Monday, January 31, 2005

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Sometimes fate flings you a few words on a piece of paper and they remind you of what you knew along. The message below will stay with me longer than the few calories in the crunchy treat that contained it.

Beware of the trap of becoming an armchair philosopher or poet when you could rise to the level of a practicing artist. All of the rewards go to those who are willing to dig in and do the work.

And here I am sitting on my rear end, launching philosophical pronouncements of my wonderousness into the blogosphere, when I should be digging in. I have three important career advancement tasks to do today. Four, including updating my logbook. And a fifth one, involving sweat and running shoes, if I don't want the fortune cookie and its accompaniments to rest on my middle. The next entry in this blog will be a report on the successful completion of those five tasks.

Introductory Flight Lesson

I just read a perfect student's-eye-view of a first flight lesson. This is an absolutely typical familiarization flight.

Notice that he was told to rotate at 55, so waited until above 60 knots -- students always seem to think fast is good, so faster is better at rotation. I love the description that the instructor "flipped a bunch of switches and turned a bunch of knobs" then the student started the airplane. The student walked away with the impression that flying was not too hard, and signed up for lessons. The instructor did a good job.

It's so spot-on it reads as if it had been made up for the purpose of promoting flight training. I hope Kris Johnson keeps blogging about his flight training. When his lessons start, I'll put him on the blogroll.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Like a Virgin

For one design-minded air traveller, euphemistic instructions and a discreet airline logo were not sufficent decoration for the humble airsickness bag, so Design for Chunks, an annual competition for sick sack art was born. This year Virgin Atlantic sweetened the, uh, pot by printing the winning designs on real bags for its flights.

I was going to add a story here, but I couldn't pick just one. If this blog had categories, the control, containment and cleanup of airsickness would be a category unto itself.

I found out about Design for Chunks via SeaQuest Blog.

Wildlife Safari

During the take-off roll at a small international airport, the flying pilot said, "there's something crossing the runway," but did not abort the take off. The pilot-in-command was the non-flying pilot for this take-off, but, unable to see anything on the pavement ahead, did not call for an abort either.

The airplane became airborne without mishap. As they turned on route, one of the crew looked out a side window and saw the coyote that had just crossed the runway. It stood, unhurried, on a strip of pavement just outside the line of runway lights, looking intently at something in the long grass beside the runway. If this were a movie instead of real life, the bald eagle that glided by, a few metres from the coyote, would have to be added with CGI. But this is real life at a Canadian airport, so the eagle just happened to be there. Probably chasing rats, just like the coyote.

The pilots alerted the tower controller to the presence of the coyote, but didn't mention the eagle. Eagles are very common at that airport.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Randy's Journal

Randy Baseler, VP Marketing at Boeing, has started a weblog. He remarks in a recent post that Randy's Journal, as he calls it, has attracted plenty of attention in its first week. But what kind of attention?

I added Randy's Journal to my sidebar using a free service called Blogrolling, not the only way to track blog links, but certainly a very popular one. I was the very first (and so far the only) Blogrolling user who intends to keep reading it. I Googled for sites linking to Randy's Blog, hoping to find blogs resembling mine. Every hit was a web pundit or a communications expert, talking not so much about Mr. Baseler's ideas, as the concept of marketing by weblog. I can't even find a link from

Aviation folk don't seem to have taken an interest. That may be because there isn't much to see. The only point he has made (repeatedly) in four posts and eleven days has been "hub-to-hub bad, point-to-point good." Okay Randy, we got it the first time. There's no mention of the demise of the 717.

He notes that the first rule of blogging is to be brief. That may be so, but people will keep reading if you have something to say. Other rules featuring prominently in the top five are "update regularly" and "be original".

Friday, January 28, 2005

Titanic of the Skies

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart took a few minutes this week to mock the A380 unveiling. They showed a picture of the aircraft with the word Airbus written in the style of the poster art for the movie Airplane!, then took a few potshots at the Olympic levels of fanfare and the dignitaries attending, overdubbing Tony Blair to have him declare the A380 "the Titanic of the Skies."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Airbus Philosophy

Today's entry concerns why "what's it doing now?" is edging out "oh shit!" in the running for the phrase most frequently heard on Airbus CVRs.

The airplane does whatever it wants. The pilot just gives it permission.
        -- avionics technician

I am sure there have been more crashes caused by pilots asking airplanes to do things physics wouldn't let the airplane do than there have been by computerized airplanes refusing inputs they calculated unsafe, but somehow despite that, or perhaps because of that, pilots have a need to mock the automation, to assert our superiority over the machine.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Pot Air

Once upon a time, I accidentally applied for a job as a drug smuggler.

