Sunday, September 25, 2011

Projected Absence

I'm really wrapped up in a creative project that is using the same part of my brain and my day as blogging, and for now I'm going to give it priority.

I'll try to catch up later, but here's a tidbit from my day.

While I was preflighting today I saw a Canadian Forces Airbus in military grey, with muted markings and the only colour the red Canadian flag on the tail. The FBO crew parked an airstairs truck at the forward door and a long line of soldiers came out, carrying duffel bags across the apron to the FBO. I don't know where they had come directly from, or whether the range of the airliner would support it, but it was most interesting to imagine that they were returning directly from Afghanistan. I shouted "Welcome home!" across the ramp, but it wouldn't have been audible above the sound of the APU and of other idling aircraft.

Later, after takeoff I heard the Canadian Forces callsign, with a female pilot's voice, check in with departure. She was on the same instrument departure as I was, and given the same instruction after departure. I realized that she was climbing up behind me, then was given another vector that would put her past me on the right. I wonder if they loaded more soldiers to take back to wherever they got the first lot, or if they were ferrying empty.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dauntless Aviation

I'm using software from Dauntless Aviation to study for the FAA exam. I definitely recommend it. It not only shows you all the questions you could see on the exam, with the correct answers, but highlights excerpts from the regulations that explain them and points out tricky parts of the questions. The merchant site is a little intimidating, but I think it's just that they are a very small company and hooked up with a somewhat aggressive payment processing company that they can't really rein in.
Today's confusion is over alternate requirements in the the US regulations. In Canada you always (with some very specialized op spec exceptions) require one alternate and there are complex but interpretable rules governing the weather conditions required to file a particular airport as your alternate. In the US you need one alternate, two alternates or zero alternates and whether you need them depends on what state you are flying in, the weather and possibly what operation type. I confess that I haven't got it all sorted out yet. I'm going to try and make a table of sorts:
PartTypeEngineLocation# alternatesRequired fuelOther
121flagturbine?02 hours

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sector Altitudes?

Question: What action should be taken when a pilot is "cleared for approach" while being radar vectored on an unpublished route?

Answer: Remain at last assigned altitude until established on a published route segment.

In Canada, cleared to the approach I would be able to, and probably would get into an untenable position later on the approach if I didn't, immediately descend to the 100 nm or 25 nm safe altitude published on the plate, as appropriate, in preparation for intersecting a published route segment. I would tell ATC I was "leaving one fife tousand for one zero tousand tree hundred" or whatever the sector altitude was, but I'm not sure I'd be required to do that. Saying it helps me remember it, and allows ATC to know what to expect.

I remember being told by a flight instructor long ago that in the US you were not allowed to descend immediately on being cleared for the approach, and commenters here told me that yes you were, but with this question I may have finally found the case that the original flight instructor was considering. It looks like if I'm on an airway or a published transition to an approach, cleared for the approach clears me to the MEA for that route, but if I'm off airway just being vectored towards the airport, I can't descend to a published safe altitude until directed? I suspect this is more because US airspace have more published transitions and routes and less just hammering around through the clag towards the NDB at the airport.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

American Weeks?

What the heck does this mean?

Each dispatcher must be relieved of all duty with the certificate holder for at least 24 consecutive hours during any seven consecutive days or the equivalent thereof within any calendar month.

The dispatcher is supposed to have one day off every week? The dispatcher is supposed to have one week off every month? The dispatcher is supposed to have one day off every seven days, but if Monday is his day off, and it's March and March started on a Monday, and he's had the 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th off so there are only three days left in the month he gets another day off because during the calendar month of March the last two days are equivalent to a week?

What does a calendar month have to do with anything? So there are different rules in long months than short ones? If it stopped after "seven consecutive days" it would make perfect sense. But what on earth could be equivalent to seven consecutive days, but wasn't adequately described by "seven consecutive days"?

And can ATPL holders automatically work as dispatchers in the US, or are they supposed to be policing their dispatchers' sleep schedules? Why would such a question be on a pilot's exam?

Also I have to know that if a drunk creates a disturbance on my aircraft I have five days to report it to the Administrator.

