It's another day, another part of the sky, this time with two functional mixture cables. We're finishing off a job we've been working on for almost a week, and the mission specialist tells me the next area he wants me to work. "How long will the job take?" I ask. He says, an hour, maybe an hour and a half. "I can get there and back, or I can get there and do the job, but I can't get there, do the job and get back to where we're supposed to be tonight." And there's no fuel at the airport where the job is.
There is, however, an aerodrome almost exactly en route that has fuel. I've been there before, years before. They have a crooked PAPI because there's a ridge preventing the final approach from being straight in. So you fly at the threshold at an angle, then straighten out and land at the last moment. The wind is a little too strong for company policy to approve me to land the other way, but someone else is. I announce joining downwind for the crooked approach. There's another airplane also waiting to use the into-wind runway. He's orbiting on the base leg waiting for the wrong-way airplane to land. It all works out with the airplane landing the wrong way, and exiting the runway, then the guy on base turning to the crooked final and exiting just before I reach the dogleg and land.
We taxi slowly off and then stop with the brakes on. Meanwhile the other aircraft has taxied straight to fuel. I watch them finish on one side and pass the hose across. We remain in position for a few minutes, not to cool the turbochargers (although that happens too) but for a mission requirement. They finish fuelling the other tank and are starting to recoil the hose. We taxi slowly up behind them, and then get the hint, pushing the airplane out of the way so we can park at the pumps. The fueller is laughing that there's been no one for hours and now two at once. While we pay for fuel he points out that the other crew seems to know us. We go back outside, and what do you know, we do know them. I met the pilot the day before I slammed into a Canada goose on takeoff. (Oh the adventures you miss when I'm not blogging). We tell them where we're off to and they say it's beautiful, we're really going to like it.
"It's not like we get to land and go to the beach!" I point out. (Yeah, there's a beach. Rocks and trees, too. So we're probably in Canada. Yet it's not named after an animal or a body of water. I looked it up: it's named after the guy who taught the guy who discovered it how to make maps. I wonder if he taught his students how to name places after people.) We take off. I'm about to make a right turn direct, when the controller asks me to make a left two-seventy for noise abatement. Okay, sure, whatever. I didn't see any houses there.
It is beautiful en route. My co-worker gets a text from the boss. If we can't get the work done, we're to land and wait for an hour and then take off and try again. So I've been ordered to fly to the most scenic spot within fuel range and go to the beach for an hour. My greatest problem is that I didn't bring sunblock. Sometimes I try not to brag about my job. Other times I don't bother. Also there are wild berries to eat. So much better than granola bars.
There's a little terminal here, unexpectedly nice for the middle of nowhere. A charter company rep is explaining to some city folk that there is no security here, they can just go out to the airplane. The city folk look confused, maybe a little afraid, as though the airplane will not fly correctly if they don't have their luggage examined first. When the tourists have left the charter company guy tells me that there are no federal employees here at all. They mowed the grass a little while ago and used a helicopter to clear it off the runway. That's right. If you think your neighbour's leaf blower is too ostentatious, try using a helicopter. Presumably the helicopter was taxiing out anyway and they asked them if they could please do a low pass to get the grass off the runway. Presumably.
In our crew of two, my job is to make decisions related to the airplane and the other person makes decisions related to data collection. Obviously these overlap sometimes and, as in my decision to land for fuel, safety trumps all. Normally he (the company doesn't currently have any females in that role) sends most of the communication to company, with my role in that reduced to, "did you tell the flight follower we were up?" and "did you already tell them we're landed?" He is the one who suffers the barrage of contradictory instructions on where to go next and what to make a priority. Except now his phone has run out of battery. I text that fact to company and now I get a slice of his life as the texts suggesting what we do now pile in to my phone. I have an hour and fifteen minutes of holding fuel, that is fuel that is not required to do the mission, get back, or be in reserve. So we take off as soon as we've had enough sun and berries. As it works out we don't need to hold at all. We complete the mission and head back, with me texting an ETE (estimated time enroute) from the driver's seat. After I sent it, I saw that the text wasn't being sent right away, because we were in a poor coverage area. I realized I should have made it an ETA (estimated time of arrival) so that it didn't matter what time it left my phone, it would still be accurate. But as it turned out there was an ATC delay for exactly as long as it took the text to send, so I was exactly on time, as far as the flight follower could tell.
And that's the end of another good day.