## Wednesday, May 29, 2013

### Traffic Twelve o' Clock

I've come to pick up an airplane from routine maintenance, but the compass swing is due in a few days, and who knows how many days I'll be on the road. I'm asked to help maintenance perform the check before I depart. The compass swing is a test and calibration to ensure that the magnetic compass is accurate to a few degrees on all headings, and to provide offset information on what compass heading to steer to be exactly on each heading. It's a bit of an anachronism now, but the compass is a completely independent navigation system, not needing electrical, pitot-static, hydraulic, vacuum or anything else in the airplane to do its job. If it's to be my last best hope when everything else fails, let's spend a few minutes a year making sure it can do its job.

The typical aircraft compass, indeed every one I can ever remember using, is a dome that is free to pivot and swing about its apex, inside a container of fluid, to damp its oscillations. It used to be called a "whiskey compass" but I think the fluid is now something thicker than whiskey. I had one leak once and I seem to recall the fluid was more oily than volatile. The points of the compass are displayed around the edge of the dome, and the whole thing is mounted in the middle of the windshield, usually near the top, and less frequently down by the dashboard. It's in front of the pilots, so that the pilot is looking at the back edge of the dome. That means that if the airplane is pointed north, the edge of the dome with the S on it pojnts north, facing the windshield and the edge with the N on it faces the pilot.

In the olden days, the pilot drew a line on a map from A (where she was) to B (where she wanted to be), used a protractor to determine the bearing of the line, used a circular slide rule to determine the bearing required to correct for wind drift, converted that bearing from true (aviation map grid lines are meridians of longitude, which run towards true north) to magnetic, and then consulted the compass card to determine the direction to steer in order to fly that heading. The compass card is a piece of paper, often a sticker now, but some compasses have a little bracket to retain a piece of card. It looks like this:

So if the pilot calculated she needed to steer 135 degrees magnetic to compensate for the wind, based on that compass correction card she should steer 136, splitting the difference between the correction for 120 and 150. If I were making a trip over water or featureless terrain with only compass bearings to guide me, I would have to remember to do this. I can hardly imagine depending on a mere compass to that extent. First I have to read the compass indication, as the dome bobs and sways in turbulence. Then I have to transfer that reading to the gyroscopic heading indicator. Then I have consult the correction card to see what to steer, and then I have to steer accurately by the heading indicator. If the error introduced by the other three steps doesn't exceed the required correction, I'm doing very well. I don't remember the last time I looked at a compass card for a purpose other than to see if the compass swing was due. As this one is.

My role consists of taxiing the plane. I, an AME, and an apprentice pile into the airplane and taxi off towards the compass rose like we were in a pick-up truck. I get a clearance, first, as I have to go through a controlled apron to get there, but the compass rose itself is down a taxiway that leads to a runway not in use, so there's no one else taxiing on it. I'm trundling along, looking for the correct turn off to the compass rose, when suddenly a non-aircraft vehicle is barrelling towards me on the taxiway. I can't suddenly veer off to the side when you're taxiing an airplane. The steering radius isn't that great, and I'm so wide it wouldn't make much difference. I can't honk. I have to admit being momentarily stunned, so before I could gather words to key the mike to say "yo don't crash into the airplane!" or "Ground, there's a vehicle at my twelve o' clock." (What would YOU say>?) the vehicle driver has looked up from whatever task took his attention, and done a hard right off the taxiway into the grass beside it.

Well, um, that works. I probably should have advised the ground controller of the near miss at that point, or made a phone call later, but I didn't. If you're the one who almost crashed an airport vehicle into a taxiing aircraft, you probably owe me one. Buy one for your nearest pilot just to keep your karma in line. We just went and did the compass swing.

At the compass rose, one of the maintenance guys gets out and the other one stays in. The one on the ground directs me to line me up exactly with the painted lines on the pavement while the other one adjusts the compass with a little screwdriver. With all the avionics on, I turn to north. He adjusts the compass so it reads exactly north. I turn to west. He makes it read exactly west. I turn to south. He takes out half the error. I turn to east. He takes out half of that error. And finally I turn to each heading in turn so the values for the compass correction card can be recorded. We return to the hangar without encountering any more crazy drivers, and after a bit more paperwork, the airplane is good to go.

Here's the cheater's way to do it.

