Sunday, July 31, 2011

More On That Dot

Reader Sarah found this lolcat for me, a perfect laugh at the end of a long day of chasing the red dot, trying to keep it green. Fortunately they can't make me stay late, because we need a sun angle of at least 38 degrees for the work.

It's kind of fun, really, chasing the dots, trying to keep everything as good as it can be, and still having ATC agree to what we ask. And not running out of fuel. And not having to pee before I land. The basics.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Letting Me Down Gently

I like looking at AIM amendments. Even old ones that I should have reported on months ago. Some stuff sits in my buffer and keeps getting bumped until I have a place for it. Every country issues a sort of national pilot's handbook, a combination of sage advice, regulatory requirements, and doorstop. US pilots will be familiar with the FAR/AIM, an annually issued paperback the size of a James Clavell novel. Canada used to have a looseleaf binder about the same size. It was called the AIP--Aeronautical Information Publication--and oh boy amendments were fun back then, because they mailed them out in a sheaf and you had to individually remove the outdated pages and replace them with the new ones. I'm nerdy enough that I kind of enjoyed the ritual, but that doesn't mean I wasn't occasionally a year behind in my amendments.

Some years back, Canada needed to normalize its publications with an ICAO standard that required the AIP to be a document for foreign pilots, containing only ICAO differences, so they changed the name to the AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual), and at the same time they changed the format to 8 1/2 x 11 (that's the standard letter size here, approximately A4) and shortly afterwards started charging for the paper format. I still free update notices electronically and can look at it online.

An amendment that caught my eye was this detail explaining what to include in your flight plan:

RAC 3.16.9 The sentence “INDICATE if aircraft is equipped with a ballistic parachute system.” was added to “N/(REMARKS)”.

It certainly would be relevant to ATC and rescuers to know if the airplane they are looking for could have descended vertically to a survivable landing, or that could pose a hazard to rescuers (thanks, Plastic Pilot). I remember having an aircraft attended by local (non-airport) firefighters after a smoke-in-cockpit incident and they had no aircraft specific training. I showed them where the fuel lines and tanks were located in that airplane, where the battery was and how to shut off the engine and electrical in the cockpit. I know they would simply treat the whole airplane as a dagerous mix of fuel and electrical power, but it was a little startling to realize how little they knew about what they might be dealing with.

I've never flown an aircraft with a ballistic parachute. It's not tempting, even if it were available for aircraft over about 700 kg. My nightmare scenarios are not ones that a parachute would get me out of.

When I'm getting ready to go into town I call to ask if my camera is ready. The guy in the shop says he will call me back. Needing to actually GO into town rather than sit on the couch and wait for the camera guy to call me back, I leave. There's a message to call them. I call them. They have to call me back. This repeats a number of times. I think they have lost the camera. Finally they manage to answer the question. The camera is not lost, but it is not ready either. It is "beyond economical repair." I'll go and get it to get the SD card back, and perhaps I can get another the same and reuse the battery.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hey, Swimsuits!

I wasn't going to post anything today, so if women in swimsuits and inappropriate-for-the-beach shoes is not your thing, wait until tomorrow and you're not missing anything. If you like to look at pictures of scantily-clad women, then click over here and check out the parade of women with absolutely no bruises or scars. Can you imagine if your job depended on being that flawless? I worry about being in the field scheduled to work and getting diarrhea or coming down with a fever. With a little plastic surgery my belly button could look that perfect. (Ladies, when choosing an obstetrician, ask them to demonstrate their knot-tying skills. I mean honestly how does page three there get that neat perfect dimple in the middle of her belly, when my mother's obstetrician was evidently practising his sheepshank?) But forget belly button envy, I am never going to spend a day with no bruises or scratches anywhere on my body as revealed by a swimsuit.

They're pretty to look at though. I've got a suit kind of like page seven, plus the sense not to wear orange eyeshadow, so I'm way ahead. I'm also glad my job doesn't involve being photographed at the angle shown in number twelve. If you're tall and naturally skinny, go ahead and be a fashion model for a few years. You can use the money to pay for flight school which will allow you to wear more comfortable shoes for your job. You'll still get groped at work, but at least you won't be wearing a bathing suit that's too small and mess of faux pearls.

No actual nudity or toplessness there, but if your workplace is worried about that sort of thing, they might not like swimsuit models either.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Posts

I fairly frequently receive e-mails asking if I accept guest posts for my blog. Almost always these requests are from people with something to sell or promote: people who want to take advantage of the fact that your eyeballs and minds will be on the blog. As far as I am concerned, you guys are not for sale. I'm not in principle opposed to guest posts, and if someone has something to contribute I will give them recognition, but I have standards for what I accept. I'm writing this post not as a solicitation for or warning about upcoming guest posts, but to give my readers a chance to comment on the idea that I might accept them, and so I can simply link to it next time someone asks me if I accept them.

A guest post must be on a topic linked to aviation. If it is a technical topic on which the writer has considerable expertise, that link may be quite tenuous. For example I'd accept a technical post on the production of the multi-layer aluminum sheeting used aircraft skin, on petroleum fractionation, or on the transport of materials to Uranium City for construction of the runway there. It should be well- written and go beyond what I could produce on the same subject with a little research. If it treats a less technical topic, then I would prefer you write a first person account of an interesting aviation experience, something that gives an insider's view. It could be something you'd put on your own blog if you had one, or something you don't want to put on your own blog because it's too embarrassing, but that you'd like to share anonymously.

I'm not interested in posts about ordinary passenger experiences on large commercial aircraft, how to get first class upgrades, exciting places to go on vacation, or the benefits of going to a particular technical college, or anything that reads like an infomercial. I'd welcome a post from a crewmember or controller about an emergency situation, from a customer of a Canadian bushplane operator, from a student describing a first solo or an AME changing a cylinder in the field. If it's a well-written personal account with technical details by a woman in Canadian aviation, then it's probably a homerun. You may include links in the post as necessary to tell the story. Length isn't really important. If it's super short I may throw in a related story of my own or a YouTube link. If it's really long but worthwhile I might split it across more than one post.

I will introduce the guest post, stating my relationship with you, and then at the end I will link to the website you wish to promote and/or to the author's personal website. You keep the copyright, and I don't mind if you simulpost the story to your own blog. I will maintain your anonymity if it's that kind of story.

If you have an idea for something that would fit here, please e-mail me with a specific description so I can give you a go-ahead before you go to any trouble. If you have a product to sell, please include a link to a sample of your writing so I know you don't write like a comment robot. If you're just sharing an experience with nothing to sell, but you happen to write like a comment robot, I can probably fix it up for you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

National Baggage

I watched United States President Obama on TV last night, appealing to Americans to ask their congressmen to approve raising the debt ceiling already. Don't take this coupled with my recent post on the FAA shutting down as a sign that I'm taking a sudden interest in US politics. The FAA post indicated my interest in the responsibilities of national aviation regulatory bodies, and I didn't tune in to Obama on purpose. He pre-empted the television show I wanted to watch, so that when I turned on the TV, instead of a vapid sitcom there was my neighbouring nation's president, all serious-like, quoting Ronald Reagan and explaining what taxes are used for. He's charismatic, for sure. And there's the "holy shit, the large nation we live next to is really having problems" aspect of the situation. I listened to him for the whole fifteen minutes, my attention only being broken after he left and a station commentator came on to say that Obama's solution was too complicated.

Taxes are a really hot-button item for Americans. They established a whole new country to get out of paying taxes they didn't like, and even their latest political movement, the Tea Party is named to hark back to that tax protest. This made me wonder, what really instigated Canadian nationhood, and is it still a berserk button for Canadians?

Everyone who went to school here knows that we were a bunch of separate British colonies and then the British North America Act united a few of them when the founding fathers all got hammered at the Charlottetown Conference (do you have a photo of the founders of your country all hungover after doing it?) But why did the British decide that 1867 was time these colonies governed themselves?

