Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Direct, But Not From Here

I mentioned taking deserved flack on my PPC ride for not using the GPS (it had an expired database and thus was not approved for IFR operations) to improve my situational awareness. While approach procedures change, and airway radials get renumbered, it's very rare that an airport or navaid is actually moved and pilots are encouraged to use situational awareness tools that are available to them, whether $15,000 installations or reused pieces of cereal box. (You can make a hold entry cheat sheet that way, if you have the normal problems with holds and not the crazy, make up a new way to screw up a hold everytime ones that I devise. Hint: do not track inbound on your EFC). The GPS avaialble to me here is a Garmin 530W.

It is familiar. There's a large rectangular screen with buttons and knobs all around it. It's a navcom unit, meaning that you use it to talk on the radio as well as tell where you're going, but the radio transmission readibility is poor, so we only use it for monitoring frequencies. I suspect an antenna connection, just because that was the cause of a simiar problem in a C172 years ago, and the maintenance manager said they hadn't investigated that yet. On the left side are knobs to adjust com volume and squelch and nav radio volume, plus there are flip flops switches to exchange active and standby frequencies. That means you never adjust the frequency you are actually using, but select the new frequency on standby and then switch them. That way it doesn't sound like you're in scan mode on your car stereo.

The exact tuning procedure is easy, with one little trick. The bottom left knob tunes either comm or nav frequencies, and by default it's the commuications frequency. You push it to toggle between control of each and it will time out and go back to comm. It's a double knob, with MHz on the outside knob, and kHz, in 25 kHz steps on the inner one. I'm not someone who walks around with a perfect picture of the wavelengths and frequencies of all her devices in her head, so I'm grateful to a pilot who years ago must have forgotten the English word frequency, because while he was in the run up area he asked the ground controller to repeat it with "Vat is ze megahertz?" That simple call forever reminds me that com and VOR frequencies are in MHz and I can place the others in relation, thanks to having learned my metric prefixes in grade three.

The bottom row is buttons: CDI, OBS, MSG, FPL, VNAV and PROC, are also familiar from other modern Garmins like the GNS430, and the right side has a range rocker, the lovely Direct-to button (looks kind of like D> except that the line carries right through the letter and ends in a rightward-pointing arrow), and MENU, CLR and ENTER buttons. On the bottom left is a double knob that cycles between page groups on the outside and individual pages on the inside. Yes, this is pretty much like the GNS430. Not that that means I'm awesome with it. I have a resistance to being really good with GPS units because I fear the loss of the navigation skills I developed before they were so ubiquitous. But really I am already losing those skills, but using GPS badly. In fact, if I learn to use this so well that it needs only the least amount of my attention, and I know its limitations well, that leaves more attention over to do real navigation.

A quick example of something I've already learned and used is how to use the direct to funtion to select a track not direct from my present position, but along a particular track to a facility. It's so obvious, once you know how: select the fix you want, hit the direct-to key, and then on the screen that comes up verifying the fix you asked for, cursor through the fields to the one that shows the direct track and change it to the desired track. Hit enter twice and there is the radial/track displayed on the moving map. This can be used to intercept final approach, a VOR radial or a track to an NDB. It's great when doing the last in wind, because it provides great confirmation that I am really on track, and improves my ability to intercept a track that is a moving and very unsteady target in a turn. (Banking affects the direction an ADF needle points, so you can never be sure you're on track until you're wings level again, making it hard to know if you have to increase or decrease bank to have the turn work out).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Special Thunderstorms

A probably not so recent anymore AIM update identified two changes in the publication for which I wanted to look up the details.

The following airports have been identified for SPECI criteria for significant temperature changes between hourly reports: about half of Canadian airports

It then lists almost half of Canadian airports, the biggest ones. Normally an aerodrome observation, called a METAR is published once an hour, but if one of a number of specific significant changes occur, like precipitation starts or ends, or the ceiling or visibility changes past a specific limitation, they issue a special update observation called a SPECI. It's pretty clear from the descriptions that they are aimed at given a pilot the best chance of making the right decision about whether or not she can land there with her equipment and training.

It doesn't say why they have added temperature to the criteria. Temperature in and of itself doesn't offer the same impediment to landing as fog, hail, or thunderstorms, but a sudden change in temperature indicates the passage of a front, which could mean an abrupt change in weather, or sometimes freezing rain.

The second change is to Met 3.13 and I was curious when I looked at it what they had changed.

(a) active thunderstorms–the cumulonimbus (CB) symbol is used when thunderstorms occur, or are forecast to occur, over a widespread area, along a line, embedded in other cloud layers, or when concealed by a hazard. The amounts and the spatial coverage (in brackets) are indicated as:

ISOLD (isolated) – for individual CBs (less than 25%)
OCNL (occasional) – for well­separated CBs (25 – 50% inclusive)
NMRS (numerous) – for CBs with little or no separation (greater than 50%)

It looked the same as I remembered. As an instructor I used to teach students to match ISOLD to FEW (1-2 octas), OCNL to SCT (3-4 octas) and NMRS to BKN (>4 octas), where an octa, or maybe it's an okta--damn you really forget this stuff when you're not lecturing someone on it every day--is a one-eighth proportion of the sky. I houled out an older paper copy of the AIM and looked up what it used to be, and the old version omits the bits that are in parentheses in the lines quoted above. I wonder how I knew it, then. I guess it was in the old, old version, the AIP and somehow didn't get added to the new AIM until recently.

That's exactly how lore is created, but someone added it back in, so now it's information again. I love lore. Especially when it's incorrect but it can be traced back to a loopily logical origin.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Connecting the Dots

Some people want to hear more about my flights and less about the hotels or the keys or the fuellers or the taxicabs, but my flights are a long sequence of lines with dots on them. Have you ever sat down to play a simple videogame, not a fancy one with a plot and cut sequences and realistic graphics, but the sort you get for your phone that mostly just have dots or blobs you have to shoot or catch, like Bejeweled Blitz or Pac-Man or Space Invaders or Stack the Cats and then looked up four hours later with sore fingers and almost no perception of the time passing? That's whatit's like flying photo survey, except that instead of being filled with guilty self-loathing over having wasted so much time, you have a great feeling of accomplishment of having taken seven hundred twenty three photographs without missing a dot.

Sometimes the lines are parallel with the endpoints lined up, so I can just turn around, and attack the next line, but sometimes the next line is longer or shorter or we skip one, so I need to be directed to the next one before it comes on screen. The scale jumps to zoom in as I approach the lines until it switches to what I call the "jumpscreen." (Yah, because it jumps. My creativity wanes when I'm totally focused on dots.) It depicts the track I have to cruise right down the middle of. The main dots appear on the screen green, then turn yellow and blue and sometimes red. Red is bad, and I should tell the operator if I see a red dot, but he has the same screen and has usually seen it before me, in that he isn't flying an airplane at the same time.

So there are two sorts of dots, the sometimes red one that I have to chase to make it stay in the middle and greem, and the ones on the line that I have to gobble up like Pac-Man. It makes me crave Skittles and Smarties (the Canadian kind: the American kind, which we call Rockets, aren't brightly enough coloured, enough).

I can do engine management, look up new frequencies, and all the other things you do while flying in the few seconds between dots, or in turns. And I listen to my MP3 player through the headset, on a setting that mutes the tunes as soon as there is any activity on the intercom or radio. This also has the effect of shutting the music off right away if I start to sing along, a blessing for the camera operator.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Morse Code, Part II

This is continued from a previous post on how I remember the signals for various letters in Morse code. So far we've done V B U D E T A N S H I and O. Here's the rest of the alphabet.

More Dashes

From the previous post on the topic, one dash is T, like the top of a capital T. Follow on from this to remember that two dashes is M, like serifs on the tops of an M. Okay no one draws an M that way, but you can imagine it. I have three more letters that I think of as dash-based, even though they aren't entirely made of dashes.