## Saturday, May 25, 2013

### Cub Dreams

The following was written by a non-pilot, a man I have known since before I started this blog. He has always wanted to fly, but hasn't had the opportunity. He attended Oshkosh last year and when he sent me this, I asked for his permission to share it.

I bought tickets for the sweepstakes giveaway airplane of the year, a 1940 Piper Cub. I've learned enough about it to enjoy it even if I don't win it, though I have a strange sense that its already been determined that I will. This is based on an odd number significance. When I was a kid, for no reason, I got the sense that the number 22 was going to be significant for me. It was going to change my life. Not a bunch of times. Just once. I should watch for it. Not that I should choose it. I should just observe it.

Tickets were \$1 each. There were various bundled amounts. \$20 bought 27 tickets. Pages of tickets had 30 tickets per page. While tearing off the three tickets from the page that I hadn't purchased, the ticket seller said, "for \$2, I'll sell you these three." So, I bought the rest of the page, suckered in for another \$2. It was maybe half an hour or more later that I realized that I'd paid \$22. At that point, I got the even weirder feeling that the 29th ticket was the winner. Not that I'd be able to tell, even if I won.

So, I visited this Cub every day. One day, another fellow was there and started talking to me. He said he had "the disease". He had already bought, restored and sold several cubs. He knew them inside out. He clued me in on some details I could not have otherwise recognized, and with this recognition, I can now differentiate this Cub from the 5,500 other Cubs still registered to fly. This one has a wooden prop with metal leading edge. The engine cowling has two little dents in it that looks like some tourist poked it with fingertips a little too hard. The air filter is a rectangular box with a forward/downward slant to the front face below the engine. Sticking out of the bottom of this box is a fat tube roughly 6" long and 1" in diameter with a sharply angled cutoff, leaving a hole facing down/back. This is the bypass for the carburetor heat and cabin heat. Butterfly valves divert this air flow to the carburetor or cabin, or not. Inside the cowling, you can see the two hoses (they look like vacuum cleaner hoses) going off to the sides toward these components).

The cylinder heads stick out of the cowling with a black sheet metal cover that wraps over the top, then down over the cylinder heads, perhaps to channel air flow or to shield from rainfall. The exhaust manifold goes down from the heads, then back and inward through holes in the cowling at the seam between the top cowling and the bottom cowling. In the bottom cowling, toward the pilot's right, behind the air intake is the exhaust. It seems to actually have a muffler, or at least a spark arrester. Behind the exhaust, poking through the same hole in the cowling is a much thinner pipe about 4" long that is apparently the oil sump vent. The expert told me that if this was his airplane, he'd cut that off shorter, then run a small hose from it down to the landing gear struts so that the oil mist would not dirty up the fuselage. He warned that this would happen with the current arrangement. I've seen several other Cubs. This is the only one I've seen with that particular size, angle and placement of the bypass tube and the sump tube.

The expert didn't like the leather covers over the bungee cords that make up the suspension springs. Too bulky, they'd add too much wind resistance. In his opinion. Flying 70mph, I'm not sure it really would make that much difference. They had snow skis mounted on the landing gear instead of wheel pants. Apparently, when delivered, the Cub will have both, though both can't be mounted at the same time, and the skis are offered by a sponsor, so, of course, that's what's mounted on the airplane while on display. Also, likely, kids would stand and jump on the wheel pants denting them up, so it's probably good that they don't have them on while on display.

Most Cubs don't have the foot pegs (more of a triangle, really) mounted on the leading edge of the landing gear struts. The one on the pilot's left is to help reach the one wing tank in the left wing. Since the Cub has a sunlight, the valve for the wing tank and the clear tube used as a fuel gauge are both in that inner face of the left wing, next to the magneto switch. The wing tank's air vent in the filler cap is bent 90 degrees to face toward the leading edge of the aircraft. The header tank's filler cap has the fuel gauge wire sticking up out of it. The header tank is painted black in this one, though it has been bare metal in most Cubs I've looked at, though one Cub had no header tank at all and instead had two wing tanks so the instrument panel could include deeper instruments. This one has the basic instruments installed, from left to right, the tachometer (which turns counterclockwise as it revs up), air speed (in mph), the magnetic compass (with the compass card just below it and the N-number above it), and the oil pressure and temperature gauges. It doesn't have a turn and bank indicator. Yet.