There'd been some rebellions in the colonies, and Lord Selkirk was sent to analyze why and figure out how to settle us down. He recommended that we be given responsibility for government. What quaint 19th century concerns were the issues in those rebellions? There seem to have been three main ones: ethnic disputes between members of the French and English populations, inequality in government land grants to different religions, and opposition to mass American immigration. I already knew that the English fighting the French was woven deep in the fabric of our nation, but I didn't realize that separate school funding and resenting American infiltration were as originally Canadian as trapping beaver and tapping maple syrup. So yup, it seems that whatever inspired you to create a country remains something your citizens care about. I do believe that goes for the the lofty ideals as well as the grievances, though. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; liberté, égalité, fraternité; peace, order and good government. That last link is to an essay by a smart, bilingual Canadian politician who was vilified by his opponents on the basis that he had been unduly influenced by time spent in the United States.

And now I go back to watching the American television show (How I Met Your Mother) that Obama displaced, when it would be more useful for me to be watching something in French to improve my language skills. I already did my taxes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Now It's MY Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Duty Time Math

I've questioned before the exact meaning of the rule restricting flight time when single pilot IFR is conducted. Amongst a long list of how many hours a pilot can fly in a year, 18 days, 90 days, month, week and day, there is this:

720.15(1)(a) where the flight crew member conducts single-pilot IFR operations, 8 hours in any 24 consecutive hours

Does that mean that if I ever fly IFR I may never log more than eight in twenty-four? No. Now I have an official interpretation. It only matters what you have done in the last 24 hours, so you can log twelve hours on Monday, have Tuesday off, and then fly eight hours of SPIFR on Wednesday. But you can't depart IFR on Monday, cancel fifteen seconds after departure, and then fly eight hours and one minute VFR. This could be a legitimate problem, considering all the times that the controllers get confused and give us IFR departures in VFR flight.

GUIDANCE: Where the flight crew member conducts single-pilot IFR flights, the flight crew member's total flight time, in all flights conducted by the flight crew member, will not exceed 8 hours in any 24 consecutive hours. In determining if this limitation applies to a given situation, this question must be asked - did the flight crew member conduct single-pilot IFR flights? Yes or no. If the answer is yes, the flight crewmember is limited to 8 hours of flight time in any 24 consecutive hours. The length of time spent conducting single-pilot IFR flights is irrelevant. If the pilot flew a departure under IFR and then cancelled IFR and flew the rest of the day under VFR - the answer is still yes and the 8-hour flight time limit applies.

The limitation is intended to prevent cockpit fatigue and applies to flight time not duty time. Interestingly, if you departed VFR and got an IFR clearance prior to entering Class A airspace the limitation would start then.

So imagine I flew a five hour IFR mission on Monday, cancelled IFR through 12,500' at 00Z, and landed. If I departed at 1430Z the next morning on an IFR clearance, I'd be illegal after three hours. So imagine I flew a five hour IFR mission on Monday, cancelled IFR through 12,500' at 00Z, and landed. If I departed at 1430Z the next morning, even on a VFR clearance, I'd be illegal after three hours: the regulation says any 24-hour period and during the period 1731Z-1731Z I would have flown eight hours and one minute, including some IFR flying.

But if on Monday the mission was all VFR, from 19-00Z, I could start flying VFR on Tuesday at 1430Z, no problem. Then if I were offered an IFR clearance, as I have been because the controllers like it better, I'd have to decline it at 1730Z, because that would put me IFR with more than eight hours logged in the last 24. If that Tuesday morning flight were only three hours long, I could accept an IFR clearance again at the time I took off on Monday, because then the previous five hour flight would start expiring at the same rate I was logging new time, so I'd be legal until about 00Z, when Tuesday's logged time reached eight hours.

Fortunately, we have an op spec (exception) to this rule for our operation.

I got a hold of the camera place, and they say they can fix the camera for $95. It's a bit of cash, but I really, really like that camera (a Canon PowerShot SD10) and I haven't seen anything that measures down (it's tiny), so I gave them the go ahead. They couldn't tell me when it would be ready, though.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Unwarranted Apocolyptic Speculation

The Federal Aviation Administration is the United States agency responsible for air traffic control, aviation permits and licensing, regulatory enforcement and other air safety roles. It's kind of like Transport Canada and Nav Canada rolled into one. They are a government body, a subsidiary of the US Department of Transportation, so natually they are federally funded. The federal bill (bill as in proposed legislation, not as in a really, really large denomination banknote) that provided funding to the FAA expired almost four years ago, so ever since the agency has been financed through a series of twenty temporary extensions to that bill, as the parties involved haven't been able to reach a new long term agreement.

I would tell you what the contentious point was in the negotiations, but after so many iterations, it may be that the issues on the bill that won't pass are not the original issues. To prevent a bill from passing, or to force passage of legislation that opponents would otherwise vote down, American politicians can attach tangentially related riders to each others bills, and also name them, so that a bill proposing that no one under twenty-one be permitted to have a e-mail account could be called the "Anyone who opposes this bill is a pedophile bill of 2011" or a bill forbidding convicted pedophiles from working in ice-cream trucks could have a rider attached to it that forbade teaching kids under twelve what a condom was. So the people are discouraged from voting down either hypothetical bill lest they be branded pedophilephiles. My information on U.S. politics is largely derived from late night comedy shows, so check the comments for knowledgeable Americans explaining how this system makes sense.

Anyway, the new FAA funding bill seems to be held up by a point of labour relations, that would return airline and railroad workers to an older system of voting to form unions. The old system allowed unionization in a airline workplace only if a majority of eligible voters vote yes. That is, anyone who doesn't bother to vote is counted as a no. That sets apathy to the employers' advantage and seems to me to be open to abuse through intimidation, because employers can identify the unionizers through who attends the polls, so it jeopardizes the idea of secret ballot. The new system, only recently ruled valid, allows employees of airlines and railroads to form a union by a simple majority of only those voting. That goes too far in the other direction, in my opinion, because it allows a small group of committed unionizers to take advantage of widespread apathy and establish a union that wasn't generally wanted. I would propose a compromise that requires both a majority of votes cast, and a majority of the eligible voters to turn out. After all, if the majority of the workers can't be arsed to go to the polls to change their working conditions, I'm thinking those working conditions can't be so bad. It's still open to intimidation or employer tricks--e.g. manipulating shifts--to keep people from voting, but it avoids assigning opinions to people who didn't express them. The Democrats (the leftmost of the two main American parties) don't want to go back to the old way, so they want the labour issue removed from the bill, thus are preventing that bill from passing.

In retaliation, or some differently-worded political version thereof, the Republicans (the rightmost most of the two parties) have worded the twenty-first iteration of the extension to the old FAA funding bill to include a provision eliminating federal subsidies for airline service to thirteen rural airports, including of course airports in the constituencies of some prominent Democrats. I note that requiring market-based prices for service from rural airports would not cut people off from food or medical attention without air service. These are places like Ely, Nevada (four hours drive from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City), Glendive, Montana (three and a half hours out of Billings) and Morgantown, West Virginia (an hour and a half drive from Pittsburgh), all on paved, year-round highways. Each of those towns has its own hospital and real grocery stores. Morgantown seems pretty odd to be on that list. I think there are people in Toronto who have to drive more than an hour and a half to get to an airport with scheduled service. And the non-subsidized fares are dirt cheap. I found a round trip from Billings to San Francisco for $118! There must be some historical reason for the subsidies.

