolcats.

Electricity is essentially the displacement of charges. Rub dissimilar materials and they may become oppositely charged and cling together. The differential may discharge in the form of a spark. It's as if every neutrally charged molecules were wearing a hat, but when you rub them together the hats all fly up in the air and the molecules with a greater millinery affinity grab more than their share. So when the dust settles you have the molecules of one substance wearing extra hats and the molecules of the other being hatless. This isn't a stable situation, and given the chance to correct it, the ones with extra hats will give up their headgear and the bareheaded ones will grab up stray hats. By this model, electric current would compare to a string of people with hats, all snatching the hat off the person to their left and putting it on, over and over again around in a circle.

A flow of electric current induces a magnetic field around a wire, and likewise movement of a wire through a magnetic field induces electric current in a wire. It's like passing hats creates a breeze, but a breeze itself lifts up people's hats. Can't have one without the other. The hat passing is driven by the power source, such as a battery. In a motor the magnetic field is used to create rotation--doing work with the breeze from the hats. In a generator, a breeze is used to make the hats move.

Rather than using just one wire for this effect, wire is wrapped in layers around a core, giving more electric-magnetic interaction in a more compact area, so making the whole thing neater and more efficient, like arranging your hat-wearing people on tiered benches so the same breeze can lift more hats or to increase the breeze in a small area. I think I'll stop talking about hats now, but if you like hats, then from here on read "movement of hats" for electric current and "breeze" for magnetic field.

In a generator an electromagnet creates a magnetic field around an armature (a spinny thing) wrapped with wire. The spinning movement induces an electric current along the wire. The force to spin the armature comes from the airplane's internal combustion engine, the thing that's driving the propeller. That's right, they use electricity to make a magnet, then they use the magnet to make more electricity. With this much information it seems as though the generator can't produce power unless it already has power, because otherwise what would power the electromagnet, but the trick is that having acted as the core of an electromagnet, the iron contains remanent magnetism. It's not a lot, just enough to induce a small current in the spinning armature, which is enough to increase the magnetic field so that it can generate a greater electric current and so on until it reaches a steady state. You can get more current by turning the engine faster, but you can't get more at low engine speeds. In fact you might not get enough at low engine speed, the weakness mentioned in the first paragraph of this entry. I've just learned from this site (which describes alternators and generators well, albeit without hats) that when you first connect a generator you need to polarize it before starting the engine. That also implies that if I disconnected a generator for some reason and then reconnected it, I could damage something by starting up without polarizing it. Another reason to keep screwdrivers out of the hands of your pilots.

The direction of the electrical current induced in a wire depends on the direction of its movement relative to the direction of the magnetic field. There are wacky things you can do with your fingers to figure out which way that is, but we're not reliving our grade eleven physics classes here, so you can put your fingers down. The point is, if you're spinning the armature, you can see that you'll get a relatively strong current as the wire cuts across the magnetic field, a current weakening to nothing as it moves to be parallel to the field, and then a strengthening current in the opposite direction. That is, it will produce an alternating current. An old airplane like this wants one-way direct current, so to prevent it from flipping back and forth, it's connected to the rest of the electrical system via a split ring device called a commutator, which reverses the connection every half turn. The end result of having both the connection reversed and the current reversed is steady current.

Generators are old-fashioned and more troublesome for maintenance, so the manufacturer allows you to replace the ones in this airplane with alternators. An alternator works on the same principle as the generator except that in the alternator, the wire windings in which the current will be induced are on the outside, and hold still, while the electromagnet that creates the magnetic field spins on the inside, connected to electrical power via a slip ring, which is simpler than a commutator. AC is converted to DC with a diode. A voltage regulator increases the current to electromagnet so that the alternator produces sufficient power for the aircraft electrical services, even at low rpm. That requires the alternator to draw power from the battery in order to get going, but it's worth it, because the alternator can then charge the battery immediately after start. A generator may be still discharging during low power taxi.

The POH copy I have here claims the aircraft has a 12V 33 ampere-hour battery and two 12V 50 A generators, one on each engine, but who knows if the airplane it belonged to still has generators. If it does, each generator has a voltage regulator and a there is a paralleling circuit to divide the load between the generators. If only one engine is running, a reverse current relay cuts its generator out of the circuit. Also, typically an alternator produces a higher voltage than the battery, so that it can charge the battery. I'm winding down now, so I'll see if I can write about voltage regulators, RCRs and paralleling circuits later.

Hyperphysics is an excellent site for this kind of thing, but I'm not too impressed with their 3D field diagrams.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fighting for Others

I have a pilot friend visiting from another province, looking for work herself. It's no conflict of interest, because we have different experience and different goals, so it's been a source of inspiration to see her share my frustrating experiences and the same psychological difficulty to do the simplest things like walk into someone's place of business and hand over a resume. Preparing for her visit renewed my efforts, and possibly paid off in the opportunities that are opening up for me now. I hope it's not too frustrating for her to see me getting a chance when she is at a tough stage of the hunt.