There's W which is a dot and two dashes: . _ _

You could think of that as E followed by M and concoct a story about the M saying "eee" because it was upside-down, turning it into a W, but I just hear it as "da WHIS KEY" like in the song, "Coulda been the whiskey, coulda been the gin ..."

Opposite to W is G: two dashes then a dot. If your name begins with G you can think of it as ME, but for non G-named folk it's "GO GO g!" Hey, I didn't say these were going to be really good ways to remember the letters.

My last dashy letter is J, a dot followed by three dashes (. _ _ _ ). It's the only letter that has three dashes and something else besides, and its the longest Morse letter. It was in the identifier of an airport that took a long time to get to while I was training. If the letter goes on for a long time and you can't remember what it is, maybe it's a J. Or maybe it's a number. I'll have to do those later.

Palindromes are Branchy

The letters with Morse the same backwards as forwards are the branchy letters. I continue to have weird ways of equating the dashes and dots with the shapes of the letters. K is a dash, a dot and a dash _._ and I just discovered that I can't put it in parentheses or it looks like an ASCII butt. That in itself is possibly more memorable than anything I can say next, but before I knew that, I thought of the dot as the upright of the K and the two dashes as the "branches" going off in different directions. X is like K but more so, with its branches going off in all directions, so it gets two dots in the middle. Imagine it an X-wing fighter _.._ if you like.

X and K ones have the dashes on the outside, but the curvy letters P and R have the dots on the outside. There's R ._. and then P ._ _. which is annoying, because the P ought to have one less dash than the R, to represent the fact that it is exactly like an R, except missing the little downwards branch. I've always had trouble with P.


Obviously you have to learn all the letters by rhythm eventually if you want to be any good at this, but some of them I know only by rhythm, because they say their own names, or something I can easily associate with them.

C _._. CHARlie CHARlie
F .._. Happy BirFday (you have to say it with a lisp)
Q _ _ . _ God save da Queen (I don't know if that works for non-commonwealth people)
Y _ . _ _ becomes instantly familiar to Canadian students, as it begins the identifier on almost every nav aid colocated with an airport, so you can't not recognize it. The few that don't begin with Z, and there's even a RUSH song commemorating YYZ, the main airport serving the Greater Toronto Metropolitan Area, that has the rhythm of YYZ in Morse, giving you also
Z _ _ ..

That leaves only L. I can never remember L. If I don't know what it is, it's L. . _ .. I try to say it as "a LOLlipop" but that's not working for me.

Later I'll do numbers. At first I thought, "ah, I don't need numbers and they look hard" but some nav aids do have numbers in their identifiers, and they are actually super easy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Morse Code, Part I

One of Amelia Earhart's weaknesses was that she did not know Morse Code, and it seems that information wasn't communicated to the ships that were providing weather and guidance for her during her final flight. I don't know Morse Code well enough to send and receive sentences, and I discovered that I can't read visual flashes at all, but I can understand all the numbers and letters at the slow speed broadcast by nav aid identifiers.

I was triggered to learn by a ground school instructor who related what he thought was an amazing story about a student who didn't have to look at the dots and dashes provided on the charts while he was identifying the nav aid, because the student had "memorized Morse Code." I knew that memorizing Morse Code was not an amazing feat, and it sounded like a way I could get an advantage in the air. I knew already that if you can spend thirty minutes on the ground to save one minute in the air, you should do it. And you can probably learn Morse Code well enough to understand nav aid identifiers in about thirty minutes. It is not that hard. This post and the next couple are my hints for achieving that skill.

First thing is, and this doesn't count in your thirty minutes, because you'd have to learn it regardless and you probably know it already, is the idea of "dots and dashes." Morse code is produced by pulsing a signal. It doesn't have to be a wire or radio transmission or use a special device. It works with any signal. It could be light, sound, touch, arranged objects. The only requirement is that it is possible to differentiate two sorts of signal. The way to do that is usually long versus short, which is why this suggestion wouldn't work, even if the guns had been operational. Although it's a space ship, so maybe they could have pulsable laser guns.

Each letter in Morse code is between one and four pulses long, in some combination of short and/or long pulses. In transcribing a message, the short pulses are written as dots and the long ones as dashes. The short pulses are also called dits and the long ones dahs. If, like me, you learn by memorizing what things look like, you can picture each letter as its corresponding sequence of dots and dashes. They're just some associations that I use when I forget which letter is which. My suggestions here are not predicated on visual learning, though. There are also a stunning number of mnemonics on Wikipedia's page on the subject.

Morse Code You Probably Know Already: O S V

It's classic rock, but if you've heard The Police "Message in a Bottle" just once, you've heard about sending out an SOS about thirty times, so you should know what that is. The official Morse code distress call is an S, O, and S sent out with no spaces between. That's three short, three long, and three short signals. The triangle is the official shape of distress, and three is its number. All you have to do is remember that S is the three dots (...) and O the three dashes (---). O is fatter, while S is skinny, so S can is the fast three and O the slow ones.

The other letter you already know is V (...-), instantly recognizable in the "da da da dum!" of Beethoven's fifth symphony. The symphony has even been used as a code signifying victory, for that reason. You can learn three more letters in relation to V.

Letters Related to V: U B D

This is just me, so maybe this doesn't work for you, but here goes. You already know V (...-). The written letter U is just like V except without the point. The Morse U (..-) is just like V with one fewer point, too. In Spanish B and V are extremely similar sounds, so I have no problem remembering that B (-...) is V reversed. And a capital D is shaped like a capital B except with one fewer thingy. Thus we get D (-..), one fewer thingy.

The Commonest Letters: E T A

If you've ever played with word games or cryptography, you know that the most common letters in English are E, T and A, in that order. Samuel Morse must have known it too, because he made them the simplest codes. E (.) is a single dot, the commonest letter and the fastest to send. A lower case e is a bit like a single dot, too. If the font is small enough: e e e . Meanwhile, T (-) is a single dash. Like the one on top of a capital T. If you put E and T together you have A (.-). But that's not how I remember A.

The A-N Beacon: A N

One of my favourite pieces of navigation history is the four course radio range, or the A-N beacon. Its operation is dependent on the fact that A (.-) and N (-.) have opposite signals. And that's how I like to remember A and N.

Hi Dots: H I

We know one dot is E and three dots is S, which leaves two dots for I (..) -- eyes are after all two dots in the front of your face -- and four dots for H (....). I think Morse code enthusiasts probably have a special Q-code for greeting one another, but if they wanted to say "hi" it would be an easy six dots.

That's enough for today. The next part of this post isn't finished yet, so there might be a few posts in between.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

B737 Down In Resolute Bay

On August 20th a Boeing 737-200 operated by First Air made a radio call "eight kilometres from the airport" the Resolute Bay airport, then crashed ten minutes later. I don't know the content of the radio call but as they don't say it was a distress call, I assume it was a routine call to airport radio. Eight kilometres is five miles, the DME of the final approach fix for the GNSS or LOC/DME approach. The plates at the link are outdated and I don't have a northern region CAP with me to check the current procedures, but there is no reason to assume they have changed.

A reporter's retelling of an eyewitness report describes the airplane coming into view not aligned with the runway and then starting a missed approach. Generally eyewitness accounts aren't worth much because humans aren't actually very good at seeing unexpected events, or at remembering what they saw, but in a community like that, the airplanes are life and everyone would be familiar with what the airplane looks and sounds like coming into land, so the report of a deviation from normal may be accurate. Here's another account, from one of the three survivors, Gabrielle Pelky, a seven year old girl, confirming that everything seemed normal. The Vancouver Sun story says Gabrielle literally walked away from the crash, but an Edmonton story says she had a broken leg, so there's either some inaccuracy here or one damned tough little girl. It's hard to imagine

An odd part of the story is that the emergency response was the best it could possibly have been, because the accident happened during a joint exercise of the military and emergency services, aimed at improving emergency response in remote communities such as Resolute Bay, response to disasters such as a cruise ship sinking or air crash. I wonder if there was a moment of confusion when a real emergency cropped up. Southern readers may find it odd that there were only fifteen people aboard a B737, but the First Air aircraft would have been configured as a combi, with cargo not only below deck as on most passenger airlines, but filling most of what would otherwise be the passenger cabin, with a bulkhead delineating the seating section.