Lost Comm Altitude

If you are IFR in IMC and lose contact with ATC, you still have to fly somewhere. There are a set of logical rules that dictate the timing, route and altitude of that flight. I'd expect them to be the same in both countries, and they are almost word for word.

CFR 14, Part 91.185(c)(2) (USA)
Altitude. At the highest of the following altitudes or flight levels for the route segment being flown:
The altitude or flight level assigned in the last ATC clearance received;
The minimum altitude (converted, if appropriate, to minimum flight level as prescribed in § 91.121(c)) for IFR operations; or
The altitude or flight level ATC has advised may be expected in a further clearance.


AIM (b) (Canada)
Altitude: At the highest of the following altitudes or FLs for the route segment being flown: the altitude(s) or FLs assigned in the last ATC clearance received and acknowledged;
the minimum IFR altitude (see RAC 8.6.1); or
the altitude or FL ATC has advised may be expected in a further clearance. (The pilot shall commence climb to this altitude/FL at the time or point specified by ATC to expect further clearance/ altitude change.)

Curiously, while routing defaults to the flight plan, the flight planned altitude isn't mentioned in here, unless the last clearance received was the IFR readback including the flight planned altitude. So that means that if you're departing somewhere and really don't want to fly at the MEA to destination, you'd better get the controller to say "expect flight level 230" and not just "expect higher."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

American Birds Follow Airspace Rules

Both countries have a speed limit of 250 knots below 10,000', unless you're flying an airplane so crazy that it would be unsafe to operate it at a lower speed. In Canada the next speed limit restricts you to below 200 knots below 3000' within ten nautical miles of a control zone. In the US, it's below 200 knots below 2500' within 4 nm of the airport inside a class Charlie or Delta control zone. But in a class Bravo control zone, fill your boots at up to 250 kts. I'm writing Charlie out in full for the US version because that's how they say it (we say "cee"). That will maybe help me remember.

According to a document I read recently, the low altitude speed limits were established to reduce the severity of bird strikes, but I'm guessing that was just for the 250 kt ones, because I can't see that the birds would pay really close attention to which airspace they are in. The 200 kt speed limit is probably to help ATC control different speed aircraft.

Although the Americans have most of the same airspace letters as Canada, they don't really line up. They have class Bravo control zones whereas we only have class B airspace over 12,500'. If you pretend US Bravo is Canadian C you'll follow all the right rules, ensuring you have a clearance before entering the airspace. At 200 knots or below.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We Interrupt This Sequence

I'm going to suspend the trip I've been describing right there to describe--and solicit your help with--the process of converting a Canadian ATPL to an FAA one. I have an opportunity for an interesting short term job, and potentially others in the longer term, if I have an FAA licence. Don't worry, Americans, I'm not stealing your jobs, the job is not in the USA and is not for an American company. It's for a company based in country A that is operating an airplane in country B and that airplane just happens to be N-registered, that is, it's registered in the US. The law says that the pilot's licence has to match the airplane registration. (In many cases you have a period of time, typically six months to a year, to make the transition from in internationally respected licence such as a Canadian one to the local licence, but not for the US).

The process involves getting an FAA medical certificate, passing a written exam, and putting them together with a bit of paperwork and a processing fee. I've already had the FAA physical, and am just waiting for their approval. I'm studying for the exam so I can have that written as soon as possible. I haven't yet figured out if I need to make an appointment to write it or can just show up at a testing centre. Er, I guess that's a testing "center."

My first impression as I look at the material to be studied is that there's a disconnect between what I have and what I'm converting to. There's an assumption that someone writing an ATPL level exam has mastered the material of the private pilot level, but I have to figure that out too. The material is totally unrelated to what I'll be doing, so there isn't a lot of point in thoroughly learning and understanding it. In the US all test bank questions are available in advance, so when you're in this situation you can just learn the correct answers with out really know why. I've never taken a test this way before, but when in Rome Washington, D.C. Things like I've learned that "part 91" means general aviation, "part 135" is on-demand air carriers and "part 121" is scheduled air carriers. But the questions mention "domestic carriers" and "flag carriers" and "supplemental air carriers." They must be defined somewhere. My local pilot shop has run out of the FAR/AIM because the new one is on order, so I've ordered one directly from the US.