As I strategize and arrange networking opportunities for her with people who I think can give her advice or help get her resume in the right hands, it occurs to me that I am somehow willing to work harder to help her find employment than I am for myself. I've been more creative in my thinking and more willing to call people to ask for help when it's not for me. I don't even think of myself as a particularly nice or generous person, maybe a six or a seven on a scale of one to ten running from most selfish to most generous. I hate it when people mess with my stuff, but there's something in me that leaps to defend against injustice, and leaves me almost unable to not help, if something is within my power. How to harness this energy for my own success? Heck, if I could just harness it to get my own laundry done I'd be ahead.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Busy Calendar

A blog reader who flies a Citation XL is going to be in the next town over, and we've made a date for me to meet him at the FBO there at 10:30. As soon as that was confirmed, I received an e-mail asking me if I'm available for an interview, at the same airport, "late morning." The request acknowledges that it's short notice and assures me another time would be fine, but I figure a job interview is a chance for me to show my willingness and flexibility as well as my knowledge and personality. Yet I spend so much of my life ditching my friends for work that I don't want to just cancel the other meeting so I suggest earlier.

"Would nine a.m. be alright? That's late morning for a pilot," I joke.

Nine it is. I'll spare my mainly male audience the "what do I wear to a casual interview for what will be a fairly casual job just before going out to meet a friend?" agonizing and affirm that I put on clothes and drove out there. This is the "Facebook job."

The working conditions are good, the pay okay, the company small but professional, the aircraft well-serviced and the work within my capabilities. I think I will be offered the job. And I think I would take it. But I have to check out the other possibility, too.

I head over to the FBO. I'm a bit early, and I know my friend has to land, clear customs, look after the passengers, and complete all his postflight duties. An FBO is like an airport terminal, but for private aircraft, so (so far, thankfully) there's no security screening or ticket counters, just a lounge with big windows and a counter behind which sit people who will sell you fuel, rent you a car or help you provide services to your passengers. I walk up to the counter and talk to the guy there. He's a retired flight engineer, doing fuelling, towing airplanes and chatting to people like me. I tell him I'm waiting for someone, and recite the tail number. He looks the flight up on Flight Aware and notes that it's just a few minutes away. He laughs that I know the aircraft ident. He says a lot of people show up here to meet a flight not knowing even the aircraft type or point of origin.

We see my friend's airplane (of course it's my friend's boss's airplane) land and then it taxies past to go to customs. They get held up at customs for a while but eventually come back to the FBO and after my friend sorts out an appropriate rental vehicle (a Canadian "full-sized" car isn't big enough for four men and bags) for his passengers. I get a quick tour of the airplane then help him and his FO put in brand new engine plugs. Brand new. The pilots have no more experience using these things than I do. I did had this exact same experience last winter when the boss bought shiny new monogrammed (okay not technically monogrammed, but with the aircraft ident on, just like these) wing covers and engine plugs. These ones fit oddly. The FO announces he's done the other side, then realizes that the ribbon streamer on his is marked "LEFT". We're on the left side. And ours is marked RIGHT. We just assumed the streamer said REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT. We swap sides and they fit better.

Someday I'll stop being amused by the way aviation experiences are more the same than different despite radically different operations. They have the same plastic bin in the rear cargo space I had on my last job, and the same products in it: leather wipes, Mr. Clean Eraser, Febreeze and other products for keeping the airplane shipshape. Before we leave, the captain disconnects the aircraft battery. The airplane is only going to be parked for four days. I've left an airplane for months before with the battery connected, but not this sort. Apparently it's a weakness of this type: so many services on the hot battery bus that parking it for a few days can drain the battery.

This is the point at which I should have a fabulous restaurant recommendation, stuff the three of us into my definitely not full-sized car and go find it. But I'm uninspired so we just walk to one on the airport. It's more about people than food, anyway.

I enjoyed meaning the captain reader friend. He too was recently unemployed, when his previous jet charter company stopped operating. He was assigned to take a company jet to Wichita for refurbishing by Cessna for its new owner, and ended up working for the new owner.

He's actualy originally from Canada, with more northern piston time than I have. He tells me that when his first American co-workers found out how much time he had, they thought he must be an idiot. U.S. career progression is different. The newly PPCed copilot on this jet, for example went straight from flight instruction to jets. He knows how lucky he is, though.

My new friend gave me a book, which I'll read and report on later. It's a novel and he says it was a favourite of his years ago, but he hasn't reread it lately. It's foolproof though, he tell me, because either I will read it and enjoy it or I will read it and say "I could write a better aviation novel than this!" and then I will.

The end of the day brings encouraging e-mail from both potential employers. Even after all the times employers have led me on, I feel like two-timing scum talking to both of them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

From the Mop to the Top

The relationship between pilots and air traffic controllers is nothing like that between drivers and traffic cops. It's closer to the relationship between runners and the people who cheer us on and hand us food and cups of water. I don't know how they select and train people for the job, but the typical air traffic controller's desire to do everything they can to expedite traffic seems to be tempered only by their desire to keep us safe. I know that occasional arbitrary-seeming restrictions on my access to airspace are required for separation. I can't think that I've ever felt a controller was holding me up because she was being lazy. They do make mistakes, and every once in a while we joke that one is trying to kill us, but we forgive them, because they always forgive our mistakes and protect us from their consequences. I can't think that I've ever felt rage at an air traffic controller. I've certainly never wished one dead.