The dispatcher was on the telephone with a customer when I came in, so I smiled at her and waited my turn. (It's pretty obvious when someone in a white shirt and a tie walks into an aviation business, clutching a document folder and a logbook, that they're looking for a job.) Looking around, I saw a well-appointed flying school. There was with a comfortable, professional looking lounge, a few briefing rooms, a ground school room, and some offices. It was the first flying school I had ever seen that hadn't been decorated by taping tattered Transport Canada posters crookedly to the walls. Apparently whoever set the place up had some money to start with, or a naïve banker.

A man wearing a leather jacket came in the door behind me and, seeing me, asked enthusiastically, "Are you going to teach me to fly?" Here was a potential coup. If I could sell a walk-in customer on a school I didn't even work at, perhaps there was a job in it for me. I didn't see any instructors around. That's how aviation works: you're at the right place when they need a pilot, and you're their newest pilot.

I don't remember what exactly I said. It would have been something along the lines of, "I'd love to teach you to fly. I don't work here yet, but I'm hoping to. It's a nice school isn't it?" The apparent student was interupted in his attempts to question me further, as the dispatcher hung up the phone and busted his cover.

"Don't listen to him! He's the owner!" What better way to make a first impression than by sincerely showing the boss how you would sell your product? Takes the stress out of the hello-pleased-to-meet-you-I-was-hoping spiel, too.

He took my resume, and showed me around proudly. He even gave me a poster of one of their aircraft flying over a spectacular mountain ridge. He encouraged me to call back, as he might need an instructor soon, but I found a job somewhere else before he needed me.

I heard through the grapevine that the school had been closed down, something about running drugs. Today read a story in the Vancouver Sun that filled in some details. (No it's not today's paper: I'm a pilot. I read week-old papers lying around in the crewroom.) Apparently it wasn't just that someone was making unfiled flights into small American airstrips. That flying school and all its assets were seized as part of the corporate empire of Advanced Nutrients, a pot-growing supply business. I don't even know that the airplanes were ever used in the drug operation. The trips described in the news story featured rather more expensive aircraft. Talk about busted!

The RCMP weren't actually able to charge the owners with anything, anymore than the Prohibition era authorities could charge the manufacturer who sold bottling equipment, or boots, to the bootleggers. It's not illegal to supply fertilizer, hydroponics and expertise. It's not even illegal to supply plants and seeds to individuals who hold licences to grow medical marijuana. It's a big business, even profiled in Forbes Magazine. Virtually all the company's assets were eventually returned, but no flight school, even one backed by drug money, can afford to have its operations suspended like that, and the company folded.

So it's just as well I didn't get a job with that company.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing

Next time you hear a passenger or crew member sneer at a life jacket demo, or pretty briefing card pictures depicting the gently floating airplane, direct them to this. A Boeing 707 was accidentally landed in a lake, thanks to black hole effect, and pilot arrogance.

It shows that an airliner can ditch safely. The gear and engines were torn off but the airplane fuselage remained intact. It floated overnight and was towed to shore.

Note the pilot's pre-splashdown reply to the ATC warning. The only invocation to fate I know to be more powerful than "I know what I'm doing," is "Hey everyone, watch this."

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Last Words

A number of manned weather observation stations were recently decommissioned. Some of the departing human observers added a few words of parting to their final weather reports, before passing the anemometer over to the automated equipment. Whether autostations do an adequate job of reporting the weather is open to debate, but I'm sure they can't match the humans' sense of humour.





I notice that the last one is a CCA - a corrected version of the original issue. I wonder if the correction was to add the remark, or to tone it down.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Getting Closer

Yesterday a Head Office NOTAM reminded us of the beginning of RVSM in Canadian Domestic Airspace.

050005 CYHQ OPS
CYHQ WEF 0501200901

Our hallowed Air Navigation Orders prescribe 2000' separation between opposite direction aircraft at FL290 and above. Eastbound aircraft are assigned flight levels 290, 330, 370, 410 and so on, with westbound aircraft passing in between them at flight levels 310, 350, 390, 430 and so on. These days there are so many aircraft in the skies that flights can incur delays waiting for a chance to merge into those highways in the sky. Fortunately, modern technology makes it possible to fly extremely accurate tracks and altitudes, so Canada has made the transition to Reduced Vertical Separation Minima or RVSM.