I have to figure out how aircraft approach categories (A B C D) work in the US. There's something in the questions that implies that it's not just based on approach speed as in Canada. I have to figure out how the NOTAM system works. Apparently you get different sorts of NOTAMs with different letters from different sources.

Up until now I've almost deliberately not learned about US regulations that don't affect Canadian pilots (like needing one flight attendant for the first 10 passengers (in aircraft with a payload capacity of 7500 lbs and up) of for the first 20 passengers when the aircraft payload is under 7500. With 50 to 100 passengers you need two flight attendants, and one more for every fifty passengers or part thereof after that. And it's based on seating capacity, not boarded passengers, implying that you need three flight attendants for a B737-600 with four people in the back. Or something. Maybe I can store this in a part of my brain that's reusable.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Kind of Airplane?

"Huh. Wow. What kind of airplane?"

As far as I remember, that's more or less the first thing I said ten years ago on learning that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. Yeah, cringe, but I was trying to distinguish between incidents like this and something that would do more damage. Some context: I had driven to work listening to a CD (or maybe a cassette tape: it was an old car) because the radio reception along my commute was poor, and it wasn't a time of day when I could expect good programming. I had arrived, grabbed the aircraft documents, inspected the airplane, ensured it had been fuelled and come back to the airside office to drop off my preflight paperwork. It was a small shared office, so I had to squeeze between my coworkers and a television set to get to the filing cabinet where I needed to drop my operational flight plan and weight and balance documents. They were staring at the TV, but then it was a media-related company so they were always staring at the TV. On my way back outside to start the airplane, someone said, "An airplane just hit the World Trade Center." The TV wasn't at an angle that I could see it. In answer to my question, he told me it was a Learjet. I didn't even know which world trade centre it was. I assumed it was in the US, but I guessed Chicago, because the old airport was right by downtown. I ran up my airplane engine wondering if the crash was a control problem or pilot incapacitation or what.

I know someone who was woken up by a call from his friend that morning and ordered to turn on the TV. After seeing the burning buildings his response was even more cringeworthy than mine. "I think I've seen this movie."

My non-pilot coworker--yeah, I've always had jobs like this--jumped in the plane and tucked Walkman (look it up, kids) headphones under his aviation ones, as usual. I told you it was a media-heavy company. He was less conversational than usual, but I assumed this had to do with low caffeine intake, not realizing what he was hearing on the radio. Half an hour or so into the flight he said something was on fire.

"Where?" I asked, looking out the window for smoke or the flashing lights of firetrucks.

"The Pentagon is on fire," he repeated.

The pentagon? What pentagon? I sifted though associations with the word, my strongest image being something from witchcraft, imprisoning demons in a chalked pentagram ringed with candles. That made no sense. Then I thought of another possibility. "You mean bombs and missiles Pentagon?" I asked. He shushed me, so I tuned the ADF to a local news station, just in time to hear a synopsis of the morning's terrorism, and that US airspace had been closed.

Before I had a chance to call flight services to find out if this would affect me, the air traffic controller whose frequency I was on instructed me to land. I landed back at our base, not a major airport, and as I was on short final an ultralight took off, the pilot and the controller who cleared him still oblivious to the day's events.

This is probably the third time I've told the story on the blog and I imagine I've told it dozens of time in real life. Every generation has to have its "where were you?" moment. Ask an old American where they were when they heard Kennedy had been shot. (Yeah if you remember Kennedy, you're officially old. You're welcome). I hope the next such "everyone remembers where they were" event is a good one. There have been good ones, like humans landing on the moon. What amazing good thing could happen today that would be tweeted around the world and that would compel people to tell the story of where they were when it happened, even ten years later? What some people might consider good could be controversial, so please don't mock or condemn any commenter for their choice of an earthshaking positive moment. Is there anything? Or are we too jaded and too divided now to all be awed by an event?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Flipping Out Over Flight Planning

You know what's kind of annoying during flight planning? When you are working with both VFR and IFR charts and you have to remember to flip the VFR chart vertically and the IFR chart horizontally. Or is the other way around? If you always work with one or the other, it's no problem, it becomes instinctive. But when your job requires you to go IFR to work somewhere VFR or vice versa, you have to work with both. Flip. Damn. Flip. Flip. Damnit. Flip.