In the right corner of the dashboard is the primer. There's a smaller, black, unlabeled handle of similar shape in the left corner, which I guess must be the cabin heat. Low, on the right, in front of the door is the carburetor heat control. On the left, in a corresponding low, forward position is the header tank fuel valve. A little higher and farther back is the car-window-crank handle for the elevator trim with the rivet that moves in the slot above the handle as the position indicator. At shoulder height, each seat has a throttle handle, and each seat has a stick, rudders, and heel brakes. Different Cubs seem to have the heel brakes placed a little differently. These are somewhat inboard and closer to the seat than the rudder pedals. I think it would be challenging to both brake and work the rudders at the same time, though as I understand it, this would be pretty rare, anyway. The brakes are mostly for turning on one wheel during taxiing or for holding the position when one person is in the plane and the other is out hand propping. I think I'd prefer hand propping from behind the prop, anyway. This is common on Cubs and it just seems nicer that if the aircraft surges, it would dump me into the door toward the throttle, instead of chewing me up in the prop.

I took a workshop on hand propping. I was surprised at how little the compression resisted turning the prop. Of course, they did have a dead engine, since this was a workshop for which they had not purchased extensive insurance. This Cub has brackets on it behind the connection points for the landing gear struts, apparently for attaching something to the bottom edges of the fuselage. I have not seen another Cub with this feature and I have no idea what it's for. The leather upholstery and wood paneling floor and rear deck cover to the storage compartment are all nicely done. It's painted in the classic Cub yellow with the black lightning bolt stripe and the teddy bear Cub logo on the vertical stabilizer. It has the steerable rear wheel (not that it's very effective) spring-loaded to follow the rudder, with the click-release in case something gets hung or knocked.

I kinda know the plane now. Learning it has been fun. And though they didn't let me fly it, I did stumble on a tent with a couple of flight simulators (the machine, not just the software), and one of them was painted Cub yellow with the black lightning-bolt stripe. They even put a prop in the front of it and require you to spin the prop in order to start the engine.

Another older guy was flying it when I walked up. He was coming down to the airport rolling almost 45 degrees in each directly, alternating, fluttering his way to the ground. Once landed, he staggered out of the simulator and left it on the airport with the engine running. After asking permission, I climbed into the pilot's seat (no, they didn't have two of them, so I couldn't climb into the back one) and noted that there were no brakes and no carburetor heat. The header fuel gauge showed plenty of fuel, so I noted the compass direction and watched out the side window (since the front window showed only sky) to stay straight with the runway while smoothly, but quickly pushing to full throttle. A couple seconds later, the tail raised up and I could see in front of me. Minding the rudder to stay straight with the landing strip, I quickly pulled up to about 15' off the ground and held it there while I picked up speed. Once I passed 70, I pulled back on the stick and picked my pitch to keep the speed at 60-70mph. Keeping to less than three minutes at full throttle, I pulled back to what I guessed was 3/4 throttle. I don't know what the ideal cruising RPM should be. That's something I will learn when I win the Cub.

I leveled off, turned left and watched for the airport. Once it was beside and parallel to me, I pulled the throttle back to idle and started the downwind leg. I was a little low, so I had to bump the throttle a couple times through the pattern to stretch it out, but the turn to base and final were uneventful, and I landed straight, if a little to the right of the middle stripe on the landing strip. No noticeable cross-wind. Since I couldn't see the wheels, I couldn't judge height well enough to try a three point landing, but I kept flying the airplane until it stopped.

So, I soloed in a Cub. Sort of.

Someone else won the cub that year. I think the Winner should swing by Virginia and give my friend a ride, though.

## Tuesday, May 21, 2013

### Death Before Dishonour

Years ago, a chief pilot I was fond of told me during a flight that he was leaving for another company. I congratulated him (we were both working for the kind of company that even being fired from was probably grounds for congratulations) and then I reflected silently for a while, knowing I would miss him. I asked him who would be chief pilot after he left, because there wasn't a great depth of talent. He named the individual and I asked, a little puzzled, "Does he want to be chief pilot?" My soon-to-be ex-chief pilot laughed and said, "He's not as smart as you, Aviatrix." I'd always thought I was regarded as a bumbling idiot at that company, so that was a bit of a surprise.