So it's with admiration and sorrow that I present the life story of the late Eleanor Joyce Toliver-Williams, an FAA air traffic controller I found out about recently through Greg Gross's travel blog. She retired as chief of the Cleveland ARTCC, which is pretty impressive for anyone seeing as it's the busiest of only twenty-two such 'Centers' in the US. But it's remarkable because she started as an FAA janitor. In Alaska(*). She went from janitor to stenographer to certified controller in three years, which is about half the time than it took me to go from flight instructor to charter captain. Then it took five more years for her to be given an actual assignment as a controller. I'm not sure if that was because she was the first black woman to qualify and America didn't know if it was ready for her, or if she had some time off before she got a placement she wanted. She did raise seven children along the way.

It's worth reading her full obituary here.

* That's only one step up from unemployed in Greenland, isn't it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Useful Little Twin

I'm not getting back into the meat of aviation as quickly as I had intended, so I'm going to just pick up a manual and start reviewing systems. Eeeny-meeny-miney-moe gets me an airplane type I have flown a few times. I knew three people who owned these airplanes, and have flown four different aircraft of this type, including a couple of flight tests. It's a great little twin, a good IFR platform and the extra engine will actually take you somewhere, even with the aircraft well-loaded. There's no reason for me to obscure the make and model, except that it's fun and I know some of you will enjoy guessing.

Now I'm trying to decide which system is the most generic, so you don't all know it immediately. The trick is that even as I look at the index of the manual (it's a photocopy of my friend's POH) I smile remembering unique quirks of each system, and how they all interacted for good and for bad. I guess I'll start with the airframe.

It's an all-metal low-wing aluminum-skinned monoplane with semi-monocoque construction. (The semi-monocoque bit means that it has internal bracing but unlike early open-frame or canvas-covered aircraft, the skin is necessary to the structural integrity of the airplane). The fuselage is built in four pieces: nose cone, cabin, tail cone and an enamelled steel tube structure that runs from the tail cone to the nosewheel to hold it all together. The wings are rectangular, with a main centre spar plus a fore and aft spar, plus additional lateral stringers running through the ribs. The main spars are bolted together in the centre of the fuselage, but the rest of the wing does not carry through, but is bolted to the steel tube structure. The wings have a removable tip section, and five degrees of dihedral (the angle at which the wing slopes up from root to tip). The ratio of nose-to-tail length to wingspan is 0.81. That last is not a standard aircraft statistic, but I spoil guessing fun if I actually give the length and wingspan.

A detail in the manual is that the main wing spar is "stepped-down." I'm not certain how that is achieved. I assume that it's thicker at the wing roots than the wingtips through having less metal, but rather than being tapered ('cause they'd presumably just say "tapered") the gauge is otherwise quantized. I'll try to find out exactly how that works on a metal wing spar. On a wooden one it might be a reduction in the number of laminate layers. I don't often see aircraft wings with the skin removed, and when I do it's usually either an ancient hulk or a hobby plane under construction.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Illogical Hope

I'm still holding out faint hope for the employer that never called back. The first aviation job I ever got was offered to me after the "expect a call by" date. Sometimes it takes longer than an employer anticipates to make a decision. Maybe I'm not their first choice, but they don't want to tell me to foad yet, because the first choice candidates might go to Air Canada before they get on there. I left a polite "could you please let me know if all the successful candidates have been notified" message on the chief pilot's voicemail, and I'm a little surprised that they didn't at least e-mail, because they seemed to be more respectful than that.

I get home from grocery shopping and there's a phone message. Oooh, lovely phone message. I press the button. It's from a charity that wants to come and pick up used clothing, furniture and small appliance donations. Hey, disabled people, if I get that job you can have bags of it, as I move across the country again. I realize what I've been doing wrong though. I bought a little electric grinder, for grinding spices, because they taste so much better fresh, and I decided I wouldn't open it until I got the job and moved to the new town. That's not how superstition works! I have to open the box, throw the packaging away, and then I will get the job and have to pack it up and get cinnamon or cumin all over my towels. I take it out and use it.

I found this story (many of you have probably already seen it on Bruce Schneier's blog) interesting twice. First, there's the idea that the logic of "If P then Q; P. therefore Q" or "If P then Q; Not Q. Therefore not P," is difficult. I really didn't know that most people found it difficult to follow.

When I was in university there was a third year philosophy course that math majors took for an easy arts credit. (I never grasped the concept of paying for useless courses, so I didn't take it, but I trust the accounts of my friends). It was trivial logic problems. All you had to do was memorize the names of the different types of actual logic and logical fallacies and it was an easy A. You didn't even have to attend the classes. I guess I hang out with logical people. Perhaps I should have followed the logic that if they could get As without trying, there must be other people who were getting the marks at the other end of the scale, but then we also laughed at the kinesiology students whose hardest course was a special version of first year physics that allowed them to understand skeletal structure and musculature in terms of basic Newtonian physics of levers, mass and energy.