You know what's really annoying during flight planning? When the pilot forgets her copy of the job folder at the home base and doesn't have the paperwork she needs. Stupid. We've forgotten something almost every trip. The key. The GPU. That folder. In it is has a map of the lines and a list of the lines with their altitudes and photo blocks for each job, plus photo flight forms for each area control centre that we work with. I borrow the operator's map sheets, although they don't have the pilot-related mark up information I researched, and then I call Edmonton to fax me another copy of the missing form. They are happy to do so.

I think it's sweet that Edmonton Area Control Centre, which I frequently have cause to praise, has its own logo, and adorable that that logo looks like an old CP Air 737, but if the Nova Hotel is trying to impress me by putting hotel stationary instead of plain paper in their fax machine, it's not working.

Planning complete I taxied out, yold to the King Air, clomb to cruise altitude, shove five minutes of my filed flight time thanks to a tailwind and crew about it after landing. Or I would have, had the past tense of these English verbs not changed over the years. I kind of like yold and clomb, though. They sound better than yielded and climbed. Maybe I'll start a fad to reestablish them.

yield - yold
shave - shove
climb - clomb
crow - crew

The Shadin fuel flow meter always shows more fuel on board than there actually is. Taking notes, I think it may least accurate during high fuel flows. It always overreports fuel flow and underreports fuel remaining. I kind of like it that way, because I always have more fuel than it says. I still need to be careful though. A few years ago I hit a wingtip because a particular building always looked closer than it really was, and one day I took too much advantage of that safety margin. I cracked the plexiglass cover on the nav light and it had to be replaced. Maintenance shrugged and said it was the cost of doing business. The chief pilot said only, "The new one looks much better. Can you break the other one next?" The owner didn't say anything that I recall. I work with nice people.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

In Concert with the Season

It's warm on the ground, but we're headed back to the flight levels today so the operator has cleaned out the local Canadian Tire of chemical hand and foot warmers. I've also noticed that just having a clipboard on my lap made a difference to warmth, so we have taken a sleeping bag out of the survival kit to use as a sleigh robe. I think the American for that is car blanket, but I like the imagery of sitting behind trotting horses on a frosty morning.

There's no delay on our clearance or departure and we're soon in climb direct the project area entry point. Through ten thousand feet, checklist item: oxygen on. Through 18,000', checklist item, altimeter set to 29.92. Level off and go to work. At first it's warm because it takes a little while for the warm air we've carried aloft to be replaced and/or cooled by the subzero air around us, but inevitably it happens. "I'm ready for those footwarmers now," I say, and then I untie one shoelace and fly with my sock foot for a bit. Cold. There's a bit of shuffling and swearing from the back as the operator realizes he has disconnected his oxygen while searching for the Canadian Tire bag. He takes a few deep breaths, regains his equilibrium and then passes the first footwarmer up. "It's already broken and mixed?" I ask. He says yep, it should be starting to work now. It doesn't feel warm yet, but I put it in the toe of my shoe and put my shoe back on, then repeat for the other side. Not warm.

That's what you get for buying handwarmers in the summer. These things work because of an exothermic reaction between two different chemicals. Old stock. The barrier must have broken down over the last year and the chemical reaction was spent to no one's benefit. I squish my toes a bit and ask him again if he's sure he mixed them or shook them or whatever. He says the instructions just say to take it out of the package to make it work. It is at this moment that I realize there must be two varieties of chemical handwarmers. The kind that heat when two sealed chemicals mix, and the kind we have, that react exothermically with ambient oxygen. Pro tip: if there isn't enough oxygen for a human to breathe, then oxygen-activated footwarmers aren't going to work either.

We descend out of the flight levels to do some low level work. I filed this flight plan as a "Y": IFR then VFR, but I still have to say the words "cancelling IFR" to make the transition. Now that I don't need them, the footwarmers warm up. The low level work has the fuel low level light flashing before we land, but my calculations after we fuel show that we landed with 30 minutes in the tank.