All of the above is ignorable background to what I think is the most interesting point, that if the dispute isn't resolved, the FAA's operating authority would expire. Air traffic controllers are deemed an essential service and would continue to work, but 32,000 other FAA employees: presumably inspectors, examiners, file clerks, janitors, approach designers, dangerous goods safety coordinators and all manner of other people I'm not thinking of would be out of work. I found it especially interesting that with the FAA losing its mandate in that way, they would also lose the ability to levy and collect fees. People I know in the appropriate level of US airlines are actually looking at ways to refund or stop charging FAA fees if this happens.

I'm pretty sure the delay is just a game of political chicken, and that the deadlock may be broken by the time this even posts, but it's kind of freaky to think that this is the way a country would go from a world power to a failed state. One by one government agencies would lose their ability to function. While a lot of what any given agency does might be unneeded bureaucracy, once the normal way to get a pilot licence has gone away, you'd presumably get one by paying a guy who kept the machine that prints them after his last paycheque bounced. Or maybe they'd consolidate and transfer the authority to another overworked agency, until the police or the military run everything.

Please forgive me, south-of-the-border (and north of the other one) readers for mangling your political system. Blame the news media, summer heat, and the desire to post this before it became entirely irrelevant, as opposed to after doing sufficient research.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

No Photos Today

The only thing clear about the morning is that it's clear we won't be getting any photos taken, and tomorrow's forecast isn't any better, plus there's that thing where we can't get into the military airspace on weekdays, so we fly home. About fifteen minutes before landing I put my fingers on the DG to reset it to the compass (yes, I really, really miss slaved gyros) and the knob turns but the card inside doesn't. The DG (directional gyro) consists of a vertically mounted card with the cardinal compass directions N 3 6 E 12 15 S 21 24 W 30 33 N all around the outside, and intermediate large and small hash marks every ten and five degrees in between. It is stabilized by an air-driven gyroscope, a wheel that rotates vertically around a horizontally-mounted axis. The gyroscope is connected to the card through a series of gears, such that when the airplane turns, the gyroscope remains in the same orientation and thus turns the card. This works okay, but if you turn a lot it gets out sync, and friction plus relocation over the Earth result in precession with time, as well. You address this by resetting it every fifteen minutes, or any time you are about to use it for navigation. To reset it, you press and turn a knob, which is supposed to disengage the card from the gears and allow you to turn it. Only it doesn't. I finish the flight and land with it slightly off, then write it up.

I call the camera shop about my little camera and they say they will call me back, but they don't do so before closing time. It's frustrating not to have it. I have borrowed a camera, but it's bigger, so harder to take the one-handed shots I usually take while flying, (I keep accidentally putting my fingers on the other buttons and programming it to do unknown things) and more likely not to be close at hand when I see something I want to photograph, because it doesn't fit in my little bag with my wallet.

On the bright side, I discovered a new food: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. It has a name that makes you say, "Wait, what?" if you know the first thing about a Romance language--or at least the first thing most people seem to learn--but it's amazingly good. By leaving out some of the things I always put in spaghetti sauce and putting in some I hadn't considered I get deliciousness. My recipe is from Wikibooks, where it also explains plausibly the eyebrow-raising name. I used the Neopolitan version, because it gave me an excuse to have Neopolitan ice cream for dessert, and I'm always on the lookout for ice cream eating excuses.

Lazio's recipe

600 grams (21 ounces) of spaghetti
50 grams (1.75 ounces) of butter
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
6 unsalted anchovy fillets, crushed into a paste (omit anchovies for Neapolitan version)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
200 grams (7 ounces) of black olives, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon of salted capers, washed well and coarsly chopped
1 to 3 small dried chili peppers, chopped (optional)
600 grams (21 ounces) plum tomatoes, peeled and puréed
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

Put the following in a skillet: butter, olive oil, garlic and anchovy paste.
Before the garlic browns, add the olives, capers, tomato sauce and chili peppers.
Add two to three pinches of salt, mixing at high heat.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in salt water (at least 4 quarts of water per pound of spaghetti being cooked). Strain it when it's al dente. Place it in a large serving bowl and coat it with sauce. Then sprinkle it with chopped parsley.
Mix and serve hot.

I'd show you a picture but ...

If you like delicious food, you might want to grow your own, but according to this news article it is illegal to do so in Oak Park, Michigan. You can grow grass that will never even be harvested for animal fodder, but not vegetables. I'd rather see people jailed for expending resources and applying pesticides and fertilizers to raise, harvest and discard weekly crops of useless lawn grass.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oil Exploration

I wake up in the middle of night for no particular reason. Probably a noise in the strange hotel room. I take this opportunity to check the GFA. It looks bad, not bad for normal pilots, but bad for high altitude photo flights. I also check NOTAMs for the areas we want to work. There's an easy thirty minutes worth of firefighting areas, temporary military operations areas and airways changes to transcribe. Does anyone amend their charts with all the changeover point amendments and MEA gaps? Gah, why do I set myself up to let company do this to me with so little preparation time before reporting?

One of the issues is a NOTAMed expansion of military airspace. Wait a sec. It's June. It's the time of year for Operation Maple Flag. Why am I always caught operating in northeastern Alberta during Maple Flag? It's an international air force games week hosted by Canada, because we have these vast swathes of airspace hardly anyone is using, and because it's always "mess up Aviatrix with the crazy NOTAMs" week around here. The NOTAMs actually aren't that bad, and then a little Googling reveals why. Maple Flag is cancelled this year because our forces are stretched thin overseas. It's not unprecedented. It was cancelled in 1990 when we were overextended in Bosnia, too. Man, Bosnia was a long time ago. I hope we did some good there and that people's lives are better as a result.

I go back to sleep and then I'm woken at 6 a.m. to be told we're not flying today. Joy. I get up anyway and try to get ahead on the work. My flight planning software is hung again. "Windows is checking for a solution to the problem." Has anyone ever had Windows find a solution to the problem? A guilty note to two different people who have sent me flight planning software to beta test: I really do need better software and I really did intend to use it, but even though the front end load of installing it and learning to use it would probably be amortized by a few sessions of waiting for this one to finish crashing or having to hand code a waypoint for an airport it's never heard of (how can it not know where Moose Jaw is?), I stick with the devil I know. A personality flaw perhaps.

I'm supposed to plan a flight in the "Christian Lake" area, but as far as I can tell, Christian Lake is a moody-looking male model. You can Google him if you like that sort of thing. It must go by a different name locally.

I call back the armed forces unit that controls the airspace I want to go play in. I get transferred and am soon talking to the gentleman who actually wrote the notation I'm reading on the chart, and as he discusses it I realize that I misread it. I'm so used to seeing things that say XXXXZ-YYYYZ MON-SAT that I didn't notice that this one says 1400Z MON-0100Z SAT, O/T by NOTAM. In other words rather than being active days Monday through Saturday, it's active day and night from Monday morning to Friday evening. Friday evening is Saturday morning in UTC. So we're good on Saturday and Sunday. But what about weekdays, if we need it?

During the week, the officer tells me, that airspace is occupied by "25 year olds with fighter jets". He says, "You couldn't pay me to fly there on a weekday." He is kind, friendly and polite, but also forceful, authoritative and knowledgeable. Again I admire the training that puts him there. Apparently it also equips a man to be a sharp dresser, in the absense of a savvy sister or a gay best friend.

I tell him I was told specifically that we had permission to operate in the restricted area, does he have any idea how that might be registered. I can pretty much see him shake his head over the telephone. "I wish I could give you permission to do that, but it's not safe." I convey this back to company, explaining that it's not that I don't trust them or the client to have obtained permission, but clearly this gentleman is the one in charge and he says it's neither safe nor authorized, so I'm not going. Tomorrow is the weekend, however, so we can stand down from that confrontation until the work needs to be done on a weekday. We decide to relocate to the nearest airport to the work, so we can get it done more efficiently tomorrow.