Being chief pilot is a lot of work, and also responsibility. It probably sounds strange that a bit of legally weighted paperwork would deter someone charged with the responsibility of being the final word on whether an aircraft and prevailing conditions are safe for flight, and of operating that airplane, including making all inflight decisions down to a safe landing. If a pilot does not live up to the responsibility given to her as pilot-in-command she might not live, potentially killing herself or others. If she fails to fulfill the responsibilities of the position of chief pilot she could be fined, possibly even imprisoned. Not killed or maimed. But somehow that's a more daunting responsibility.

I want to fly airplanes, not ride herd on pilots to see if they've done their recurrent exams. I've turned down a job interview on the Groucho Marxist premise that I didn't want to work for a company that would hire me as chief pilot. You could say I've spent my career avoiding that duty. So you know what's about to happen.

I currently contract my services as a pilot. For all intents and purposes I'm an employee, but I hide behind the premise that I'm "just a contractor." Like the guy who thinks he isn't in as deep because they're only living together, not married. And then she gets pregnant. Or in my case the person holding the office of chief pilot gets out of currency and the operations manager designates me as "acting chief pilot." I look around for where to hide, but I'm the only other person in the operation qualified to hold the position of chief pilot, so there's no one I can tag. I want to fly airplanes, and the company isn't allowed to have airplanes flying without a chief pilot. I've been outmaneuvred. The "acting" part of the title goes away and now I'm it.

Sigh. If I mess up and go to jail, someone will bail me out. Or do something to get me free, right?

## Saturday, May 18, 2013

### Screw Bronze

Commenter Pete Templin broke the news here first: the remarkable author, athlete and rights advocate Dr. Elizabeth McClung passed away at the end of April, after spending years defying doctors' prognoses and anyone's expectations of what or who she was or could do. I met her some years ago through her blog Screw Bronze, stumbling upon an entry after a Google search and finding her to be such an interesting person that I went back to the very beginning of the blog and read it chronologically, over a number of days. As I witnessed her health worsen I compared the dates of the blog entries to the date I was reading them and feared the blog would end abruptly before the current date. It didn't. The writer was still alive, and still her despite what her condition was taking from her.

We talked in e-mail, and I sent her a number of postcards, but none as spectacular as the postcards she sent me. She had a talent for figuring out what would suit people, and make them happy, and she sent postcards to people all around the world, little rays of sunshine to people who wanted them. I felt a little guilty that she was sending me such artfully constructed postcards, and well I tried, but not hard enough. Ten minutes for her was such a great percentage of her productive time in a week that it was the equivalent to my spending hours on something. I started to hold back a bit, because she wouldn't acquiesce to my please to just enjoy what I sent and not reciprocate. That wasn't who she was. The title Screw Bronze is a reference to the frequency with which Canadian athletes achieve third place results in the Olympics. Being in the top three in the world is great, but Elizabeth fought for the gold every time, for herself and on behalf of others, and berated those who didn't to shape up. No excuses. I copied a quote someone posted in memoriam, but now I can't find the attribution. She was "a really amazing woman who went through the fires of hell and described them in detail, and still found joy in life."

We didn't always agree on things. We once got into an e-mail argument that had a serious physical effect on her, and her wife Linda had to intervene to protect her. I know Elizabeth didn't want to be treated like a delicate flower. She certainly wasn't one. She was strong beyond belief. She loved animÃ© and manga and Japanese fandom. I'm not very conversant with these genres, so I'm probably using the wrong terminology. She also liked some aspects of Victorian gothic, but not, to my knowledge, the white make up. A composite image Elizabeth has her wearing a corset, skull earrings and Hello Kitty socks while feeding squirrels from her wheelchair, amid old tombstones adorned with spires and stone angels.

I only met her in person once. I found her as passionate about her ideas and as well informed on the topics she addresses in real life as she is on her blog. She had a seizure while I was visiting, but shrugged it off, "This is normal," I think she said afterwards. Maybe even "boring." If you read on her blog about what other medical issues she had, I suppose a seizure is boring in comparison. She had some memory issues, but also had remarkable coping strategies.

She never wanted a funeral, but on May 19th, what would have been Elizabeth's 43rd birthday, those who wish to remember her are invited to celebrate by sporting a corset and/or a skull (temporary) tattoo and telling people why.