I imagine most of my readers will also find that type of logic simple, because the logical elite hang out with me. but I'm fascinated that even those of you who would fail the "if someone is going to Boston he takes a plane" card-flipping test nevertheless have no trouble with the exact same logic in the "has to eat vegetables to get dessert" card test. And I'm now mature enough to realize that people have different skills, and if I hurt my abductor hallucis (which I think I may have) I'd be better off consulting a kin grad than a mathematician.

In case you're wondering, there's no connection between my waiting for an employer to respond and taking a plane to Boston, eating dessert, hurting my foot, or minding my logical Ps and Qs. They're just the top things on my pile.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Prior Spaceflight Experience is a Plus

Here are two pilot jobs that amused me, but which I must admit I didn't apply to. The first one is a modification on the usual tactic of hiring people at starvation wages to throw bags and check in customers, while dangling "if you show a good work ethic we'll put you on the airplane" in front of them. It works fairly well for the companies. They get a relatively sober, intelligent and obedient workforce for the price of dumping them in a remote location and ensuring they don't starve to death. Promote a few into the airplanes every spring and the supply of new suckers keeps pace with the ones you have to fire for going crazy.

Need IT pilot with extensive experience in servers and software to help with our computer system and be in line to move up to be trained as first officer. If you have over 1500 hrs you might be eligible for immediate consideration.

There are so many pilots out there that if an employer has specific needs, they might as well ask for what they want. Pilots who do not meet the qualifications will apply. Reader Chris Thompson sent me the second one requiring more than just IT experience.

Virgin Galactic seeking private spaceship pilots

MOJAVE, Calif.—Virgin Galactic is seeking people with the right stuff. The Antelope Valley Press in California says the spaceline founded by Sir Richard Branson has put out a call for pilots to operate its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft and WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. Those selected would fly during development testing currently under way and commercial operations at some point in the future. The company is looking for test pilots who graduated from a respectable flight school and who have a minimum of 3,000 hours of flying experience. Prior spaceflight experience is a plus, but not required. Virgin Galactic plans to fly tourists on brief suborbital flights at a cost of $200,000 per person. SpaceShipTwo is based on the design of SpaceShipOne, the first private manned craft to reach space.

That's the first time I remember seeing the word 'spaceline'. We have airlines and bus lines, railway lines and cruise ship lines, and had stagecoach lines (my great-something grandfather ran one). I wonder what the first thing we called a transportation "line" was.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Spring Rains

Now not only have I made progress towards the aforementioned job opportunity through a blog reader, but another opportunity came up through an arm's-length Facebook contact, a friend reported that a business owner posted a status of "I really need to hire a pilot!". Vive social media! They are both jobs similar to the one that I have so enjoyed these last four years, both with interesting new challenges and different things to recommend them. I have spoken to both potential employers by telephone and both want to talk to me in person.

I'm trying to simultaneously be prepared, be calm, not get my hopes up high enough to hurt should they be dashed, but be enthusiastic about something I know I can do and that employers should have no trouble seeing that I can and will do. I'm trying to decide now which job I would want if offered both, but it's hard to say without more information. Some I have sought from friends and some from personal research. Both people want to show me their operations and let me meet them, so I'll keep an open mind. I'm driving to meet one and then the other is flying me to another city. I still haven't heard from the company that most recently interviewed me, but it's two weeks past the date they said they expected to make their decision by, so I think that ship has sailed. It seems odd, but people in aviation can be that callous towards the candidates they don't want. I'm sure the non-aviation people are starting to think that there must be something terribly defective about me, but what are you going to do? Airplanes ask tough questions with no warning, and they don't give you a chance to say goodbye if you answer incorrectly.

It's always the job you want less that calls you back first, but of course it is, because the employers know the pecking order just as well as the pilots.

The post title is with reference to the expression "it never rains but it pours," with a reminder that rain can be a good thing. My thoughts go out to those of you suffering from floods this season. There seem to be more than usual this year. Everything is turning green here as spring arrives. In fact right across Canada, and even as far north as Whitehorse, temperatures are creeping into the teens. That's a big change for the prairies and a smaller change for the coasts, but for a fortnight or so everyone in the cities has comfortable light jacket weather. I wonder if spring is perhaps my favourite season. I do like beginnings, and new opportunities, and it's a great time for hiring in aviation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Trans-Atlantic Passenger Aircraft

While I was trying to find out what was included in the interwar aerodynamics term "wing resistance" I found this 1927 Popular Science article which uses the term in passing while stating that the Germans are building passenger transport planes with passenger seating inside the wings, and speculating that by 1950 there will be two tiers of passenger decks inside the wings of trans-Atlantic aircraft. The article added nothing to the discussion of wing drag, but I grew up seeing the artwork on magazine covers like these and expecting to really see the things manifest.