The FBO guy carries my bag for me. "You don't have to do that!" I protest. "There's lots of things in life you don't have to do," he says. The hotel is nearby and Gene Simmons' bus is parked outside. So at Slave Lake we got everyone from Nazareth to Susan Aglukark to Dwight Yoakam and here we get Kiss. Northern concert tours are the best. Enough people come from surrounding communities that the size of the audience can exceed the population of the town.

In the restaurant I ask the server what the veggie burger is like. She says "I don't know, I'm not a ..." then midsentence realizes that non-vegetarians can eat vegetarian items and ammends it to, "I've never had it." She's confused when I want to know if she knows anything about it.

"If you had a "meat burger" on your menu customers would ask you what kind of meat it was. What kind of vegetable is this? Rice? Beans?" She doesn't know but I order it anyway and five minutes later I hear another customer asking the same question. She does come over to find out what it's like, so the next customer will be able to get an answer. Dessert is Turtle cheesecake. No question there.

Next day's work is two projects in one in the city of Edmonton. I'll have to send the controllers a map so I can negotiate for each line, but neither map is any good. The maps are different scales, don't cover exactly the same area, have the rong landmarks on them and are completely unfaxable. I redraw it on a separate piece of paper, showing only the river, the major roads and the reporting points the controllers will know. I'm interrupted once by a fire alarm, but get it all done in time to meet the operator for a bedtime snack. We had dinner pretty early so we're having a snack now to tide us over to the morning. I show him my map and explain that I have renumbered the lines for the second project so that we don't have to say "line one on the second map" just "line twenty-one." He approves and he raves about my map. I'm proud of it myself.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cabs and Cops

The Slave Lake cab driver is cranky after waking up to a post-concert party in progress in her own home. After chewing out the appropriate child she got in her non-taxi car to drive to wherever the cab she would drive was dispatched from and was promptly pulled over by the police, who had been sitting on the party, waiting for people to try to drive away so they could stop drunk driving. From there her account of the situation involved a lot of indignant bellowing at the squeaky new police officer, something about did his mother know what he was doing, until the slightly older partner intervened with, "We know her. She doesn't drink at all." Small towns. Hard to be a small town cop and act tough for your school friend's mother, when she was the one who put bandaids on your boo-boos, and caught you smoking as you were growing up.

There are clouds here, quite a few, and the other survey airplane that's supposed to be working these blocks with us is down with a camera problem. We hang about, read the paper, and eventually decide not to waste any fuel on the mission. We call the cab again and the driver asks us if we were playing a joke on her earlier. Apparently someone called for an airport cab, but there was no one here to be collected. The person called back, asking when the cab was coming, and interrogation revealed that the caller was in Edmonton. No ma'am, not us.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Battery of Battery-Related Thoughts

I walked all over town to find a 386/301 battery for my IFR timer and a couple of AAAs for my pulse oximeter. Who knew there could be so many different sorts of small round batteries. When buying devices, it's worth including battery availability in the comparison between brands. Everything in aviation should run off AA batteries. I carry a charger and a little pile of spare rechargeables so that when my headset battery cops out, or my flashlight isn't bright enough, I can swap them out.

Mark that against the Bose A20: the batteries are trickier to change in flight than for LightSPEED. They didn't intend you to change them in flight. They have an elaborate system of green and amber flashing lights designed to tell you your battery health and give you a chance to change them before the flight. These don't work with rechargeables, because of their square power profile: they work fine until they are almost dead then drop off to nothing too fast to give a warning. Bose tells you not to use rechargeable batteries for this reason, but I'm not leaving a trail of mercury all over the country for the convenience of flashing lights.

I keep my spare and used batteries straight in the cockpit using a pair of little plastic boxes, one red and one clear, that hold for AA batteries each. I was using it in the north and my favourite captain asked me where I got it. I didn't remember exactly, but told him I'd get him one, and I didn't, but I had to leave before I gave it to him. I asked for his postal address to send it to him, but then he had to leave, and the e-mail I had for him stopped working, but I kept the box all this time. Last time I was packing, I couldn't find my box, so I 'stole' the one I'd been saving for him, but I tell you, if you're reading this, you who forgave me for ripping the REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT streamer off the engine plug on my first morning at work, send me your address and I will be honoured to send you one.