There's a postcard from her on my desk. Amongst the colourful stamps on the back, it asks, "I'm still alive. Are you?" Yes, yes, I am Beth, and more so for having met you. Pledge to be alive your whole life, people. If you have the power to conceive of and express an excuse, you have what it takes to do something positive instead.

## Thursday, May 09, 2013

### Ramblings Including Oxygen

This is a story about helping to train a pilot who was hired to take my job after I leave. I want to keep this job now, but then I want every aviation job. I cried handing in my resignation from a flight instruction job to work at an airline, and I once worked three different flying jobs at once because I loved them all. Crazy girl. My resume is kind of hard to follow, and my tendency to take temporary jobs probably makes it look worse. But look! I get to fly an airplane!

The new pilot isn't on line yet. He doesn't have previous time on the aircraft type, so the insurance company has said he can't fly it until he has logged ten hours. (I happened to have flown the type before, logging time in exchange for using my navigational skills to keep the owner from getting lost. Aviation sluttery has its merits. And wow, modern GPS units have totally devalued my once-marketable excellent navigational skills.) So he is on this road trip to fly the plane and learn the ropes while I serve as the insured pilot in command. He flew the repositioning flight out here from base and handled the airplane well, but doing the part of the job that isn't getting from A to B is going to be more challenging. We've settled the FBO bill for ramp fees and fuel, walked around the airplane, and packed everything into the cargo area. I have pared down my road trip packing list (no computer!) in preparation for this, but at the last minute the boss decides we will leave him behind because we're doing high altitude work, and it may be difficult to get an oxygen refill on this holiday weekend. We literally put him on a bus.

One of the things I like about aviation is something some people might hate: nothing can be taken for granted. The airplane won't give me a pass because I flew it really well yesterday, or because it knows I know how to handle an engine failure better than that, or because it likes the look of my ass. I have to fly it correctly right now for all values of now. And the things that non pilots take for granted during their workday: access to water, restroom facilities, food, oxygen, heat, not having a mountain come through your office window... they all have to be planned.

This airplane is non-pressurized, so we have to bring and mete out compressed oxygen for all flight above 10,000'. (US rules are different, but it's 10,000' here). Technically we can be between 10,000' and 13,000' for 30 minutes without oxygen, but company policy is just to use the oxygen, because it's harder to plan exactly how long we'll be up there than it would be if we were an A to B type operation. Curiously, Canadian air law dictates that High Altitude Training is required for flight crew operating aircraft above 13,000 feet ASL before the first assignment on a pressurized aircraft and every three years thereafter. As far as I can see, this is a huge loophole through which I can fly my unpressurized aircraft at flight level 220. I assume that the framers of that law didn't consider that there are crews out here operating unpressurized aircraft in the flight levels, and not that they really thought only crew of pressurized aircraft need altitude-specific training.

Fortunately my company doesn't stop at minimum training. I was assigned to present a seminar covering the required material. Here's a little table I should know better giving time of useful consciousness at various altitudes without supplemental oxygen./p>

FL 150 30 min or more
FL 180 20 to 30 min
FL 220 5-10 min
FL 250 3 to 6 min
FL 300 1 to 3 mins

These are pretty variable between individuals. The body has an ability to acclimatize, but acclimatization takes weeks and is lost soon after descending so it doesn't really apply to flight. For example, Mt. Everest is pretty close to 30,000' tall--i.e. almost reaches FL300--but humans have climbed it without oxygen. One of my own co-workers spent a week at Everest base camp and didn't become an idiot after 20-30 minutes. I have no idea where I fall. I'm pretty fit, but does tolerance to a low partial pressure of oxygen relate to long distance running and cycling ability? We often work in the 5-10 minute zone of that chart, which is kind of a sweet spot, because I can descend from there to a level where I can breathe indefinitely in five to ten minutes, depending on how viciously I'm willing to cool the engines.

Today, after I called out in (normal) descent, "through ten thousand, oxygen off," my co-worker said, "Taking off oxygen is like taking off ski boots." Oxygen is essential, but nice to get the mask or cannula off after a while.

Oh and before you ask where I am going or about my new job: there isn't one. New guy couldn't handle the lifestyle so I came back to work again. I love the lifestyle. Five fifteen a.m. start tomorrow, so bed now.