There is an excellent article on page twelve about Lindbergh's airplane, including the instruments, and then more on another trans-Atlantic flight, by Charles Chamberlain. I could write half a dozen blog articles just researching them, and I may just do that later, but at the moment I'm distracted by all the other tidbits in the old magazine. This must have been an aviation special edition, but it's startling how many things I take for granted are discussed there as cutting edge or future possibilities. I think I'm not visionary enough to be an engineer, to conceive of something being possible based on a particular scientific principle and then chase it down until it is a concrete, beneficial technology. That may be the difference between a science and a belief to me: if you're explaining an observable phenomenon by science, you can use that science to build a technology that works for someone who knows nothing of the science.

There are lots of suggested applications of technology that I haven't seen manifested. Page 56 describes a device for testing a pilot's vision, but I've never been subjected to that test, so I guess it didn't catch on. On page 43 there is an artist's conception of a system of giant deck fans on a ship, allowing aircraft to land in a short distance for refuelling or emergencies. The arrestor cable is probably a better technology for that, but it was a cute idea. Page 32 documents the first known glider tow launch, and predicts that this could lead to 'aerotrains.' But the secret to invention may be not to laugh at the ridiculous ideas, but to try them.

Some of the ideas have taken off. Page 47 suggests that apes might be able to use basic sign language, and there has been a lot of research on that since. The newly-invented breathalyser is introduced on page 56. Radio was still a cool new technology, and page 56 also describes the discovery of a "radio roof." I learned about high frequency radio "sky waves" bouncing off the ionosphere during my first aviation class on radio theory, but I'd never before wondered when we started doing that. Wikipedia dates the discovery of long distance HF propagation to 1923, and the confirmation of the existence of the ionosphere (for which Edward V. Appleton was later awarded a Nobel Prize!) to 1927. Which two-column-inch silly idea in this week's news will be standard knowledge in fifty years?

There's a description of Paul Edwards' experiments with a radio guidance system, and while I can't find him named in any history of the ILS, I'm suspect that his was some of the earliest research that led to its development. There's a tiny bit more on page 253 of this Popular Mechanics.

The ads are great too. A Gillette ad says "every face is different" yet is illustrated with three faces that make the Führerbunker look diverse. Correspondence schools urge you to earn more money by taking courses on electrical refrigeration, radios, accounting or plumbing. Or "$39 in one day!" selling can openers. And then there's aviation:

Are you hungry for ...
Adventure ..
Popularity .
Big Pay?

Apparently you have to be "a red-blooded daring he-man" for that kind of career. But "the fortunes that came out of the automobile industry and out of motion pictures will be nothing compared to the fortunes that will come out of Aviation." If they mean "come out of" in the sense that the stuffing comes out of a well-used toy, they might be close.

An enthusiastic editorial on public utilities (this must be before they were hated corporations) extols the virtues of electrical power, and this time they do include the ladies.

"How about an electric vibrator? You can massage with it one hour a day, if it takes that much time, getting the kinks out of your system for 2 cents a week."

An hour a day is pretty kinky, but I guess if you weren't offered the opportunity to participate in the exciting worlds of aviation, refrigeration or plumbing, you might have a lot of spare time for your vibrator.

Monday, May 09, 2011

I'd Rather My Life Be About Flying, Too

A few days ago, a reader posted a comment that I was expecting. Truthfully I was expecting more resembling this comment, and sooner.

OK, I think this diversion was fun. I also think it has gone on long enough and we ought to get back to flying or something close. Don't ya 'spoze... If we don't (or won't) want to write about flying anymore, let's reclassify and get off the aviation lists. Frankly, I DO think you still give a twit about flying and you are just hiding it because you are a bit frustrated - and I can appreciate that. Maybe it is time to take a slightly lesser flying job, keep those hours building and do what you are supposed to do. Some folks on their way up the ladder believe that ANY flying is better than no flying. Where do you stand?

I answered briefly (or at least as briefly as I get) in a comment, but decided to take some more room here to answer more thoroughly, point by point. As I learned as an instructor, most of the time when someone asks a question there are others wondering the same thing. I appreciate your attention and your comments, and enjoy hearing from different people as I happen to veer into your areas of expertise. This blog, as it has always said up there at the top, is about the adventures of an aviatrix: me. I am doing my level best to make them once again aviation-related adventures, but I can only write so many posts about PDFs of resumes. I like to be a reliable blogger, but in my case reliability is in the regularity my posts, or at least reliable information on when I'll blog next, as opposed to reliably blogging on a given topic. Despite my diversions, I think I produce as many aviation-themed posts in any given year as any other non-aggregator in the blogosphere. Remember in that vein that a non-aviation post is not depriving you of an aviation one, just giving you something to see before the next time I have an aviation-related one ready.