Chances are every single resident of Resolute Bay directly knew or was related to someone on that airplane, and that almost everyone in Nunavut and the NWT knows someone who knew someone. Twelve people out of the entire Nunavut population of 33,000 is, percentage-wise equivalent to 2900 out of eight million residents of New York. Uh, that number is uncomfortably close to matching that of a disaster New York has experienced. I was going to switch to another state, but I think I'll let it stand. To the population of Nunavut, this is a major tragedy. I'm sure it's a horrible thing for First Air, too. It's a community unto itself, as large as many of the destinations it serves. My heart goes out to everyone touched by the loss.

There may have been an e-mail correspondent who was going to send something for this blog on the airplane, and the complete passenger list hasn't yet been released. I'll let you know in the next couple of weeks either by posting information on his research or telling you what it was going to be about.

Update: Here's a good newsreel from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and here's a passenger list with descriptions of the people. The researcher who died was not my arctic researcher. There's an eerie number of first-time air travellers,nervous flyers and and air crash survivors among the passengers. Remember the old joke about the passengers' belief in physics being required to sustain flight?

2nd Update: Reader Sarah linked this excellent article, showing me wrong in several respects, demonstrating the futility of speculating on these things. Commenters on the linked article continue to speculate nevertheless.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wind, Fuel and Tie-Downs

Before breakfast in the hotel, I get the desk clerk to fax my photo flight plan to the IFR data people and my OFP to company, then grab breakfast. They have oatmeal, my favourite breakfast food, but they only have the maple flavour. Basically, they've taken perfectly good oatmeal and put it in a paper bag with way too much salt and sugar. I can't remember whether I ate it or turned straight to the muffins, but I did try to get a muffin out of a plexiglass case. You can't really see or reach the muffins without opening the drawer, but when I pull it out it somehow locks at a negative angle and muffins start ricocheting all over the room. Someone comes to my rescue and we figure out how to disarm the muffin booby trap. Girl can operate a complex airplane but she's helpless against breakfast.

Despite it all I'm right on the dot for my filed take-off time. Airborne, I tune departure and before I can contact them, the first thing I hear on frequency is, "Are you really an F-18? That's a pretty good rate of climb."

"Yeah, we're light today. It's pretty fun," replies the pilot. 'Cause you know, ordinarily it's so boring flying an F-18.

We check in with the cheerful controller and are cleared higher. We get a rate of climb nothing like that of an empty F-18, but still fine for us and we're soon in the flight levels flying back and forth in straight lines. And dammit, I need to pee already. There's a sound from the back like a clipboard being dropped. I ask the operator if he dropped his clipboard. No, he didn't. It's that stupid heater malfunctioning again. I turn it off. So now I need to pee and I'm going to be cold in a few minutes.

I put on my gloves and coat, zip it up to my chin and continue working. I can pee in a bag if I get too desperate, but they say if you're in a cold survival situation you should hold it because it's warm. The idea is that you're losing heat if you evacuate it. I'm not quite sure I follow that idea, but I follow the straight lines, dot after dot. We use up those photo blocks and ask for more, which the cheerful controller gives us.

With an hour of fuel remaining, I start descent. I planned for thirty minutes to get down and land and I take an odd pride in the fact that landing too is right on the filed minute. We taxi to the pumps and I run and pee while waiting for the fueller. The operator makes a routine check of the camera and discovers that there is fuel on the lens. The air at altitude doesn't have enough oxygen to burn fuel at the rate the regulator supplies it to the heater, and despite the fact that this airplane is certified to almost ten thousand feet higher than we were flying, it has not been equipped with any means of controlling the mixture. You'd think there would be an automatic pressure-controlled leaning operation, but there isn't. So our theory is that the unburned fuel gets barfed overboard through the exhaust, and some of it has ended up on the camera lens. Some of it ignites in the exhaust, causing the clipboard-dropping sound, and the soot around the exhaust that I have to clean off again. But we just had both the heater fuel regulator and the entire heater replaced, so it shouldn't be doing this. Airplanes never know what they aren't supposed to do.

Or maybe that theory is bogus and the heater is working okay, but there's some fuel leak somewhere else. I do the math on the fuel burn, as I've recorded how much went into each tank during refuelling. The fuel burn is right on the money for my planning, and the difference between tanks is negligible. We talk to our AMO ("Approved Maintenance Organization" i.e. home base aircraft maintainers) and they have us check for leaks while running the fuel pumps, switching tanks, and everything else they can think of. We decide to delay departure to make sure there isn't another source of fuel leaking that could wreck our data. We open some inspection ports and eventually conclude that the fuel must have come out of the heater, and we're okay to fly again.

As we're parking the airplane at the end of the day, a November-registered Cessna 180 arrives. It's windy, and of course the wind has a greater effect on the little airplane, but the pilot taxies carefully and shuts down nearby. They've come up to Canada for hunting, fishing and visiting family here. The pilot comments on the absence of tie-downs here, and at most Canadian airports. It's true, in comparison, there are hardly any tiedown spaces for transient aircraft in Canada. It's routine in the states that there are metal cables running across the parking area, and often chains with hooks attached, making it easy for you to secure your airplane. I remember now an American friend who asserted that all airports provided tie-down chains. His experience was limited, but it certainly is common. In Canada there aren't usually even tiedown rings in the pavement outside the paid long-term area. Canadians travelling with a small airplane need to bring ropes and stakes, park on the grass and drive the stakes into the turf to secure their airplanes. Everywhere is different, but what has driven this difference? It's not about snowploughs, as the travelling couple is from Montana and they have just as much snow as here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Forecast That Cried "Thunderstorm"

I'm at an airport in the afternoon and the goal is to be at another airport early tomorrow morning. Ideally we should have left several hours ago, before the summer afternoon thunderstorms developed in the mountains, but the goal didn't exist then. Or at least I hadn't been apprised of it. This airplane does not have the service ceiling to fly over these thunderstorms; flying under them in the mountains is not a winning proposition; flying through a thunderstorm would probably mean icing and turbulence beyond the limits of the aircraft, so I'm plotting a route around them. Or at least up to them, so that tomorrow we won't have to go as far.

We could leave super early to go tomorrow instead. I do the math as to when we should get up to be where we need to be when we need to be at seven am. It's something like half hour to get ready, plus half hour to the airport plus half hour preflight, plus fifteen minutes for engine start, runup and taxi, plus three hours en route, plus an hour to land, pee, refuel, taxi and take off again, plus half an hour for generally screwing up somewhere in there. That adds up to leaving at 12:45 a.m., or just enough time for me to reset my duty day. But neither of us really wants to do that, so I look again at the going around the weather option. I chat to a flight services specialist to get his interpretation of the latest radar imagery. Together we select a route that should keep me free of the storms without too much inefficiency, and I file it.

Depart, call the departure frequency, fly a heading, maintain an altitude, fly direct a fix and cleared own navigation as filed. I'm through the lower level stratus with a good view and there are no TCUs en route as far as I can see. A centre controller calls me and offers me direct destination, but I decline, citing weather concerns. The next controller says, "You're not negative RNAV today are you?" Now I'm not exactly going to the most popular airport in the country, but surely someone else is getting diversions for this weather. I call up flight services, give them a position report and ask for an update on the area of thunderstorms. The specialist says they are still a threat and describes the locations of the largest-painting cells. What the hey? We're past the biggest one, and I passed that little thing without a second glance. I ask centre for the vector direct they have been trying to give me for an hour, and then we never see anything we have to avoid the whole way.