I have to plug the computer in to use flight simulator programs. The battery runs down too fast otherwise. When I'm flying my toy flight simulator, sometimes the panel lights spontaneously turn off, and I have to cycle the nav lights to put them back on again. Bug or feature to make the whole thing as inscrutably unknowable as a real airplane?

If you thought that last thought was disconnected, how about this one: Originally the forest moon of Endor was supposed to be populated by Wookiees, not Ewoks (wook-ee/ee-wok: original, eh?) but George Lucas decided that since the Wookiee Chewbacca was clearly proficient with advanced technology (i.e. he was pilot and mechanic of the spaceship the Millennium Falcon and also repaired the damaged android C3PO), it would be confusing to show the Wookiees with a primitive, "stone age" culture on Endor.

That's stupid. That's stupid enough to make me angry. That's racist 'logic'. That's the logic that didn't let women run marathons, because they never had. You don't have to be a whiny white moisture farmer with exceptional midichlorians to study and learn things, and it is perfectly possible to learn things that your parents didn't know. You'd have to be keen, and have some aptitude for the subject to make up for the not having the experience of growing up with technology, like Anakin building his own robots and podracers, but there's no reason Kashyyyk couldn't produce competent pilots and mechanics.

You may think this post has gone entirely into deep space, but I'll bring it home by examining Star Wars stored power technology. The Death Star had a massive generator, and no fuel tanks, but the society had batteries, power converters, power couplers and other means of transferring, transforming and transporting energy. I wonder if Han Solo ever had to walk all over Mos Eisley looking for the right sort of power cell for his blaster.

Saturday, September 03, 2011


We're going to Slave Lake again, the community that had the fire. I checked NOTAMs carefully to make sure that services were available, but there is no sign from an aviation planning point of view that there is anything wrong there. Our work is far north of the community, up above the bush and lakes of far northern Alberta, and when we're done I plan the descent to bring me into the aerodrome environment at the right speed and altitude. I'm looking for the runway, right where it's always been, perpendicular to the lake, surrounded by the town, and then I get my first glimpse of the devastation. I have landed in Slave Lake enough times that I have subconscious landmarks that help me find the way to the runway, but it's like landing at an unknown aerodrome. The swathes of nothing are startling. I find the runway nevertheless and put the airplane on it.

I ask the fueller how things have been going in the town, with reconstruction and he says that almost nothing has been rebuilt yet, in fact they hardly have a handle on how to complete the demolition. So far the burned out areas have been fenced off and the remains of vehicles are been towed away, but nothing else has been done. He and everyone else I meet in town are pretty upbeat about their situation, though. They're northerners, I guess. Life goes on and they aren't dwelling on misfortune. We call all the taxi numbers but can't get one. There's a benefit concert going on, with big name bands at a venue just out of town and everyone is taking cabs so they can drink and party. We get a ride with an FBO employee, who tells us a "secret" that I can tell you now, because it's all over. She's just been finalizing arrangements for the arrival of aircraft carrying Prince William and his new bride Kate and their retinue. This was a surprise addition to the itinerary of the royal visit, but you can't keep secrets like that in a small town. Everyone I talk to has heard that they are coming, but some think it's just a rumour to buoy their spirits, and that a prince in line to the throne of Canada wouldn't visit such a small place.

The FBO employee gave us a tour through the destroyed parts of town. Entire blocks were completely razed, just empty yards with grey crumbled foundations and a few twisted pieces of metal. There was very little that was blackened or scorched. It was just gone. Completely incinerated. The fire was so hot that the foundations now crumble to the touch. Here and there is a house that the fire jumped over, or that the firefighters managed to keep from becoming engulfed. Sometimes such relatively untouched houses are sitting between two barren holes, intact except with the siding warped in curvy waves. There's one yard where the concrete steps that once led to the front door are still standing, covered in a waterfall of molten glass. It's a ghoulish little tour.