I'm a little surprised to have given the impression that I was unwilling to write about flying, or that I didn't care about flying. I didn't think much more than a week went by without me saying something about my desire to be flying, my impatience to hear back from a company I had interviewed with, or at least comparing what I was doing to some aspect of flying. I'm definitely not trying to hide it. Getting off aviation lists wouldn't really be something I could do of my own accord. Most blog directories, well the good ones, at least, classify blogs themselves and I wouldn't even know where to look to find what lists I'm on or how to get off them.

The "time to take a slightly lesser flying job" question is an interesting one. I wonder if he has ever tried to take a slightly lesser flying job. What is a "lesser" flying job? For less money? The job for which I attended groundschool would have paid half as much as my previous one, and for close to twice as much work. A slower or smaller airplane? Not out of the question. Every type of commercial operation is different, and the management want pilots who have direct, recent experience in the narrow area they are hiring for, yet who do not have so much experience that they could easily get a different job. I apply for but don't get called to interview for near-entry level jobs, even ones I really want, because my resume is clearly not one of an entry level pilot, and the employers want someone who needs the job as a rung on the ladder, and who will take some time to be eligible for a different one. Cynically, such a pilot is easier for them to abuse, and practically they feel they have a better chance of amortizing their investment. I'm already eligible for almost any job advertised without specific type-rating demands, but as the specific type of time any given employer might be asking for falls further into the past, my competitiveness as a candidate declines. And yes, that's very frustrating, and it's something that sent me to go back to school and prove that I could go and learn things like I was still twenty.

I have absolutely no interest in time-building. It's one of the strengths of my resume, that any employer can look at it and see that I'm not applying because I'm looking to build time. My time is built. I'm not sure what "do what you were supposed to do" means in the question. If I was supposed to fly airplanes and write only about aviation, then you not I are the one doing the supposing. I'm a whole person and I do lots of stuff, little of which I consider to be something I'm not supposed to do.

Any flying is most definitely not better than no flying. If you are flying unsafe aircraft, with undocumented dangerous goods, with abusive management or customers, or otherwise operating in an environment hazardous to the physical or mental health of yourself or others, you're making a poor decision. I will fly for any operation I consider to be safe and respectful. Regular readers have seen me accept a contract to fly an airplane I could lift without starting the engine, and jump in a simulator for an airplane that could probably lift my house. I'll follow any SOPs I consider safe, legal and moral, but I won't stay long where I'm not respected.

It so happens that the school from which I embezzled the most recent phase of my education ended its winter term. The students all applauded the professors on the last day of classes, something that seems superior to what happened when I went to school. I think we all walked out grumbling about the exam schedule. I cancelled the Netflix subscription without watching anything else I deemed worth reporting on. Except that I watched all the Red Dwarf episodes, including a few series that weren't out the first time I watched them. I discovered that you can be inspired and roll your eyes at the same time, with the line, "Even the word "hopeless" has hope in it." Netflix Canada has a very poor selection. I'm holding back on trying another movie delivery option because whether DVDs-by-mail will work depends on whether the job I am destined to get is in Nowhere, Nunavut or Downtown Distribution City.

And all this blogging isn't a complete waste of time, as I now have e-mail from a couple of blog readers with real job tips: jobs that are available to a Canadian, and related to my experience. One of the companies experiences an unfortunate setback actually during our rapid-fire e-mail conversation but the other one seems promising, as the employer e-mailed me back.

Update: I removed the reader's posting name from this blog entry because, while I wasn't intending it as a name and shame, he took some heat from the blogosphere and sent me a sincere apology. So we're good now.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

It's Not Missing

It's not missing, I just don't want to go up there after it. It must have tough feet and thick fur, as it looks perfectly happy up there. It's not even that useful a perch, because surely that's too far to leap after prey. Ah well, Happy Caturday.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Alphabet Google Meme

A meme, a meme. An embarrassing way of revealing and reviewing what I've been up to lately. An excuse for a blog post when I've been preoccupied with textbooks and visitors. All you do is go to your Google search bar and enter each letter of the alphabet in turn, reporting the first suggestion. That tells you what you've searched for most recently, or if you've never searched for anything beginning in that letter, then I think you get the most common recent search. I, for example, have never actually searched for anything beginning in the Old English letter thorn. I just threw it in to be silly.

adapted for American audience
calves weaned natuarally age
eth html
first air
geek holidays
Harry Potter changes american market
interference drag
jackson hole b757 runway
ntsb endorsement
parasite drag induced
russian vowels ipa
schwa html
tea cosy etymology
US gallons Jet A pounds
Viking twin otter
Wright Flyer
Zenith 5555

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Never Enough

I've played some more phone tag, called some more people. I'm not working as hard as I should be working in order to be working. I'm going in spurts. I make a lot of contacts, then slack off, but while I'm slacking off the previous contacts pay off. Then when the dust settles and I still don't have a job, I go back to applying for work.

I'm glad I took the break to learn some linguistics. It was interesting and complex but showed me that I can still jump in and learn things. I'm not stupid. I feel stupid sometimes, and unfortunately sometimes I act stupid. I had an interview for a job I really wanted and the questions showed that the employer really cared about the same things I did.