Darn you, weather forecast. If there's nothing dangerous going on, don't make me look stupid and waste time and fuel going all the way around when i could go straight. I go straight from here on in, skip over the proposed intermediate airport and land at airport B for the night. We're in position for the morning's mission and we have enough time for dinner and a good night's sleep, despite incredibly slow restaurant service.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Do WAC charts exist in your country? WAC stands for Wide Area Chart World Aeronautical Chart, but clearly I can't remember that, therefore I just call them "WAC charts." WAC Chart is one of those redundancies that can be used to annoy the same people who cringe when you enter your PIN number into the ATM machine. A WAC is a 1:1,000,000 scale visual navigation chart, and that is a really good scale for long trips in a medium-sized airplane. WACs have not been revised in ages, and have become increasingly difficult to buy in Canada. They are still occasionally available, but haven't been printed for years, so as they go out of print, they're gone. Then, in a recent AIM update, it was announced that "the term “WAC” was removed" from GEN 5.2, the section of the Airman's Information Manual where it appeared. I always think this kind of revision is kind of 1984. The WAC has been erased from existence. Some people would argue that with modern GPS technology the need for WACs was literally a relic of 1984, but my GPS screen can't be unfolded to cover a hotel bed, damnit. They're a really good planning size.

Also, for my current job, they are the only aviation chart that identifies photo blocks right on the chart.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pipeline Around the World

We're flying a pipeline today. The pipeline has already been built, so presumably the owners know where it is, but they want pictures of it, and we get paid to take pictures, so we fuel up and go. The flight is a little unusual in that we're training a new camera operator, so there are three people on board. But the more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned.

Linguistic aside I wrote the previous sentence and then tabbed over to my notes file to see what in particular I had to say about the pipeline flight. By pure coincidence, while I scrolled past the random thoughts at the beginning of the file, looking for the flight-by-flight notes, my eyes found something I wrote months ago about the expression I had just used. The grammar of the more the merrier isn't explainable through modern English grammar. The adverbial use of the is a relic of Old English þy, which was originally the instrumentive case of the neuter demonstrative þæt. So it literally meant something like "in what degree more, in that degree merrier." I think it's cool that I randomly use expressions of such ancient lineage and my language happily accommodates them. The people who have little fits about "hopefully" or "could care less" really don't have a leg to stand on. English has forever been about what people say, not what makes any kind of logical sense.

But merrily and numerously we taxi out for takeoff and persuade the controller to give us a departure clearance. There's a double delay and I wonder if I've managed to file the flight along some airway that is not authorized for use on Tuesdays, but the controllers are just puzzling out where to fling a CVFR flight. The first controller seemed to understand that I was CVFR, but there was a controller handoff between my calling for clearance them receiving it from centre and the new controller gave me an IFR departure. I don't really care. IFR or VFR I'm going to take off, switch to the next frequency, and follow their vectors and altitude restrictions until I'm in my photo blocks, so I accept the departure and follow it after I'm given a take-off clearance. The next controller gives me a vector that is close enough to direct my entry point that it doesn't matter, and I'm cheerfully following it when he calls back.

"Are you IFR or controlled VFR?" he asks.

"I'm on a controlled VFR flight plan."

"Have you been IFR at any point today?"

"I accepted a published IFR departure."

I think he asked me if I considered myself IFR right now. I tried to give him a professional and aviation-speak version of, "Seeing as I'm pointed in the direction I want to go, climbing towards the altitude I want, I really don't care." If we didn't have the op spec for extended single-pilot IFR duty days it might matter, but as it is it makes literally no difference to me. The only functional difference between VFR and IFR in cruise on a nice day is whether I have to read back clearances or not. And in busy airspace where most traffic is IFR, I often read back VFR clearances to fit in with the crowd. Technically under IFR the controller not me is responsible for my terrain and traffic, but it's not like I'm really abdicating those responsibilities, especially as I can see the terrain.

It shouldn't make that much difference to the controller, either. Under CVFR he's responsible for separating me from other traffic. That's the whole purpose of CVFR: to allow VFR traffic in airspace where IFR separation is required. But I don't mind. I wish I knew the words to make this controller happy. He tells me I'm CVFR and I'm happy with that. He hnds me off to another frequency.

The pipeline goes into the foothills, so that's where we're working. Usually I get a clearance for such and such photo blocks, for such an such a block altitude and then I just work, without a peep out of the controllers. But this lady won't give me a block altitude. I have to ask for every altitude change and heading change, and as often as not it's denied. There's traffic at that altitude, I can't have it. We end up skipping some lines for cloud and other lines because we just can't get by the controller. The thing about filing photo blocks is that theoretically they are supposed to give you the whole block, yours, exclusively. It never really works that way, and I wouldn't really want it to, but this controller doesn't get what is going on.

If I want to fly direct Calgary at 11,000' and there's traffic preventing me from doing so, I can continue towards Calgary at 9000' until the traffic is by me, then accept the climb to 11,000' and I have been inconvenienced only a tiny bit. If my direct Calgary course is 150 degrees and I'm restricted to south for five minutes, I've still been making progress towards Calgary and not a lot of time has been wasted in the five minutes before the controller says, "cleared direct Calgary." But if I want to fly along a line that starts exactly here and goes to exactly there on a track of 150.27 degrees (yes, my heading is displayed in front of me to two decimal places. I remember thinking +/-5 degrees on the commercial flight test was rigourous) at 11,000', it is completely useless to me to be cleared along it at 9000'. And if I need to turn NOW to get onto the line, a five minute heading restriction is worse than useless, because it will have carried me five minutes away from the start of the line and I have to turn around and go back.

In order to improve efficiency I start calling her a few dots before the end of a line, multitasking with my radio call and my dot tracking to try and get the next turn or next altitude approved before I hit the last dot and am ready to turn. It's a little overloading, as I'm focusing almost all my attention on those little dots and don't have a lot of attention over for the designations of photo blocks. The conversation is supposed to go like this:

Me: "In one mile Dotsmasher One requests left turn to zero eight five at one four thousand seven hundred."

Her: "Dotsmasher One cleared left turn zero eight five degrees at one four thousand seven hundred."

Me: "Left zero eight five degrees at one four thousand seven hundred, Dotsmasher One."

Her: "Readback correct."

Yeah, what is usually me flying around doing what I need to has turned into a four line conversation. And what is really going on includes both operators telling me what I need next and me reading back what they have said if it isn't clear or I think I have forgotten. So sometimes when I ask the controller for an altitude and she approves it I just say "Dotsmasher One." She corrects me snippily when I miss or muss a readback and the second time I apologize with, "Sorry, I'm just not feeling as though I'm IFR today." I'm turning and swooping and visually negotiating hills. There's a pause as she talks to other traffic then she calls me back just to deride me for that comment. "It doesn't matter," she says, "whether you are VFR or IFR you must always read back assigned altitudes and headings." I just bite my tongue on that one. It's a nice sunny day and she's stuck in a box with a screen while I get to fly in the mountains. I do my best to read everything back and am glad when our progress is sufficient that I am passed on to the next controller.

I give him a request based on the town I know we are working our way towards, then I realize I'm overhead it. Despite the cranky clearances we've been making good progress. The new controller finally gives us a block of airspace and leaves us alone. We keep flying along the pipeline, watching the scenery go by. There are some clouds on the horizon, but we hope we can complete the job before they cast shadows on our work. The senior operator says he wants someone to build a pipeline around the world so we can fly it, segment by segment, all the way around the world. I'd like to do that too, but I tell him he'd have to give me a bit more notice of where he wanted to land so I could arrange customs clearance. We're almost finished when clouds arrive and we're done for the day. We spiral down out of the sky towards the nearest airport for fuel.