We get a taxi back to the airport and the operator asks about the drunk driver going off the road, just to give another person the opportunity to describe the excitement, and to hear how much the story varies from person to person. The described spot is the same, but this time the marks on the embankment are from hauling the car out, and the car went over into the ditch from the other side, where there is concrete.

The airplane needs some more oil. I'm down to my last couple of quarts, and I will need more before the weekend. I looked for a case to put on board before we left home, but we were out, and it was too early in the morning to buy one. The CFS says "All" grades of aviation oil are available here, but the fueller says they don't sell oil. There are a couple of airports along our route of flight that also list oil, so I ask the operator--he's a licenced pilot and has a company cellphone--to call and confirm. I don't know why I didn't just borrow his phone. It's almost comical watching him learn what I know about the telephone numbers listed for "airport operator" in the CFS: many of them connect to city hall, leaving you talking to a receptionist who has no idea about the airport. You have to ask for a number for an airport manager, and often there isn't really one. City mowing crews go out there once a week and mow the grass; city paving crews go out there in the spring and seal the pavement cracks in the apron; someone in purchasing goes out to check the levels in the fuel tanks and order more fuel when required and no one knows what to do about the smashed taxiway lights. We must have called five airports, many of which required two or three calls to get someone who could give a definitive answer and none of them could supply us with the oil. Finally I picked one with flight training and lots of general aviation. A detour, but I was sure we could get oil there. "Do you want me to call?" I offer belatedly. He prefers to do it, to finally get some closure on this asking for oil thing. And he gets a definite and friendly yes.

I file a quick flight plan, because the stopover airport is in Edmonton's terminal area and I don't want to have to go through the trouble of figuring out how to get a VFR code another way. I pull numbers out of my hat for how long it will take, and blast off for oil. I get excellent service from Edmonton terminal as always. They are busy and have to cope with traffic ranging from gliders to students to international flights, but they rarely play the "too busy" card and generally help with efficient flights. Terminal competently gives me altitudes I need for a comfortable descent and then hands me off to tower. Tower has a slower airplane in the circuit, but they just move him over to right hand circuits and clear me to a left downwind. I land and then ground asks me what I'm looking for. I name the FBO and indicate unfamiliarity and they give me perfect directions.

There's a taxiway leading into their apron area so I clear the main taxiway, enter and turn around. I must emphasize do this when operating in congested areas: don't go in without a plan to get out, and execute your plan before the environment changes or you can get stuck. We jump out and explain we're the ones looking for oil, only to find that the guy who could sell us the oil has just left. "Left as in left for lunch or as in left for the weekend?" I ask. The fellow isn't sure, but he has the grade of oil we want and he'll hapily sell it to us. We don't have cash, so he takes an IOU. Yeah, aviation is great. People are really like that. Company would have sent him a cheque the same day, except that when the camera operator goes to give the details to the person who writes the cheque, he discovers that the guy with the oil didn't put his name or company on it, just the address. We call back on Monday and get the name, so don't worry, he didn't get stiffed.

We call back ground ready to go, and they give us a different runway, just to keep us out of the way of the students in the circuit. They don't even give us a transponder code, just a take off clearance, so I guess it's not mandatory here anyway, so away we go. Once we're airborne and tower is just about to hand us off to terminal they remember the code. Punch it in (I love love love digital transponders, they save only a few seconds each time, but they are heads down seconds in busy airspace that I can really use for something else), radar identified and over to terminal who give me everything I ask for, even though I change my mind after discovering the first requested altitude is hella bumpy. The operator says he doesn't mind, but let him have one non-miserable flight.

We touch down at destination three minutes after the filed time. Why do I bother doing flight planning properly when I can make up numbers this good without? It's because I've done so much flight planning that I know what the numbers should be, somehow without even knowing how I'm doing it. I love this. I suppose whatever your job is you know things that you can't see a way you could have known, but you know it because you're experienced.

I have been to this airport before, but when I land I feel disoriented, like the apron is on the wrong side. I have no memory of this fuel pump. I look at the CFS and the apron is on the wrong side. Oh crap. Are there two airports at this town and I'm at the wrong one? Exact right time to exact wrong place? No, the larger forestry apron is just more prominent on the CFS diagram and I can hardly see it from here. I didn't fuel last time I was at this airport. And look, there's a familiar terminal behind that jet. It just looks different because there was snow on the ground last time I was here. We call the number in the CFS and the fueller comes out of a building and sells us gas, giving us a heads up that there's no fuel available tomorrow. Good To Know.

I park and then go inside the terminal, grinning as I wait for the operator's reaction. It's ordinary on the outside, but gorgeous on the inside, with comfy chairs, a big screen TV, decorations, like a fancy clubhouse. There are also two other pilots inside, also appreciating his reaction. They are on a hold, having flown some people up for the day to play golf. Round of golf, dinner and drinks and back home. How the other half, or rather other one percent, lives, eh?

Meanwhile we may be joyriding. The forecast is significantly different that when we left, and tomorrow may not be good here either. The operator texts company to see if they want us to go home instead of staying here, so we sit and talk to the pilots D. and C. while we wait for a response. They also didn't know about the one-way airway by Vancouver. D. says he knows of one one-way route, but only because it's where he trained. IFR routing should not be a code based on local knowledge. There should be a definitive list of these things somewhere. We all watch a vampire movie, or maybe a vampire subplot on a daytime TV show, we're not paying too much attention, and then share a cab into town.

The plan was to drop our bags off at a hotel then continue to a restaurant, but our hotel is very slow. One of them is dealing with other customers and the other on the phone. We wait. There's one more person ahead of us, who is slowly dealt with. They have free cookies, so I grab a couple and run them out to our buddies in the cab, telling them it's okay to bail on us if they want, but they aren't in a hurry. We wait. The clerk then comes to us but can't deal with two rooms on one credit card. She turns out to be new and in training, and the trainer goes over what she should do, ever-so-slowly. They will not cut us a break. "Can we just leave our bags here, and pick them up later when the room is ready?" Can they give us the keys and finish the paperwork while we run our bags upstairs? No. No keys until paperwork complete. When I get my room card I bolt upstairs only to discover when I get there that the key doesn't work. Bet she did it on purpose to punish me for being an impatient bitch. Oh well.

The restaurant is okay and we all have a good chat and dinner. They leave first and then when we're done we can't get a cab. Not a single one answers. So we walk about four kilometres back to the hotel. Whatever. Maybe we'll get to take some pictures tomorrow.

Many of you will enjoy following this blog, written by a pilot training under the British system, and shortly to be a Dash-8 FO. He blogs about the kind of day-by-day detail that I do, and gives you a good idea what it's like learning to fly and progressing onward from there. He'll be flying bigger airplanes than I've ever flown by the time he has less time than I had before I was paid to fly anything bigger than a C172. I explained to him that I hate him, but it's not his fault.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The public works folk in California closed down a very busy section of the I-405 for a weekend, and the predicted resulting traffic snarls were termed Carmaggeddon by the media. This merits a blog post here because air carrier JetBlue seized the opportunity to get some publicity, by advertising four dollar flights between the Bob Hope Airport at Burbank and Daugherty Field at Long Beach: opposite ends of the closed section of highway. The flight distance direct is 30 miles, but the flight was blocked at 45 minutes to allow time for taxiing and manoeuvring.

A local cycling club decided to challenge the airline to a race, and JetBlue took up the gauntlet. The challenge for the competitors was to get from a North Hollywood intersection (Burbank is the Hollywood airport), to the aquarium in Long Beach. Passengers had to drive to the BUR airport, park, check in an hour before the flight, clear security, board, take the flight and then cab to the aquarium. Cyclists just had to ride the whole way.