Our driver also filled us in on some of the worst parts of the fire, not what you would expect. Everyone was evacuated from the town with no notice, and they were not permitted to return for ten days, until power, treated water and emergency services could be provided again. Imagine a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant at four in the afternoon. Now imagine a KFC that was abandoned in full operation at four in the afternoon, then left there with no refrigeration, no air conditioning and no cleaning for ten days in the heat of summer. Now add in ten other restaurants, an entire supermarket, and everyone's homes. The stench, I am told, was epic.

I go out for a jog before supper, following the trails by the river, and then crossing a road onto a park playground and across the park. At the far side of the park is a fence, but not your ordinary chain link fence to keep soccer balls from rolling into the street. It's a barricade between the park and one of the burned out areas. I turn left and run along the fence, just looking for the exit, but except for where I came in, the park is almost surrounded by burned out areas. I look at the metal that is visible in the yards. There are some cars, they look ancient, aged a hundred years in a day. The post-nuclear LA scene from Terminator 2 that shows a highway full of burned out cars does not adequately represent the effect of heat. The glass and rubber is just gone, and what's left looks more like the ash casts at Vesuvius than metal chassis. In one yard two cars are stacked one on top of another and I try to envision how that came to be. There are the remains of metal garden sheds in some yards, and after seeing several examples I realize that another common theme is trampoline skeletons. The springs are gone, I guess scattered and buried in the other rubble or incinerated with the synthetic fabric of the bed of the trampoline and the tubes that once made the round or rectangular shapes are twisted too. In one yard is a living tree, it looks like a little fruit tree, and I feel badly that no one can get in through the fence to water it. It survived a fire but may die of summer.

One of the "island" homes, an intact house amid all the devastation has three coloured printed signs inside the front window, proclaiming DONE DONE DONE on blue, pink and yellow paper. I theorize at first that the resident did not want to live there anymore, but further down the street I see what is presumably the reverse side of the same coloured paper, noting NEEDS WATER, NEEDS POWER, NEEDS GAS. Locals probably were instructed to pick up these sheets and post them in their windows to alert the utilities people that the residents had returned and were requesting restoration of services. Another sign in the front yard of what must have been a duplex gives a name and phone number, saying, "I owned the other half. Please contact me so we can decide how to proceed." Even one lot of this rubble would be hard to clear. It's not surprising that so little progress has been made.

We go for dinner at Boston Pizza, me trying not to think too hard about what the kitchen must have looked like after the fire. I notice a help wanted sign, and have seen those all over town, so I ask the server. Of fifty-seven people employed at BP before the fire, only twenty-one returned to the town after the evacuation order was lifted. Restaurant servers are typically young people, free to move where the jobs are, and they took other jobs in other towns, or just saw no reason to return. BP was one of the first restaurants to reopen. It's a chain, so the franchise was probably quickly able to source and ship full replacements for everything unusable, and it was screaming busy because most returning residents couldn't use their own kitchens.

It's actually more surprising to see how mentally healthy everyone seems than it is to gawk at the destruction. I realized during my run that this is an ancient human experience. Humans built homes and humans used fire since before history was recorded, and humans have almost always returned to rebuild. I'm glad the stench was just restaurant and grocery store meat. No one was injured badly enough for it to be reported. There are a few lost dog signs on poles, "ran away during the evacuation" doesn't bode well for a little white dog, but you never know.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Advantage Cancelling

I should report in on my new headset. It is a fine thing. It is comfortable. I even find myself looking forward to putting it on in the morning, reminding myself of a horse I encountered once that was so eager to get out of the paddock for a ride that it walked right up and dropped its head in the halter I was carrying1. I can hear ATC clearly, and adjust the volume per ear, and there's a jack for me to connect my MP3 player. (It also accepts Bluetooth, but I don't own any Bluetooth devices to test it with). The MP3 jack is interesting because there's a three-position switch controlling how it behaves. Off doesn't allow you to hear the music at all. The middle position allows you to hear the MP3 player and ATC both at once. And the top position automatically mutes the music when there is any activity on the intercom (i.e. from another crewmember speaking or an transmission on an ATC frequency being monitored. I use the top position and it's remarkable effective.