The FSS there has a single in the circuit but no other traffic, and I let him know how many minutes I'll be in descent before arriving. I descend over a nearby navaid, then head for the airport when I can arrive at circuit altitude at a reasonable speed and descent rate. He points me out as arriving traffic, calling me a Piper Cherokee. I'm not usually too picky about what controllers call me, as long as they call me cleared to land, but I correct that one. If you're looking for a single and a twin turns up on final you may think you have a conflict.

Airports mostly look the same once you're on the ground, even if they are quite large, because you can't really see that far. We taxi to the self-serve fuel pumps and I shut down and fill out the logbook for the flight. The operator discovers that he has forgotten the company credit card, and his personal credit card doesn't work. Can I possibly ...?

I have an insane credit limit from all those years of ferrying airplanes around North America, so I toss them my credit card as I head to the terminal to find a washroom. I open the door to the terminal and see that there are airline counters and uniformed security inside. I have my pilot licence with me, but I need to make sure I can get back out again. I wave down one of the security guys and make sure he'll let me out. He tells me the code to get back out the door, and says it's written on the outside. Oops, didn't see it. I use the washroom, pick up the payphone to file an ordinary VFR flight plan home, and go back out the door. The code is written on the outside in teeny, tiny letters I didn't see. The senior operator is coming in as I go out. I tell him the code and he says, "I know." He's been here before.

It's funny these little airports. They're all the same to me. There's nothing in the CFS to indicate which ones have which level of security. It's not a function of runway length or altitude or type of air traffic service or of any other published datum. You land and look for somwhere to dump the contents of your bladder, and at some that means watering the grass at the edge of the taxiway while at others it means running the gauntlet of CATSA and throngs of passengers at the x-ray machines. It's disorienting, and without local knowledge you have to be on your toes to walk in the correct door, know the correct codes, have the correct documents and get back to your airplane.

In the meantime a small airliner has landed, but it doesn't need the fuel pumps. We all get back in the airplane and take off before the airliner needs out. We fly home. It takes a quarter the time to get back as it did to get here, because we're not circling around to get on the right lines, and we're talking only to traffic on 126.7 until it's time to talk to the airport controllers.

I land and taxi in, and the boss is waiting with a cheque for the exact amount of the fuel. The operator called ahead with the amount. Fastest expense reimbursement ever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Invasion Has Begun

As I arrived at the airport in the morning, I saw this airplane. I could barely bring myself to ask the fueller about it, for fear that it would turn out to belong to some northern resource company with a stylized flame logo. But no, it's what I thought it was. What did I think it was, and who knows the story behind it?

You may name the aerodrome, too, if you're feeling sharp and sleuthy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Alerting Services

Flight plans serve multiple purposes. One of the purposes is to allow ATC to anticipate my arrival in their airspace, making it easier for them to provide traffic separation and other services. In Canada, except for VFR arrivals at a busy airport, that function is pretty much exclusively for IFR flights. For both IFR and VFR flights, flight plans make it clear where search and rescue should start looking for me if I don't show up at destination. Those two functions are filed together in one flight plan but can be perceived to be separate when an IFR flight plan is cancelled. Cancelling IFR to continue a flight VFR doesn't turn your flight plan into a VFR plan, as you might expect. Instead you have cancelled your flight plan, leaving only alerting services remaining. The difference between a VFR flight plan and alerting services, I discovered, is that you can't amend alerting services to reflect a revised destination. If you need the flexibility of a VFR flight plan following IFR work, you have to file a Y flight plan that actually has separate filed IFR and VFR portions.

The other way to get alerting services without activating a flight plan is to take off without a clearance. Unless From the AIM:

7.10 Alerting Service IFR Departures from Uncontrolled Airports

At locations where communication with ATS is difficult, pilots may elect to depart VFR and obtain their IFR clearance once airborne. In Canada, if IFR clearance is not received prior to departure, SAR alerting service is activated based on the ETD filed in the flight plan. However, if departing from a Canadian airport that underlies airspace delegated to FAA control, then responsibility for SAR alerting service is transferred to the FAA and FAA procedures apply. In such cases, alerting service is not activated until the aircraft contacts ATS for IFR clearance. Therefore, if the aircraft departs before obtaining its IFR clearance, alerting service is not provided until contact is established with ATS.

Once upon a time a Canadian flight plan, and thus alerting service, was not opened until the pilot opened it, but to close the window of vulnerability from a departure accident, flight services will now "assume you off" at the filed departure time. If your departure was significantly late or early, you can call in and amend their recorded departure time. That's important because the time they judge you overdue is based on adding your estimated time en route to your departure time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

ForeFlight versus Nav Canada

A company called ForeFlight has released data for their iPad app that covers IFR procedures in Canada. It includes all volumes of the Canada Air Pilot (approach and departures plates, plus taxiway diagrams) and the IFR high and low enroute charts, and is legal for inflight IFR use. It's not clear whether the database includes the terminal charts, but it kind of has to because the information density around the big cities isn't sufficient in the regular LO charts. It doesn't seem to include the CFS data, but I can't think of information you need for safe IFR navigation that is in the CFS but not the CAP. We'll also have to wait for VFR chart data. Nav Canada is not forthcoming with its data.

There is Transport Canada guidance document and an FAA equivalent governing Electronic Flight Bags, as these systems are called. Page ten of the US version explains how the paper documents can be completely phased out once the system is verified reliable in a given operation, and wording in the Canadian version implies that it allows for completely paperless applications as well.

This isn't something astonishingly new, and I'm sure lots of you are already using such products. What caught my attention today was the price. As far as I can tell, you download the core of the app for free and then pay to add a subscription to the data you need. A ForeFlight Canada subscription costs US $149.99 for a year. For comparison, a subscription to all the editions of the CAP and the high and low charts costs $441 a year, plus taxes. If you only fly in only two regions of Canada, an annual mailed subscription of paper charts will cost you $142, so if you already have an iPad, that's the same cost for paper or electronic. The iPad is probably also about the same weight and the same difficulty to stuff in your flight bag as one LO and one region of the CAP.

Advantages of paper documents over the iPad are that they are unattractive to thieves, still work after they have been dropped or slammed in the trunk door of a cab, will probably dry out to a usable state if you get drenched by rain, are better for starting a fire in an emergency situation, you can write clearances on them, you can unfold them all over the hotel bed to have a wide-screen view of your proposed trip, and the batteries cannot run out. Also they make good auxiliary sunvisors, if you don't have a newspaper.

The iPad wins on staying the same size even if you are flying in all seven regions of Canada, being self-illuminated, allowing scrolling without having to flip the map over, letting you zoom the scale in or out and it probably has a search function. I don't know if you can mark it up with virtual post-its, but you can play Plants versus Zombies on it and check your e-mail while waiting for maintenance to release the aircraft.

What's it like flying with one of these? Does it have a function to do your cold weather corrections automatically or is there a way to mark up a plate after you get the latest METAR, to show all the cold weather corrections and the time to go on a non-precision approach? An iPad seems kind of bulky to mount on the yoke. Where do you put it? How far did you get on Plants versus Zombies?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nerdy Flight Planning Answer

I asked a few days ago how you would file a long IFR climb segment at a speed well below the normal filed true airspeed for the aircraft. I asked on the blog, and I also asked in real life, asked an IFR data centre employee who codes flight plans. I called the same number I call to file a photo plan and asked.

"I have an incredibly nerdy flight planning question ..."

She said that yes, they know that a light airplane won't be climbing at 170 knots and, and if it's 5 or 10 minutes in climb, don't bother filing anything special. But for a thirty minute climb, yes, code it as N120F210, for the 120 kt climb to flight level 210. I like coding IFR flights. I've always liked languages and codes and getting the grammar and spelling right. Such a nerd.