Here's the route filed (pale dashed) and flown (green) by the JetBlue A320. It's a little convoluted, but my sources tell me that was for safety. It's very busy low-level airspace with lots of amateur weekend pilots, so they arranged a route that would keep them in class B (the US equivalent of Canadian class C) airspace the entire way. Everyone in the airspace was required to have a transponder and a clearance, and maintain a constant listening watch with ATC. The airborne portion of the flight lasted only twelve minutes, but not having had to drive to the airport or submit to screening, the cyclists reached the destination about an hour before the airline passengers. Another race participant who took public transit arrived midway between the other two teams.

It all sounds like fun. I've operated out of Burbank (excellent FBO service, restrictive noise abatement regulations and insanely expensive hotels) and driven on I-405, but I found a back road to where I was going that I found more pleasant and interesting, despite having a few traffic lights. If a journey takes the same amount of time in a car or bike, unless the weather is very unpleasant, I usually prefer to take a bike. I don't think I've ever made an aircraft trip that would have been faster by bike, though. Maybe, if I count the times I've waited three days for suitable weather.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Do You Mean, One Way?

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?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pitt Meadows

I'm at an airplane washing station at Pitt Meadows airport near Vancouver. It's nicely designed with a hose on a reel, a water hook-up, a drain, and some really clever metal stanchions around things you shouldn't run into, like the hose area. These stanchions are everywhere: in front of electrical meters, fire hydrants, anything that would normally have poles or pylons to protect it from vehicles and snowploughs, but they are propeller blades. I don't think they are actually propeller blades, unless someone decommissioned a lot of identical, large-propellered airplanes here, but they look just right, complete with manufacturer's stickers. I can't remember if they were Hartzell or McCauley. They just looked right.

The airplane ends up not totally clean, but better. I rewrap the hose on the reel, winding each coil next to its neighbour from to one end to the other in each layer, and then I get lazy near the end and let it wrap more loosely. As I'm putting away the soap, I see a man come up and unroll and reroll my last messy bit. Sorry, man. I can appreciate his need to have every coil perfectly set on the reel. It really does look nice that way and I regret not having done it that way for you myself.

This is not a really big airport, no scheduled flights and just a little terminal with scenic flights, but for some reason it has a giant avionics shop. They sell Lightspeed headsets, the kind I was trying to get when I got the Bose, and they have the new Zulu 2. I try it, but you can wear one and then the other all you want on the ground without really being able to say which is better. You have to go for a flight, preferably a long flight, before you know whether a headset is doing the job well. The logistics of taking one for a test flight are awkward, though, seeing as the next time I take off, I'll probably not land until I'm back in Alberta. I'm pleased with the Bose, so I'll keep it and not start a crazy game of buying extra headsets.

While I'm here, I get a tour of Maxcraft Avionics. It's quite impressive. Good avionics service is hard to get. I've ferried a lot of airplanes with every kind of broken avionics sometimes to more then one airport to try to get them working. I've also done a lot of flights with gaping holes in the panel where avionics had been removed for repair, sent off somewhere. Big doesn't necessarily mean good, but they have the diagnostic equipment, the certification from every manufacturer I can think of and must have a good reputation. The paint jobs on the aircraft in their hangar suggest that they are trusted by the RCMP and Helijet for major refits, and by a private owner with an intercom problem. Aviation electronics can be really hard to get fixed properly; I'm not sure if it's a black art or a science. If these guys are as good as the facility is impressive, then a lot of people will be coming to Pitt Meadows.

One more South Sudan link. The people, men and women, have been at war for twenty-one years and pretty much the only experienced, established institution they have is the Sudanese People's Liberation Army. Considering that the median age in Sudan is 18 years and life expectancy 58, over half of South Sudanese have been at war for their entire life, and most soldiers have probably never held another job. The process of demobilizing the army is further confounded by the fact that there are almost no civilian jobs, even if people had the concept of returning to them. I found this article on the reintegration process. It has lots of pictures so you can see what South Sudanese people look and dress like, too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Whirlwind Tour

The weather is good in BC, so I'm checking NOTAMs for a whole list of airports all over the province. It doesn't matter which ones I check, I'll be told to fly to somewhere I didn't check, and once airborne I'll be asked to land somewhere entirely different. I check the major northern Alberta ones like Whitecourt (no issues), Fort Mac (surrounded by forest fires), Slave Lake (surprisingly normal considering what they've gone through), Peace River (unlighted obstructions), Edmonton City Centre (all the approaches are messed up), Calgary (closed taxiways) and Lloydminster (more unlighted obstructions). I'm mostly interested in showstoppers like fuel unavailability or closed runways. The obstructions are typically 300' agl and more than a mile away. Unless it's right on final approach, it's not going to be in my path, and to be honest if something went so wrong that I was at 300' agl and not just under a mile back stabilized on final, I wouldn't have room in my brain to remember where the I end up having to update my NOTAMs after I have put away my computer in the morning, so I call a briefer with my embarrassingly long list of possible landing spots. McBride, Nakusp, Vernon, Squamish, Prince George, Fort St. John, Vancouver, everywhere we might go. The briefer tells me it will take a while because it's difficult to know where the NOTAMs are filed for small aerodromes. "They aren't just listed under the airports?" I ask. Nope. It all depends on what was done in the 1940s. Vernon, for example, was a military training base or something, so although it has no air traffic services, it has its own NOTAM file. Larger aerodromes elsewhere in the province are kept in other aerodrome files. The briefer tracks it all down for me.

We head out across the mountains, VFR this time, because we want to take pictures on the way and passing through cloud gets water on the camera, and might leave streaks on the glass that would show up in the pictures. Around Whitecourt there is a lot of cloud and it's raining, so I try to dodge it all, going way south and even a bit east in an attempt to avoid getting wet. Then I make an attempt to outclimb billowing cumulus. I know where this is going, as every altitude I climb too just shows more tops. They probably can't grow faster than I can climb they way they could when I was in Florida in an ultralight, but it's still silly trying to outclimb them. I go back down below the clouds and work on outlasting them. I know the low ones don't extend that far to the west.

I'll be going through a mountain pass below the clouds and this is something that GPSes with their straight pink (the guys call them "magenta") lines aren't as good at as old-fashioned technology. I have my chart out, folded so I can see Grande Cache and the mountains beyond, just as I see Grande Cache below and just ahead. I have a pencil, and I have an accurate watch. I identify my location on the chart and I mark the time I am there, resetting the directional gyro to the compass and paying close attention to which valley I go down. I can cheat big time because the GPS gives me both terrain and exact lat-long position, but this is the way to do it, so you don't lose track of where you are in identical-looking valleys with very different things at their ends, and so that if you take a wrong turn or encounter adverse weather, you know where you were when things were good and how to get back. And it gives me an excuse to look ahead and anticipate where I will see lakes and rivers around the corners.

We cross the Great Divide, which forms the Alberta-BC border here, and marks the time zone boundary as well as the high point of the mountain range. Our destination was originally Prince George but I've gone far enough south in the avoidance manoeuvre that the valley I've chosen will bring me out just south of McBride. I adjust the range on the GPS to show the operator this. He is surprised to learn that there is an airport at McBride. To him it's just a place that we will take pictures. "Can we land there?" he wants to know.

"Pass me that book."

That book is the manual for the airplane, because when it's not a flight test at an airport with a runway twice as long as I need, I do do my calculations. Not landing distance, but take-off, because "Can we land?" really means, "Can we land and then take off again?" and take-off distance is greater. I look up the airport elevation and then follow the line for the next highest elevation, at the hottest temperature it could possibly be down there, rounding up on the weight and assuming no wind, and there is still plenty of runway available to get out of there. "Yes, we can land."