He threw in some technical questions on the aircraft I've been flying lately. Really easy questions and for some reason I sounded like this woman. My brain was full of Screaming Weasel numbers and I either couldn't answer, or worse gave incorrect answers to basic questions about my own airplane. Please Mr. Chief Pilot, please, please overlook that and somehow see though to someone who will do a good job for you. What's the use of being smart and knowledgeable if I can't even look like someone who is when it counts? They weren't hard questions. It wasn't like the sixth guy story from these interviews.

I got my very first job on technical questions--I know because I sucked on the HR questions. Now I have learned how to act like a human being on the HR side but apparently I don't know anything. I'm so disappointed in myself. They said they might take two weeks or so to select the candidates, but it's been longer and still no reply. I kind of like it when an employer has the decency to tell you they don't want you. Unfortunately this kind of thing is common in aviation.

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, there's a copy of me that didn't screw up that interview. Maybe there's a copy that put a lot more work into the right things in the right place and is an astronaut. An astronaut went to my school, a few years before me, and had a lot of the same hobbies.

I'll go back to some technical aviation posts, to try and be ready. In gratitude for your tolerating all those linguistics posts, I'll respond to your requests for technical subjects.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

History of English

I went back to the library looking for a book on the history of English. I've seen some references to the case system of Old English and the language I speak has only the slightest remnants of that. I was interested in what they looked like and when and how we lost most of it. I was looking for something with a readable style, but not too simplistic, that had tables showing the old forms, and that would fit easily in my bookbag. Seeing as I was looking for information on events that happened about a hundred years ago, I wasn't too concerned when the date on the spine of A History of the English Language by Albert C. Baugh was 1957, and its title page indicated that it was the second edition of a 1935 work. I really didn't expect the last fifty to seventy-five years to have brought with them any shocking revelations about the past participle of strong verbs, so I picked that one.

The author sets the scene for the drama of English history.

"English is the mother tongue of nations whose combined political influence, economic soundness, commercial activity, social well-being, and scientific and cultural contributions to civilization give impressive support to its numerical precedence."

It's a little amusing how secure he is about this position for English, and while it's still the dominant world language, there are nations that prefer other languages on the ascendancy in some of those dimensions. Later in the book I discover he's an advocate of an English-based world language. It's odd to see someone so interested in language who declares, "How much pleasanter travel would be if we didn't have to contend with the inconveniences of a foreign language." For me the two chief joys of travel are of the tongue: food and language. But Albert and I can disagree on that. I guess he doesn't have little time travel fantasies as he studies the old word forms, wondering if he would be able to express himself intelligibly and understand the locals, should he be whisked back to Saxon times.

Here's the present tense conjugation of a couple of Old English verbs.

'to be''to drive'
ic eomic drīfe
ðū eartðū drīfst
hē ishē drīfð
wē sindonwē drīfað
gē sindongē drīfað
hīe sindonhīe drīfað

Yup, that's English. I'll see if I can find the verb "to fly" for you later. I'm pretty sure it wasn't transitive, though. There were actually two more nominative personal pronouns, but this book doesn't fit them into the table to show which verb conjugations they took. They were wit 'we two' and git 'you two'. I don't know why my language's ancestor needed these specific pronouns, but they each had alternate forms for genitive, dative and accusative. As did all the others. So in fifteen hundred years, English has gone from twenty-four different pronouns means 'you' or 'your' to just those two. There was a subject pronoun ye and an object pronoun you in the 16th century, but they were both pronounced the same way, so merged to be just you. This is my idea of fun.

It's interesting reading about the issues of England as a French/English bilingual nation, because that's what Canada is, and there are similar issues. Robert of Gloucester wrote of the two languages in 1300, "Ac wel me wot our to conne boþe wel it is,/Vor þe more þat a mon can þe more wurþe he is." ("But men well know it is well to know both,/For the more that a man knows, the more worth he is.") Curiously, the greatest infusion of French into English occurred not in the years between the 1066 invasion and the 13th century dissolution of ties between England and Normandy, but in the subsequent two hundred years as the children of the French nobility stopped learning French as a native language and English gradually regained its position as the language of the land. A large bilingual population shifting from doing business in French to business in English transferred vocabulary between the languages. I wonder if a similar thing is true for English vocabulary going into French-Canadian. Was there a lower rate of borrowing into French between the battle of the Plains of Abraham and the passing of the Official Languages Act than since?

I find that I have three conflicting responses to the incredible changeability of my language. Firstly I want to change it to my whim, to somehow leave a mark; secondly I want to stop it from losing all its old features; and thirdly I want to be a witness to the effects of language change, against which I realize I am completely powerless. And I love the fact that each of the first two impulses can be described as "fixing" the language. Fixing as in repairing and fixing as in fixing in place. I love it when a word can be its own opposite.