And while I'm being nerdy, I'll let you know I spent a good day's pay on a new camera, a Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS Digital ELPH, which is the same as an IXUS 130. It is smaller than almost anyhting else I looked at, has all the features I need and was on sale. It has almost four times the resolution of the old camera. I also considered a shockproof, waterproof Sony, but it cost almost twice as much, and if I'm in an aviation situation involving shock and water, I probably have better things to do than take pictures. I'm not a camera power user and probably could have spent less on a simpler camera and not missed anything, but while I'm just pointing it at things and pressing the button, I can pretend I'm going to use the zoom someday, or put it in different modes.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Free the FAA

This article, Free the FAA, came across my desk today and I felt compelled to tell its author, through talking to my monitor, that almost everything related to air travel is a matter of air safety. Unionization gives workers the power to say no to unsafe working conditions or to refuse to sign off inadequately repaired aircraft, because the union can protect them from retribution. Disputes of any kind are a source of stress and intra-workforce friction, a documented factor in accidents. I don't think there is any community in the contiguous United States for which subsidized air service is an essential service, but if it were, the provision of such service would be a safety issue, because left to the free market, communities that the larger airlines found uneconomical to serve would be served instead by the sort of company that undermaintain and overinsure their aircraft, so that a hull loss results in an upgrade.

By Edward L. Glaeser THE FEDERAL Aviation Administration does a fine job at its main duty - making air travel safe. But it’s is also involved with a lot of things it shouldn’t be, from disputes about unionization to subsidies for rural airports. If Americans want to keep flying safely, Congress must free the FAA from obligations unrelated to preventing accidents. The agency got back to work recently after a two-week, politically charged shutdown that had nothing to do with safety. To continue some operations related to planning and maintaining airports, the FAA needed new authorization from Congress. But the Senate initially balked at a House plan that also capped "essential air service" subsidies to rural airports at $1,000 per passenger. Some Senate Democrats also opposed a House plan that, by reversing a pro-union ruling last year by the National Mediation Board, would make it harder for workers on airport projects to organize.

I'm not saying there aren't gross inefficiencies and waste in the FAA giving opportunities for cost savings without loss of function. It's a government body, and one attached to the very large government of a traditionally rich country, so that's to be expected. But it's very difficult to draw a circle around "safety" functions yet exclude some aspects of air travel oversight.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Calgary Sights & Heights

In an account that has drifted loose from the day in which it actually occurred, I will now describe a half day free of duty in Calgary. I e-mailed everyone who responded to my Lunch invitation and whose e-mail comes up when I search on "Calgary" or "YYC," to see if anyone is up for a short notice visit. If I didn't e-mail you, and you wish I had, send me an e-mail with the name and airport identifiers that I might be putting in if I were in your neck of the woods, and you never know. I might have a free day there sometime. I search everything with the label Lunch in my gmail account, looking for the name of the town or airport, so put more than one in if you like, and avoid mentioning places you're not in the same e-mail.

No one is available for the afternoon, so I go solo to investigate the things on the hill behind the hotel. They're ski lifts and ski jumps, leftovers from the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. There's not enough snow left to ski--it's summer, after all--but there was enough to climb up a big pile of snow underneath the chairlifts and pretend I'm summitting Everest. Forgot my flag, though. I do climb up the whole hill. It's a little disorienting to find when I get to the top that the hill is really just an escarpment, and that there's a boring subdivision at the top, almost level with the top of the ski hill.

Along the ridge at the top of the ski hill there is a path that goes to the bases of a number of towers. They are the tops of ski jumps. You know when you see ski jumpingon TV and the person goes off the jump and sails through the air, bent forward over their skis into a human aerofoil? That sort of ski jump. The biggest two have elevators going to the top, but the others have stairs, and there's no gate nor "keep out" sign and it's all part of a public park. I walk on up. And up. And up. Maybe they just figured sightseeers wouldn't go up all those stairs. At the top there's a platform with that same potscrubber plastic stuff you get at the loading and unloading area of ski-lifts. There's a bar to hang onto as you position yourself at the top of the ski jump. And there's the steep, steep, precipitous drop. It's kind of freaky and at the same time flattering that the Calgary parksboard thinks highly enough of me to trust me to behave safely up here. I'm a little surprised that no one has killed themselves trying to mountain bike down the ski jump, for example. The amount more daring and less common sense than me that it would take to think that was worth trying is well within human variation. Or a mickey of Crown Royal.

I go down the wooden stairs along the side of the ski jump and then back to the hotel. During dinner, Carlos replies to my call for locals. Remember Carlos? He guest-blogged about a high tech cement mixer he drove. I look it up and that was 2007. I guess a few very loyal readers may do. He lives in Calgary now and has time before his next shift to squire me around the city. He comes by in a low-slung car, definitely not a dump truck and we head downtown. He's rocking the aviator sunglasses and the Latin flair as he points out the Bow River trails and other sights during the drive.

We start off at the Calgary Tower. Every city has to have its phallic symbol. There's an elevator, so I don't have to walk up the stairs. At the top is a similarly dizzying view, with better safety features. There's a glass floor and we entertain ourselves "balancing" on the girders within it, and jumping into the "spaces." It's a fun game of mind over mind, to use the logical part of the brain to overrule the more instinctive part, the one that says, "there's no FLOOR there!" Then we walk all the way around the tower, looking at the landscape. We can see the Rocky Mountains, the suburbs, the airport, along with arrivals and departures, and some of the downtown. Part of the view from the tower is blocked by a tall building that wasn't there when the tower was built. Ironically, it't the same building the controller wouldn't give me permission to overfly at 7,100' a few weeks ago. Now I get a better look at it, closer to the ground. Carlos also explains his crazy scheme to learn to fly and build time as a commercial bush pilot in South America. I realize at this moment that we were so busy discussing his plans that I never got around to telling him that I might be working there this winter. Now he's going to kill me.

Back at ground level it's too late (i.e. within twelve hours of my report time) to have a drink at Carlos' favourite bar, so he vows to find me some dessert. He consults with his dispatcher from work while driving around the city. It's amusingly similar to me trying to get airport information from the FSS while in descent. It's late enough that the best bet turns out to be Dairy Queen, so Carlos pulls up to some young ladies on the sidewalk, cranks the charm up a several notches and gets directions to the nearest. Ice cream doesn't have to be fancy to be good, and this was quick and delicious to get me home in time for my required duty rest.

I remember asking Carlos if he wanted me to hold anything back in my description of the evening, and he said to go ahead and tell it like it was, so I must have been planning to mock him for something, but I've forgotten what it was. Probably his driving. I don't think I screamed at all though, so it's all good.

It's funny sometimes, that a guy doing his best to impress you might not come off as the most impressive, but it makes a girl feel good that he's going to the effort, so in the end she's happy. Carlos was tired and busy, but he postponed some important tasks to make sure I felt welcome and had a great time in Calgary. Yeah, tip for everyone: spend more effort making the person you're with feel important than making them believe that you are important. That takes me right back to some advice I received may years ago from another Albertan: "stop trying to show people how smart you are, and concentrate on letting them see how nice you are." It's a rare friend who will offer constructive criticism that requires them to point out your personality flaws. I don't know where he is now, but if you're out there, K'Harv, you know who you are.

Carlos came to Canada from Colombia and over the past few years I have had the privilege of witnessing his gradual mastery of the English language and his pride in his new country through our e-mail correspondence. He teased me with a put-on accent when I remarked on having expected one. He sounds almost like he was born here now. He's even writing eloquent letters to the CBC, and just had an excerpt from one on climate change read on-air on a province-wide show. You can listen to it via podcast (at minute 20:34), or read the unedited version at his new blog. He notes that the units for the diesel consumption mentioned in the letter read on air should be km/liter, not liters per kilometers.