We do, and the operator double-checks the camera glass, plus we both reset our bladders before taking off and taking pictures. We continue up the valley to Prince George, where we climb up to ten thousand feet or so and take some more pictures. We continue in this fashion, a giant, province-wide game of connect-the-dots that doesn't even draw anything, but wow is it scenic. Fuel is down to a little over an hour remaining as we approach Revelstoke, but I bypass it for one more set of photos. Part of my job is to plan fuel for efficient flight, and that means not always having the happy empty bladder and full fuel tanks that one would if it were a pleasure flight. There's opposite direction traffic at Nakusp, where we're taking pictures of a ski resort next to a lake, or maybe a lake next to a ski resort. We let him go by and then descend for the second set of photos, and then it's off to Vernon to land.

Approaching Vernon, I tune their frequency and hear a skydiving airplane preparing to drop. Argh, that wasn't in the NOTAMs. Closer scrutiny of the chart shows the airport to be in a marked advisory area for continuous daytime parachute activity, so it doesn't need a NOTAM. I advise that I will hold outside the area until the jumpers are on the ground. I'm irritated with myself for not noting this earlier, and it must have come out in my voice as the operator asks me if I'm mad at the drop plane pilot. I'm not. The drop plane pilot is pretty lackadaisical about his meatbombs, assuring me that there's no conflict. I ask how long the drop will take and something about the way he starts the sentence makes me think he's going to say "it depends on whether they remember to open their chutes or not." He doesn't though, just describes the seconds of freefall followed by where they open their chutes. I follow his advice and join a downwind without crossing the field. It's a little close to the runway, because of terrain, so I fly an ugly teardrop through final and back again, then over a big group of trees to the runway. The operator says pilots always come in high here because of the trees.

I backtrack to the apron and shut down behind another airplane at the fuel pumps, then we haul ours up to the pumps and fuel. We're pumping a lot of litres in, and quite a line forms behind us as the pilots who normally take maybe thirty to fifty litres at a time wait for us to fill all the tanks with an order of magnitude more fuel. No one is in too much of a hurry, though. They help us shove the airplane off the pump so the next people can fuel. There's a washroom but no payphone in the terminal, an increasing and annoying trend these days. Cellphones die. Payphones connect. I do succeed in filing a flight plan, pretty much guessing at how long our remaining work will take and where we'll end up, then jump in the airplane and fire it up.

We taxi out and take off straight away, climbing straight out over the lake to avoid the parachutes, and then up a valley to get to altitude before the hills do in this heat. Some photos of a secret lake, and then set course for an Indian reserve. Although we're dodging jagged mountain peaks with no sign of any civilization in sight, the chart tells me that I'm approaching Vancouver's inverted wedding cake airspace and lists a frequency to call Vancouver Centre before I enter Class C. Theoretically there's a number there, written against the violent colours and squiggles of the hypsometric tints and contour lines. I think I need bifocal sunglasses. I call the controller for clearance into the airspace and to advise her of a few photo lines that we'll be flying within the area controlled by Vancouver terminal. She has trouble understanding me at first. It's amazing she receives me at all. Do they have repeating antennae out here in the barren mountains? Wouldn't they just blow down, get covered in snow, or be destroyed by rutting moose and itchy bears? She clears me into the class C, but advises me that there are too many photo aircraft in the area and the mission will not be approved. Grr. Damn damn damn. The sun angle will be too low soon, so we can't wait long. I would have got preapproval this morning before coming but it was hard to predict when we would be here and truth-be-told I had some of today's assignment mixed up with the work we did last time we were here, so I didn't realize those Vancouver area dots were new work and not completed work. Communication: important.

The first valley we're in is below the reaches of Vancouver's airspace, so they can't tell us what we can and can't do. I have to fly up a valley towards mountains while on line, which is a little nerve-wracking because it's difficult to look at terrain and photo dots at the same time. I have to assure myself that there is no risk of CFIT on the line, but I still want to look out the window. We have to take a couple of runs at some lines because it takes a bit of a run-in to get on line and from one direction there isn't room to do that. There's a lot of snow up here still and at least one photo is just an overexposed white blob from the glare of the snow.

The next area has very few lines, and is partly in and partly out of terminal airspace. I get on the first line heading towards the airspace boundary, and then call up terminal for clearance in. Nothing about photo lines, just where I am, my altitude, and where I'm going. No problem. I'm coming down a valley and at an altitude where this is a pretty normal request. The line is complete. I look at the chart and where we need to be next. Now I'm taking advantage of the poor communication I've observed between layers of control in the Vancouver airport. I'm betting this guy has no idea I'm a photo flight that was denied.

"Request to overfly Bowen Island west to east at six thousand."

"That's approved."

The operator is laughing at me, because he sees what I'm doing, and it's working. No pressure though. I can't screw up my casual "overflight" of the island. I have to be right on line, but it's not anywhere any airplane might not be. Finishing that line of photos I ask to continue to the river ahead, and that's approved, too. Sneaky, but done before the sun angle or fuel level got too low or my duty day ended. And then I land. As I roll out I see that it was almost to the minute right on the flight plan, which greatly amuses me, considering where I pulled those numbers from. I have an experienced ... hat.

We barely needed the heater, but it seems to work.

On the subject of pulling things out of body parts, we have the latest thing to be paranoid about: surgically implanted explosives. Perhaps I am glad I'm not going through the secure side of airports much these days. I wonder what proportion of the travelling public has had surgery recently enough to raise TSA suspicions. If the explosive device were disguised in a breast implant as they suggest, the incision could be hidden under the breast where it would take a very thorough search to find it, especially if one covered the mark with that make up putty and made it look like an old implant incision.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Metaphors for Life

Friends take a while to get it when I say things like, "I hope it will rain on the weekend, so I can go to the park!" But you see when you're an on-call photo pilot, you have to work on the sunny days. Today it's raining, but fortunately not a thunderstorm, so I'm at the amusement park with an eleven year old. Eleven year olds are about the best companions for amusement parks because they are big enough to go on all the rides and I've never found an adult who wants to go on the water flume ride thirty times in succession. I recently discovered that most parents consider taking their kids to the amusement park a chore. If this one works out, I think I'll get a season's pass and take all my friends' well-behaved kids, one a week all summer. Also rainy days are the best, because there are no lines. No lines at all, no one waiting, so we've been riding around and around on the water flume without getting off. The ride attendants don't care, less work for them. It's raining anyway, so we're not going to get any less wet if we get off. And water coasters are fun.

I've been around this same ride enough times to get philosophical. We went on wheeled roller coasters first, with the eleven year old bravely marching up to each one without giving himself any time to chicken out. Some things in life are quite as committed as getting on a roller coaster. You make your decision, you get strapped in, and then you're there, despite the fact that you may not enjoy the whole ride. His eyes were screwed tightly shut all the way through the roller coaster that went upside-down, and he was hanging on for dear life on the steepest one. Mind you, so was I. It really feels like you're going to fall out!

Going round and round on the water coaster he gradually comes to terms with the feeling of the big drop and when we finally get off, he wants to go back on the other roller coasters. They're still scary, but he's conquered them. And then we spend the rest of the day on the bumper cars. I adore bumper cars. If I win the lottery I am so getting my own bumper car arena, and you can all come over and we can smash into one another over and over again. On the way home it's all I can do to remember not to slam into the other traffic. I also remember to use the gear shift and not the steering wheel to engage reverse.

I find a place that repairs cameras, because even though I know my little camera is probably toast, I'd rather hear it from an expert than throw it out not knowing. I even pay a $25 diagnostic fee, to be credited to the repair cost if I give the go ahead, but forfeit if I decide not to have it repaired. I press a little, "do you think you'll be able to fix it?" but the technician impassively says he doesn't know until they examine it.

Ever post something and imagine someone might be reading it, but know it's very unlikely? That was me, sending best wishes to South Sudan a few days ago. How about this, reader ScurvyDog who blogs at Tales from the Clouds was in South Sudan on its first Independence Day, celebrating along with the nationals. I never get over the astonishing breadth of the readership here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Everybody Counts

It's a Census year in Canada, all the ones ending in 1 are, I believe. June was the census month, and my household received two copies of the official form, one addressed to the basement. There's no basement, not even a crawl space you could hide a body in. Normal people just throw out an extra form like that. But me, I'm not normal people. It says it has to be filled out, by law. I can't just throw it in the recycling. I call the number on the form. The woman says I only have to do one.