It also makes you realize that has never ever been a correct, proper way of speaking or writing from which the current language has devolved. There have always been some things that are more complicated and some that are less. For example, we used to have three genders of noun and full declensions for them all but sound changes that made the endings indistinct made us lose all but the genitive, which ended in s, like stonis 'of the stone.' People started interpreting things like "the cats paw" as a contraction of "the cat his paw" so writing it as "the cat's weight," even though that interpretation made no sense at all for things like "the woman's beauty." The move became more than just a spelling change when the apostrophe-s broke loose to attach to entire phrases, e.g. "the King of England's crown." It doesn't take long for the way a few influential people do it to become the way most people do it and thus the way it is done. Spelling and pronunciation do not need to adhere to any outside rules, the way piloting has to occur within the laws of physics. This shows that the people who put so much effort into defending the possessive apostrophe against the ignorant, are defending the result of earlier ignorance.

There's more. Despite all those pronouns, until almost 1600 the possessive pronoun for neuter was the same as for male: his. As English no longer had grammatical gender, people started to think that didn't sound right and by the fourteenth century, some people started avoiding it, with expressions like "nine cubits was the length thereof" instead of "... was his length." People started using the nominative pronoun, "We enjoin thee .. that there thou leave it, Without more mercy, to it own protection" or the article "growing of the own accord." Nouns at that point already had the genitive ending in 's, and at some point toward the end of the sixteenth century, it's began coming into use. Yes, with an apostrophe. It took a hundred years for his to become an archaism, and two hundred for its to gain its present apostrophe-less form. All of this makes it pretty difficult to get huffy about where people put their apostrophes, doesn't it? Does for me, anyway.

When I write something, I may reword it several times, trying to find the most concise interesting way to say it. Now as I consider the huge upheavals that the language has undergone, it makes me realize that anything I write has an expiring window of accessibility. No matter how clearly I write my thoughts today, in another time my words will become marked, ungrammatical, obscure, and then unintelligible. I laugh when I turn a page in the book and find the same idea from a poet named Waller, "But who can hope his lines should long/Last in a daily changing tongue?" So I'm doomed to obscurity, and unoriginal to boot.

This book turned out to be heavier on political history and less thorough on stages of the language than I expected. I had a few more odds and ends to discuss from it, but I'm trying to be done with the linguistics posts.

I have one question for the Americans. On page 435, Baugh states that the educated American pronunciation of figure ends in a "yer" sound, like the beginning of yearn, and that a pronunciation like "figger" sounds hick to an American. Is this true, or was this just an early 20th century fad? When I say "figure" it rhymes perfectly with "bigger."

Monday, May 02, 2011

Mix, Match and Vote

As my fellow citizens all know, Canadians go to the polls today to elect new members of parliament. In every constituency, called a riding, voters select on their ballot one candidate, and the candidate who receives the most votes, even if it isn't a majority, become the elected representative for that riding. The party represented by the majority of elected candidates will most probably then be asked by the Governor-General to form a government, and that party's leader will become the next (or remain the current) Prime Minister of Canada.

Foreigners can test their knowledge of Canadian politics and Canadians can try to guess the punchline of the cartoon below.

I'd explain the inverted punchline for non-Canadians, but it's spelled out under the cartoon here. Americans probably think it's wacky, but I remind you that we think the same of your primaries.

Instead I'll throw in a linguistics tidbit and tell you the origin of the Canadian word riding. Old Norse influence in what is now northern England produced the word þriðing, which sounds like 'thriving' except with the v replaced with the th sound from this, and which means "third part." Yorkshire, for example was divided into three, the North, South and East. Say North Thrithing a few times and it quickly loses the second consecutive th sound and from there it morphed into something that folk etymologies often dream up a scenario with candidates canvassing potential voters on horseback. I wish. It would be a lot more entertaining than the autodialled calls I keep getting.

I've heard from the Liberals twice, the NDP once and the Conservatives, Greens and others not at all. Make that the Liberals three times. They literally called again while I was finishing that sentence. Also I saw the the Bloc Quebecois campaign bus yesterday on the tarmac, collecting BQ candidates from what was presumably their campaign aircraft, but I didn't have my camera with me. Too bad, it is definitely the coolest campaign aircraft of all the parties, and I can't find a picture of it online. Here is what it looks like. A Convair 580 turboprop still mostly in Nolinor colours. It was facing me head on, so I didn't see if it had BQ decals, too. They made the news last week doing a go around for sudden wind gusts in Gaspé. Love those massive propellers.

Both the Conservative and NDP campaigns are flying Airbus 319s chartered from Air Canada. It's a good thing for them that the Leafs didn't make the playoffs, because I think one of the airplanes might have gone to the hockey team if they had.

Can you guess by the decals on the Airbuses which party is more popular than its leader and which leader is more popular than his party?

The Liberals have leased an American-made Boeing 737-400 from Enerjet in Calgary. They had to scramble for an airplane last election because Air Canada couldn't spare any more A319s, so this year they booked in advance. This may be a picture from a previous campaign, because the FlightAware site records nothing since a Frobisher Bay-Kelowna flight two years ago, but I think they have the same type this year.

The Green leader Elizabeth May took a train last year, but this year I guess she's buying airline tickets. Or maybe riding a horse.