I'm proud to have friends who stand up and speak out for what they believe in.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nerdy Flight Planning Question

I seem to spend about an hour a day making flight plans, maybe planning five flights for each one I depart on, because I have to be ready to go now for wherever the weather favours. You'd think after I got the one-way airways sorted out there wouldn't be much to plan, but I have to specify under instrument flight rules what we're going to do on a very non-standard flight. Instead of going from A to B by an efficient route, I'm going from A to a point that I must define precisely, but may depend on the location of the clouds on that day, then hang around in the same reserved airspace for hours, then fly to another arbitrary point to exit, and from there proceed to an airport of landing. An airport that is completely secondary to the purpose of the trip. We really don't care where we land, so long as it is long enough to take off again and they will sell us avgas.

Rather than specifying every photo line, we file "photo blocks" pre-named chunks of sky that you can see if you happen to have an old WAC chart lying around. Photo blocks have names like 093H4, and I file a list of photo blocks with the altitudes we need in each on a special flight plan form, then in the actual flight plan section I write (PHOTO BLOCK) instead of the name of an airway. I can enter the photo block at a conventionally named fix, and I will if there's one handy, but more likely we'll just be entering at an arbitrary point that I specify with latitude and longitude in the form 5100N11230W (ENT). There will be a second fix tagged (EXT) after the photo block, and everything else is like a normal IFR flight plan. Except we don't care where we land, but we still have to put something down.

On an IFR flight plan you specify your true airspeed in one block at the top and I'm used to putting down whatever fiction the manufacturer claims for the aircraft at the flight planned altitude, minus a bit for reality, and just leaving it. ATC knows that I'll climb a bit more slowly, and my initial descent will probably be a bit faster. At least that's how everyone I have flown with files and flies. But there is a mechanism by which you can specify speed changes, and any time you file an altitude change you have to refile your speed anyway, because the format is like this: N175A095 meaning 175 knots at 9,500'. But one day while listening to a departing Westjet flight being given a speed restriction in the climb, I thought about the fact most pilots don't climb into the flight levels by pulling their nose up to Vy with sustainable climb power and waiting patiently. What sufficed on an IFR flight plan down below might not be the best information for one at more rarefied atmospheric strata.

So I called IFR flight data and I asked them how an IFR flight that begins with twenty to thirty minutes of climbing at speeds significantly lower than the aircraft's normal TAS should be filed. The controller had an answer, but I wonder if it would be the same answer across the country and abroad.

What do you think the advice was? Or if you're a controller, what would you expect? I'll tell you what my guy said, in a couple of days.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Hold Short for Crossing Traffic

There's an intersection in my town that needs a crosswalk. In the spring I tracked down the responsible person and asked how one goes about petitioning for a crosswalk. They asked me a few questions, looked up the intersection and told me that they had done a study a few years ago and determined that there was not enough traffic to warrant it, but that they would do a new study once local road construction that temporarily changes traffic patterns was done.

Their clever strategy has been to have continuous construction since then. They're constructing everything but a crosswalk. It's possible that they are doing this because studies have shown that the other things need constructing, and not just to irritate me, as I'm sure it would be cheaper to just paint a crosswalk on the street than to build all this other stuff. That's all I want, a visual marker that shows drivers that there might be someone trying to cross the road here, and that allows pedestrians to choose a good place to cross. It looks from this video to be a pretty quick process.

With a special purpose trough/brush-type tool:

With a spray gun and a steady hand:

There are some very fancy crosswalks in some cities. Here are curved ones. And there's at least one accidental crosswalk to nowhere.

Then I saw this. If all else fails, put up your own. How closely do you think the city tracks crosswalks? If I showed up with a few friends in reflective vests, some orange traffic cones, and some quick-drying white paint, would anyone ever figure out that this wasn't an official crosswalk? Here's an argument against such things. And you can go to jail for it. And I found all those looking for a video someone told me about where a crew is painting the white stripes on a crosswalk, starting from opposite sides of the street. You can guess what happened to the crosswalk, but I can't find the video.

I just got back from work and stuck my SD card in the computer to see my photos, and as suspected the fix was only temporary. Most of the photographs are completely washed out. It's possible that the camera repair shop fixed one thing and broke another, or that the blackness problem has simply remanifest itself in paler tones. Here's the last photo the camera ever took. I believe it's an exciting mountain airport.

So I'm shopping. The IXUS 115 and the ELPH 100, recommended by readers as the successor to the SD10, look to be almost the same camera as each other, maybe in different markets, but they both have the menu buttons where my thumb goes for one handed shots. I know from experience with the borrowed camera that I press those buttons inadvertently and take scenic out the window shots while in macro mode. I'm starting with those suggestions and looking, though. It maybe that an iPhone is what I need to replace camera (broken), cellphone (no bluetooth or cable connection for handsfree or headset interface) and iPod touch (only four years old, but apparently that's ancient in Mac time, and confuses everyone who sees it that it isn't a cellphone). It probably has greater image resolution than the once impressive 4.0 megapixel camera, and it's not like I'll look more nerdy toting an iPhone than an iPod touch, cellphone and camera. If I want to look like an idiot in public places, I can do that without the help of technology.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Always Check NOTAMs

Here's an account of an aviatrix who found that her computer wasn't working to pick up the NOTAMs. She could have called 1-800-WX-BRIEF (this takes place in the USA) and asked, but she hadn't flown in a week and was anxious to get back in the sky. What possible NOTAM could affect her flight in and out of her own backyard strip, in very familiar airspace? She was so used to people admiring her prize-winning airplane that she wasn't fazed by the intercepting F-16s. I won't mention her age, because as the last line of the story mentions, she was a little put out that the FAA released it to the media.

May we all be flying as long, but further from the scrutiny of military aviators.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

All I Need To Know

I'm getting teased by my friends for having a tissue-paper airplane, and for making confusing statements like "I hope it rains on Friday so I can go to the park." It's a little odd being in an operation that depends on perfect weather, when many of the real pilot skills are about dealing with imperfect weather. It's also a new thing for me to look at a GFA calling for scattered cloud at 10,000', and have that be unsuitable weather. It's similar to the adaptation you make when you go from VFR flying to IFR flying. In that transition you look at weather that was once unquestionably unflyable and you have to further analyze it to see if the icing en route and the ceilings at destination might still allow flight. I guess in every operation you divide weather into "totally unflyable," "great," and "hmm, lets see if there's a way we can do it." Those two dividers slide around a long way, depending on the nature of the operation and the experience of the pilot.

I was amused by these URLs, which I discovered by accident when I idly typed my guestion of the day into Google's search bar.


Large print, simple, binary, no complicated decoding. It even detects where I am correctly, except when I'm on VOIP Internet at a shack beside a runway and it thinks I'm in Montréal. I think single purpose URLs like that are hilarious. I regularly visit Sometimes Red, Sometimes Blue and I have no idea why. I don't know whether Am I Awesome serves more than one answer, but it said I was "Very" so that's good enough for me.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Where Do I Get My Clearance, Please?

A pilot may not depart on an IFR flight plan into controlled airspace without receiving an IFR clearance from someone air traffic services. Some pilots never have to think twice about where they are going to get their clearance, but they probably always operate from the same few airports and they know the local procedures. The way you get a clearance in Canada can be quite varied, and when the airports you operate out of are that varied sometimes it's tricky.

If it's a busy airport, there may be a dedicated clearance delivery frequency published in the CFS and printed on the departure plate. You tune them up and call for clearance, and if you've filed your flight plan properly they usually have it ready and waiting for you, something like, "ATC clears Flashcube Three to the Peace River airport via the Moose Three departure, flight planned route, maintain 5000', expect higher five minutes after departure, contact departure airborne 125.725, squawk 3671." You copy that all down as they say it, say it all back to them, and when they say, "readback correct" you have a departure clearance.