"So I can do two for fun?" I ask, because that's what sort of idiot I am.

"If you want to." Good grief. How the heck are we going to count who lives here, if that's the advice they give? But I do do two, but by the electronic method. I log into the website and enter the code from the form, and then enter an accurate count of who actually lives here. For the second form I enter zero in the number field. No one lives in the non-existent basement. Why do I do this? I expect it to reject it, and I enjoy feeling superior to computers, and being stupidly accurate. To my surprise the site has a page ready for my response, with half a dozen reasonable suggestions for why there might be zero people at an address. I pick "does not exist or apartment has been merged with main dwelling," which perfectly describes the situation.

I'm impressed. Now you can see I'm not cranky about all questionnaires. Just the vast majority of poorly written ones. My only complaint is that they required every person in the household to be classified as either male or female, no other option. Requiring one or the other has caused pain and persecution for a lot of people. Biology isn't always binary, but boxes on forms and societal pressure cause people to be physically forced into one box or the other shortly after birth, even when they aren't. The expectation and the forced compliance are so pervasive that a lot of people don't even know that not everyone is born into one of the boxes. Everyone wants to know if it's a boy or a girl, but for one in every 1500 to 2000 births in North America, a specialist is called in to decide which box the baby goes into, often via surgical alteration. And although most people have little difficulty identifying with one sex or the other, one in a hundred people has a body that differs from the standard minimum equipment list for their placarded gender. If people are equally represented in the blogosphere as in the delivery room, that's about ten pageviews a day on this blog. Hello ten people, who possibly don't all even know that your bits don't match the spec! You count too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Company has rush-ordered a new heater, we're almost due for scheduled maintenance, and the weather is turning bad all over the province, and it's already bad in the neighbouring ones. It's a rare convergence of circumstances that suggest so strongly that we fly the airplane back to base, so we check out of yet another hotel and fly home VFR.

The co-owner welcomes us in, then I tidy up the airplane. I don't track down a vacuum cleaner before closing time, but I do neaten up the seatbelts, pick all the muffin crumbs out of the carpet, find my headset bag and stow my headset in it, and refold all the charts properly and sort them all back neatly in the racks where they can be reached for the next flight. When I'm travelling with an airplane, a lot of garbage ends up in locker where I store cleaning supplies. That's because I'll be preflighting, open that locker to get out a cloth and 210 spray (a type of plastic polish for airplane windshields), clean the windows, and toss the spray bottle and used wipe back in. Then I'll check the oil, get out a funnel and a couple of litres of oil. They're actually 946 mL, a quarter of a US gallon: that's the standard size all over North America, and it looks like even in Europe, maybe because the crankcases on American-made airplanes hold an even number of US quarts. Anyway, we call them litres, even though they aren't. I'll add the required oil, then when I get tired of waiting for the last drips to come out of the bottle into the crankcase, I put the lid back on the bottle tightly, and toss the bottle in the locker with the funnel and the other empties. Empty bottles don't weight much and the home airport has some kind of environmental disposal for them, so rather than run around a strange apron looking for a FOD bin, I haul them all home.

As I do so, I'm always amused by the way the bulging and squashed sides of the various bottles tell the story of the trip. Putting the cap on tightly seals in those few millilitres that didn't drip out while the bottle was inverted over the crankcase, but mostly what it seals in is air. Air at the pressure of the aerodrome where I added the oil. If it's a sea level airport, the sides of the bottle bulge out at higher elevations. If it's a mountain airport, pressure at a lower elevation crushes the bottle. I'm easily amused.

I clean things up best I can, report the minor snags (right engine has almost double the oil consumption to the left, noticeable split in the throttles to maintain equal manifold pressure above 10,000', and some hydraulic seepage). Then I am "released" from call for a few days. This will give me time to get my camera repaired, take my friend's kids to the amusement park as I've been promising for so long, and do my laundry.

Back soon with clean underwear!


On the subject of this stun gun, it's interesting to see that the seatback pockets are the same security hole for JetBlue as they were for Victory Airways. Whenever we'd boarded with something that wouldn't get through security, but we were going south, we'd pop it in the seatback pocket, get off and go through security and have it waiting for us back on board. CATSA never swept the airplane itself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

South Sudan Embarks on Nationhood

I only heard about the new country of South Sudan on July 9th, the day it declared independence and haven't had time to write about them until now. The United Nations should be recognizing them as an official world country in the next couple of days. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of eight million people

In some places, including on the government website the name of the country is written Southern Sudan, but the official seal styles it as the Republic of South Sudan. I think the Southern Sudan references are from material describing the area before independence. They have a flag, a national animal (the secretary bird), a coat of arms, a national anthem (link plays music), a capital city (Juba) and a president. They're still using the currency and postage stamps of their northern neighbour, so I think getting mail through to South Sudan is going to be a bit like communicating with a friend when you only have the mailing address of her ex. And they've fought for twenty years over the divorce.

They say that a what a country really needs to be official is a sports team, a beer and an airline. It looks like South Sudan is getting right on that. They already have a football team, and it's even played a match already. They lost 3-1 to Kenya but it's not an offical result as they are still waiting on FIFA membership. I thought that a beer would be a no-brainer but they have a good excuse for not having one quite yet. The construction of their new brewery is a big deal because under the former Muslim regime, alcoholic beverages were outlawed. And they even have the beginnings of an airline , complete with a webpage that doesn't actually link to a booking database, just a form. The date of the maiden flight has not yet been announced, but Juba does have an airport with a paved runway (13-31), which was apparently closed on Independence Day but airlines didn't receive a NOTAM, possibly because of that communications via Khartoum thing. The Republic of South Sudan will have to join ICAO, at which point I suspect it will go straight on the list of countries in which one should avoid boarding an airplane at all costs. They're a very poor state with terribly low education and healthcare.

I met a pilot/AME recently who says he started the war in the Sudan. He was there years ago, when the Sudan had nothing of value to the rest of the world, and nothing to fight over internally but camels and goats. He was there surveying for oil. He also made a positive contribution to the national infrastructure because they discovered that he could fix things. He would call for taxi clearance at the airport and then have the clearance rescinded because the airport firetruck wasn't working. They possibly were looking for a bribe the first time, but he solved the problem by restoring the firetruck to working order, and after that there was always something that needed fixing.

I hope South Sudan gets what needs fixing fixed faster than it gets itself into new conflicts and problems. I don't suppose there's anyone reading this blog from there. Few in that country can read let alone have access to communication technology, but if you are, know that I wish your new country well. South Sudan has apparently applied for the internet country code .ss but a regime that collapsed sixty years ago has such a lock on those letters in some people's minds that it may be denied.

P.S. Beda Otwari, the Director of Administration and Human Resources for Southern Sudan Airlines is a Canadian.

Monday, July 11, 2011


There seems to be a rule that the amount of time you are forced to stay in a place is inversely proportional to the quality of the hotel, and it rained hard overnight, so I was dreading this morning's weather, but the day dawns flyable. With the authority my company notifies us is newly vested in me, I file an IFR photo flight plan by faxing it into the appropriate number. I call Edmonton IFR data back to make sure the plan went through and everything is filed according to their standards. I am planning a VFR departure, and don't anticipate being able to make radio contact on the ground, so I ask them what frequency I should contact them on airborne. The specialist says, "Just do what you normally do."