I have some notes here that I didn't post earlier on the research I did before I realized that I would have to buy whatever headset was available. I could have ordered a headset directly from the LightSPEED website. They have international shipping, but they irritatingly only listed American units for the specifications. I wish Americans would learn that only they and the Liberians know what sixteen ounces is, and list things in grams. Also they're one of the sellers that require me to create an account in order to buy something. Hey, I want to click on the item and give you my credit card number. I could have traded in my old headset for a LightSPEED Zulu for $587 with trade-in and shipping, but the new Zulu isn't available through the trade-in plan yet.

I found this video while comparison shopping the Bose and LightSPPED. It's a little out of date, because it's the Bose A20 now, not the X and the new Zulu not the original Zulu, but it's a good discussion of the issues to consider when buying any headset.

Sennheiser lists international units on its website, but it doesn't sell headsets from the website and won't show me the location of a dealer. Their dealer-finder app maxes out at 300 nm, and finds zero that distance from where I was when I needed one. I would have loved to try one as they are known for good technology, but they don't seem to be in the 21st century. I think the headset is heavier, though, too. And then there's this, not so much about the headset as about the very attractive young lady who is wearing it.

I have to wonder about "Certified for commercial duty" though. Is there any country in which functional headsets have to be separately certified for pilots to use them while being paid? Throw one piece of balderdash like that into your marketing statement and I suspect that everything else you have to say is a deceiving distortion, too. Dumb sort of advertising to use on a very informed group. Or so we think.

Q: What do you get when you cross an ape with a pilot?
A: An ape with a big watch.

I was musing though, that my new headset isn't as good as my first ANR headset, even though the technology is better. Back then I was the only one in the company with ANR and I had superhuman abilities. Now everyone has them, so ANR is no longer an advantage over others. It's pretty much essential. I have a coworker who doesn't use ANR, just an old fashioned bulletproof set of David Clarks, and I wonder how he does it. I couldn't go back to a passive headset. I met someone recently whose first boss discouraged his employees from wearing headsets at all, because he said you can't hear the engine properly with it on. His employees weren't bold enough to tell him the reason he couldn't hear the engine, or much else for that matter, was that he had been flying for forty years without a headset.

Also, I wrote down this quotation from someone because it made me laugh, and have now completely forgotten the context: "It was so quiet it was like wearing a Bose noise cancelling headset, but without the noise cancellation, and without the headset.

1. Unfortunately for eager-horse, I was there to catch a different horse. A horse sufficiently less eager to be ridden that it bit me, if I recall correctly.

Meanwhile a reader in the USA writes:

I am wrapping up my dispatch training and am looking to talk to an active dispatcher. Do you know of anyone that might be able to answer a few questions for me?
If you can help, please drop me a line and I'll connect you two.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Morse Numbers

Morse Code numbers are easy. You can tell when the signal you're hearing is a number, because they are all five segments long, and no letter has more than four segments. And unlike the letters, the numbers follow a perfectly logical pattern.

1 . _ _ _ _
2 . . _ _ _
3 . . . _ _
4 . . . . _
5 . . . . .
6 _ . . . .
7 _ _ . . .
8 _ _ _ . .
9 _ _ _ _ .
0 _ _ _ _ _

It's as if the five dashes are five blanks into which you enter the numbers: one dot for one and incrementing up to five dots for five, at which point the dots become the blanks and you start counting dashes. If you're expecting letters you start hearing a one and you think " E, no A, no W, no J, ah 1." With two it's "E, no I, no U, but by the fourth dash it's revealed to be 2. You also know on the fourth dash for 3, but all the others you have to wait until the end to know for sure.

I can't read Morse code as in to hear a message that is being broadcast to me. I use it only to verify. I want to verify the XT beacon, so I think, "X, that's _.._ and T is _" then I listen to make sure that's what I hear. It does leave me open to hearing what I expect, but that's not a situation that changes whether or not you have your eyes on the symbolic representation on the chart. I think it improves safety to be able to be watching my VOR needle while listening to the identifier for the next beacon.

That's all I have to say about that, but I know I have some readers far more knowledgeable on the subject than I, and I anticipate some informative comments from them.