If there is no clearance delivery frequency, you call ground instead. Both clearance delivery and ground are manned by people in the air traffic control tower at the airport, and often both frequencies will be covered by the same person at once. You discover this when you switch to ground for taxi clearance and get the same guy, or sometimes the clearance delivery guy gives you a taxi clearance with the departure clearance and tells you to monitor ground while taxiing. Ground may send you back to clearance delivery if the IFR data people discover an error in your flight plan, but eventually you switch to tower, who may give you an amendment to your departure or change the assigned departure frequency before clearing you for take off.

If the airport is uncontrolled, but there is still an FSS on the field, you usually call them for your clearance. You include in your request for clearance the runway you intend to depart from, because at an uncontrolled airport the pilot decides that, and that may influence the clearance you receive. They phone IFR data and IFR tells them your clearance, then they read it to you, you read it back to them, they tell you you have it right, and then you have the clearance. After that you just tell the flight service specialist when you're taking off, and off you go.

If there's no FSS on the field, but there's an RCO (Remote Communications Outlet)--a relay that lets you talk to a flight service specialist who is somewhere else--you may call them in exactly the same fashion. Sometimes pilots don't even know whether I'm talking to a remote or local FSS, which can be amusing when they ask "is it okay if i park here?" When I landed at one airport recently I was talking to an FSS specialist as I landed and I asked him when I reported clear of the runway, "do I call you for my clearance in the morning?" He said yes, but when I called his frequency in the morning the specialist working it told me to get my clearance from Centre, unless I couldn't contact them from the ground.

If there is no air traffic services agency reachable at all from the ground, I may be able to get my clearance by phone from the IFR flight planning folk, or possibly through the regional FSS people at 1-866-WX-BRIEF. You just keep calling aviation-related numbers until someone consents to give you a clearance. A clearance received by telephone (and some received by radio) will have a clearance valid time window, so you can use it between two zulu times, but if you miss your window and do not depart by then, you have to call back for a new clearance. So a request for a clearance should include an estimate of when you'll be ready to go, especially if it doesn't match your filed departure time exactly.

If you have no usable frequency and no telephone service, this happens mostly to pilots of amphib aircraft or others who used really remote and unserviced strips, you can't get a clearance before departure. You can then get a clearance in the air, but in that case you have to either depart VFR and remain in VMC until you have received your clearance, or depart on uncontrolled IFR and remain clear of controlled airspace until you have a clearance. Some people do this even when there are facilities on the ground where they could have received a clearance, but they find it to be a time savings. In the US if you do it without even having a flight plan filed it's called a "pop-up clearance" and is not abnormal there, but in Canada filing a flight plan in the air when there were facilities to do it on the ground is considered poor airmanship, and it's rude because it jams the frequency and puts the workload of accepting the flight plan on people who have more urgent work to do. You can see where this is going, with oblivious US pilots annoying Canadian flight service specialists and other pilots when they do here what is perfectly normal at home. As far as I can tell, the standard Canadian behaviour of flying cross-country VFR then calling approach to land VFR at a busy airport is the US equivalent. US controllers really don't seem to like that. Would they prefer me to pick up an IFR clearance before approaching their airspace?

The last option for IFR clearances in Canada is to conduct the entre flight outside of controlled airspace and not have a clearance at all. That's perfectly legal, and an aircraft can transition between IFR and VFR flight just by changing altitude by 500' and changing the transponder code. I haven't done that in a few years.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Beware of Broken Glass

Loyal reader majroj forwarded me this link to an NTSB study on glass cockpits in general aviation. The term "glass cockpit" refers to integrated computerized information screens that augment and take the place of traditional instrumentation and paper documentation both. Instead of the pilot having to look at a paper chart then at separate instruments showing things like altitude, heading, airspeed time, and angular displacement from a selected line, they look at a high resolution screen that combines all that information and computes time en route and descent profile. Twelve years ago these were new shiny toys that some airlines had, and I remember a "hilarious" joke a friend and I had about installing such screens in a tiny two-place airplane. Now they are commonplace. After the initial learning curve, having that much information available seems to represent an enormous decrease in workload and increase in situational awareness. But the NTSB (the agency that investigates air crashes in the United States) didn't find the evidence supported that supposition.

The study compared aircraft of similar age and performance capability, but unfortunately did not control for the fact that people who invest in glass instrumentation use their aircraft differently. The aircraft with conventional instruments were involved in more accidents overall, but fewer fatal accidents, a predictable outcome when it is revealed that the conventional instruments are in airplanes used for flight training, which involves frequent, short, local flights used for flight training, while the glass cockpits were in aircraft flown less frequently but in long distance IFR flights in less ideal weather. Training accidents tend to be runway excursions and botched landings: embarrassing, expensive, but less likely to be fatal, while an accident on an IFR cross country is more likely to involve CFIT or loss of control in icing and thus kill someone.

The study report acknowledges the problem with the comparison, but doesn't appear to have made an attempt to control for it, which is unfortunate. I'd be interested to see a head-to-head comparison of similar flying with and without the modern tools. The integrated screens are fantastic, but the two big dangers I identify are catastrophic failure and tunnel vision, when the pilot gets so caught up in the avionics that they miss the big picture. Ask me if I haven't done that, in the last couple of weeks, and you'll just get an embarrassed mumble from me. People can literally fly into the side of a mountain or mumble mumble bust their assigned altitude while trying to make the little pink line point in the correct direction. When you learn to use conventional instruments, you learn how failures manifest and how to identify them by cross-checking with other instruments. You learn to disregard bogus information from failed instruments, perhaps using exactly the same technique as your flight instructor used to simulate failure in training: putting a post-it note over it. Once the misleading information is removed from your scan, it's gone and you can make decisions using only the believed trustworthy information remaining.

When the information from all the different sensors is processed and presented together, you don't have as smooth a way of removing the faulty information. The computer tries to make sense of conflicting data and while there are circuits and algorithms designed to remove unreliable data from the equation, the loss of control in Air France 447 is probably related to integrated displays reaching incorrect or ambiguous conclusions about the state of the aircraft.

My hypothesis is that if a study were done comparing the safety of similar flights by pilots of similar experience before and after glass cockpits in small GA aircraft they would find an initial increase in safety, followed by a return to pre-glass accident rates, or even worse accident rates. That is, initially they would increase safety, but then people would start taking greater risks. It appears that psychologically people have a certain level of risk tolerance, so if you make something safer, they'll find a way to make it more dangerous again.

The issue the NTSB identified is training. Just because a GPS display requires less interpretation than a VOR, doesn't mean that it needs less training and practice to be proficient and safe in its operation. Probably the opposite. It needs more initial training and more review to get and stay proficient with just one part of that formula, a complex GPS system. I started a while ago documenting my progress towards proficiency with the G530, but I never finished, and am especially guilty for not raving at more length and detail about Max Trescott's GPS and WAAS Instrument Flying Handbook, a book which I highly recommend to anyone using or teaching on the G430/530/1000. I'm never going to finish learning how to use this instrument, but I will post some more about it and the book.

I picked up my unrepairable camera and went to a store look for a replacement. I took out the broken camera and practiced holding and shooting with one hand, to remind myself how small it was and easy to use. I pressed the on button, and pointed it at things. See, easy to balance, and my thumb doesn't change settings while I'm holding it. And I can see my feet in the formerly broken screen.

"Can I help you?" asks the camera counter guy.

"I, uh, came to buy a replacement for this broken camera, but ..."

"Now it works?"


He looks at it, takes a picture of my happy-my-camera-works smile and agrees that it works.

I guess while putting it back together after determining that they couldn't fix it, they accidentally fixed it. I know it probably won't last long, so I look at the cameras for sale, but none is as tiny. The company doesn't make that kind any more. Anyone have a Canon Power Shot SD10 they are not in love with? Or one that works really well, and which they would like extra batteries and a battery charger for?