"I've never been here in my life. There is no normal." I can look up a frequency and use that, but when I do that it's rarely the frequency they actually want me on, so why not give it to me on the phone now and spare some space on the radios. No one seems to know what to do with an aircraft that is going to pop up here wanting IFR. They had better get on that if they want the UFOs to feel welcome around here. Not everyone has intimate local knowledge.

There are puddles on the apron and the operator doesn't want anything splashed on the camera, so we drag the airplane over to the taxiway and do the run-up there. There's no one around to block. Run-up complete, I taxi out, take off, and when I'm clear of the aerodrome area I call ATC on the frequency I did finally manage to talk them out of. They give me clearance up to 16,000', and I have a ways to go, so I make it a leisurely cruise climb, cowl flaps a little bit open, and a medium power setting. As we approach the photo area they clear me higher until we're cleared all the way to our working altitude: "flight level 190 blocking 210" which means that instead of being assigned one altitude which we have to maintain, like everyone else, we have been given a block of altitudes, everything between 19,000' and 21,000' (as indicated with the altimeter set to 29.92"). This gives us freedom to fly at an altitude like 19,100' on one line and 20,300' on the next. Its cool. Actually, it's cold. The OAT is around -23C, and with each passing hour the inside of the airplane gets colder.

I'm wearing a t-shirt, work pants, a hooded sweatshirt, a winter coat, leather gloves and a baseball cap, plus of course my twelve hundred dollar electric earmuffs. My ears aren't cold. I just have running shoes on, because luggage space is limited so I just brought one pair of shoes for both working out and working. My toes are cold. My toes are probably the coldest part. I'm sitting pretty still, just thumbs and forefingers on the yoke, making the slight movements necessary to maintain my course from dot to dot.

I'm level just under FL210. The extra few hundred feet has dropped the outside air temperature to -27C. The air traffic controller asks me if I'm planning on making any turns soon. I can't read the tiny print at the edge of the poorly designed screen telling me the distance remaining on my line , but the operator is practiced at feeding me the answer to such questions. He answers and I relay the answer to ATC. "Next turn in eighteen miles." The controller tells me I may see a Bombardier jet passing. I don't, because I see almost nothing but my dots, but a few moments later there's a call from a Jazz pilot.

"Edmonton, what was that we just passed?"

The controller tells him. There's a pause, just long enough for two guys in the front of a jet to look at each other incredulously and laugh.

"What's it doing up here?" asks the Jazz pilot.

"Taking pictures," says the controller matter-of-factly. The effect on the Jazz pilots of seeing us up here must be like passing a kid on a Big Wheel tricycle on the Autobahn.

Laughing at that keeps us warm for a while. The last few lines we have to fly take us towards an area of cloud. It's more difficult to judge distance to cloud up here, I find. I guess the cues I've learned subconsciously are different, or perhaps it's because I'm so far from the ground that I can't judge them well. I thought there was no way we would get a couple of them, but the operator tells me to keep flying, and we finish both lines before reaching cloud. The next one is over cloud, though, and cloud is encroaching everywhere else, so I request descent for landing.

I bank away from the cloud and with my clearance reduce the power an inch and trim nose down for a good rate of descent. The operator reports fuel coming out of the left outboard tank. There's not all that much fuel left onboard the airplane at this point, so no reason for it to be coming out an overflow. I checked all the caps and they were all secure, with no fuel slopped in the area between the sealed cap and the streamlining flap, but I hypothesize thinks about air pressure changes burping some fuel out of a cap vent early in the flight and now that I'm banking the fuel between the cap and flap is leaking out. He says it's more than that, that he can see it as clearly blue and spraying behind us off the trailing edge of the wing. I can't see it. There's really nothing I can do about it now anyway. I continue my descent through 12,500'. Centre hands me off to the FSS and I cancel IFR with them, then continue my descent, shuttling above the aerodrome. I feel like a student pilot who doesn't do the math properly to plan a cruise descent, but at my altitude I was too close to the aerodrome to land without circling overhead, even at the highest safe descent rate.

I'm passing what would be close to procedure turn altitude when suddenly all the cockpit instruments fog over. The cold-soaked airplane has descended into warm moist air and the moisture condenses on the instrument faces like the 'sweat' you see on a cold beer on a hot day. That is something to remember should I ever be descending in IMC in such conditions. How is this not commonly a safety hazard? I guess non-pressurized aircraft rarely descend from ambient temperatures of -27 to +5 in under ten minutes, and I wouldn't have been rocking the 2000 fpm descent rate in IMC. I look out the window and land the airplane.

On the ground we shut down at the fuel pumps and I extricate myself from my headset, breathing tube, seatbelt, clipboard and yoke, then climb out of the airplane. I do a little "my toes are cold!" dance to warm them up again and tiptoe out to that outboard tank. The outer flap is secure. It's dry underneath, and the inner plug is absolutely secure, perhaps tighter than necessary. There is no damage anywhere to the wing, tank vent or any visible confirmation that fuel was streaming out. I record the exact quantity of fuel taken on board for each tank as it is fuelled and discover a 2L discrepancy between sides, with the leaking side taking less fuel, meaning it was slightly fuller to begin with. Over five hours a couple of liters difference is negligible anyway. Shrug. I'll keep an eye on it. Another theory is that the rubber seal shrank in the cold and fuel leaked into the inter cap area that way. The airplane's published service ceiling is 30,000', so you'd think it could handle summer temperatures at 21,000'. Hmm. I haven't come across a minimum operating temperature. There's a project for me, that will take precedence over writing more on this blog entry.

My feet are warm now.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Last Post

I wrote this not knowing if it was a last blog entry I would never post, or the first blog entry in a new chapter of my blog. Today someone, two people actually, sent me Google+ invites. I thought "Eh, what could it hurt? I might as well try this out." I clicked through on one of them and started filling out the form. I never give my actual birthdate to fun services online, because that's part of the verification information for real services like banking. I give a fake birthdate that I can easily remember. For this account I decided to give the memorable date of my first flying lesson.

Immediately Google seized on this information and determined me underage. I haven't been flying for eighteen years, and apparently you have to be eighteen years old to author a blog. The screen said Google would delete my blog in twenty-nine days if I did not send them government-issued ID demonstrating that I am over eighteen. Unfortunately Aviatrix Anon does not have government-issued ID, so I knew that unless I had a friend at Google, that would be the end of my blog.

I knew that I probably did have a friend at Google, or at least a friend of a friend, but my blog contact list is on Gmail, and Google locked not only the blog, but the Gmail account. Of course that means they also locked the back-up Cockpit Conversation Redirection blog, my account through which I could access Google Help, and even my ability to comment identifiably on other blogs. I sent a fax to the Google people explaining the situation, then plea-for-help e-mail to a few bloggers with common traffic, whose e-mails I happened to have on my home account, and then I waited.

This paragraph was going to contain either gratitude to the person or persons who helped me out, or a fond farewell to all the people who have read and commented on the blog, and even met me in person, over the years. If the blog was deleted, I wasn't going to start a new one. It's too much to lose and try to start over.

While waiting for someone at Google to get back to me one way or another, I decided to try the other offered means of age verification, the credit card. I don't have a credit card with the name Aviatrix Anon on it, either, but maybe they wouldn't check. Seeing as you can get a credit card for your cat or dog and buy preloaded credit cards at the grocery store checkout, I thought it was only scammer porn sites that professed to use credit cards for ID verification, but I decided my blog was worth thirty United States cents, and Google probably wasn't running a credit card scam. I gave Google my credit card information and instantly my Blogger account was restored. Thirty cents is a cheaper bribe than I thought I'd need. Most of you probably never noticed the interruption.

So kids, if you want a blog, lie about your age. Grownups, lie about your age if you will, but make sure you don't take too much off. Either way, any credit card will do to fix your error.

I can't really recommend Google Plus, but if you use other Google services with the identity you use to connect to Google Plus, please make sure you tell it you are over eighteen.