Now traffic above FL290 has only a thousand feet of separation, so that flight levels 290, 310, 330 and 350 are all eastbound and the previously unoccupied flight levels 300, 320, 340 and 360 become authorized for westbound flight. The transition is a bit like repainting the lane markings on Highway 401 so as to create more lanes of traffic closer together, with the additional wrinkle that some westbound lanes become eastbound.

Fortunately there are several factors at work making the transition smoother than it would have been had they tried it on the roads in greater Toronto. Aircraft at and above FL290 in Canada are all under air traffic control, and must be certified as capable of maintaining RVSM standards. As the Nav Canada press release points out, RVSM has been operating safely in more congested areas for some time. The relative absence of teenagers driving Camaros makes up for the fact that almost all of the vehicles are driven by old guys wearing hats.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Loads 2: Weighing Pax

Today the travelling public is officially fatter.

When you fly on an airline you've noticed that your checked baggage is weighed, and if you've ever been assessed fees for extra baggage, you've probably grumbled that other passengers are carrying that much weight around their waists or in their carry-ons, and no one weighed them.

It would contribute to safety if passengers were required to board a weighing scale before boarding the aircraft, but apparently that indignity is still too great for airlines to inflict on customers. Instead, we use standard weights, officially sanctioned average weights for men, women, children and infants. The weight of the passengers (often spelled "pax" in the industry) is determined from whether the boarding card says Mr. or Ms.

For many years, an adult male has been considered to weigh 182 lbs, including summer clothing and carry-on baggage. Adult females were counted at 135 pounds. Realistic? I weigh more than that with no clothes on, and my doctor has no complaints about my weight when I renew my medical certificate. There are plenty of female pax chunkier than me.

As of today, the standard passenger weights have changed. In summer, women now weigh 165 pounds and men 200 pounds. Children (age 2-11) weigh 75 pounds and infants (under 2) 30 pounds. In the winter, adults are considered to weigh six pounds more. (The allowance is for winter clothing, not Christmas turkey). The weights are apparently based on a Statistics Canada survey done in 2003.

The notes indicate that the carry-on is considered to weigh 13 lbs and summer clothing and shoes 8 lbs, meaning that the average Canadian male over eleven years of age weighs 179 pounds, naked. That may be true, but a greater proportion of fifty year olds than twelve year olds travel by air, and there are a lot of twenty-five pound carry-ons out there. Operators are still required to apply common sense to their load calculations, and to use actual weights when appropriate.

Also, RVSM (nothing to do with weight) comes into effect down to FL290 across Canada today. Perhaps I'll have time to blog about that tomorrow.

Flight Theory and Aerodynamics

I just bought the book Flight Theory and Aerodynamics: A Practical Guide to Operational Safety by Charles E. Dole and James E. Lewis. Air Canada recommends it to applicants for pilot jobs.

My first impression is favourable. It starts with basic definitions and equations of motion then works through the four forces, propeller, jet and helicopter theory, performance in various phases of flight, stability and trans-sonic flight. Every chapter ends with a summary and study problems, and answers are provided at the back of the book. It seems better organized than Hunt's Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators, although it reproduces many of the irritating graphs from that work. It might be suitable for a core text for a commercial level theory of flight course, but students would probably balk at paying $120 Canadian for a textbook.

Weaknesses include the use of imperial measurements throughout. The authors argue that that the (American) pilot is more familiar with imperial measurements than metric, but who uses the slug for quantifying mass? In the references list, the typsetter's A and Q keys seem to have stuck together, resulting in citations like "Aerospace Saqfety" and "Applied AQerodynamics." A small quibble, perhaps, but pilots need that attention to detail.

As I actually read more, I'll post again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Airbus 380 Colours Look Familiar

In a blitz of fanfare attended by the heads of four countries and fourteen airlines, Airbus revealed its newest aircraft and new livery today. An airplane with an eighty metre wingspan is a little big to jump out from behind a sofa, so the ceremonies included ghostly videoscreen images, modern dance, fireworks, waterfalls, trapeze artists and children, with plenty of speeches from the luminaries and stakeholders.

The Airbus site shows plenty of flash animation, but remains deficient in ordinary photographs, so for a moodily lit picture of the new A380, see the efforts of Michael Eggenschwiler, apparently from the unveiling itself.

The new colours are an improvement on the old ones, but I still like the new Boeing livery better. I guess both companies did the same market research on the desirability of multi-shaded blue swirls.

This blog was supposed to be about flying, not business, but that's lesson one about commercial flying: it cannot be divorced from business.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Requiem for the DC-9

On Friday, a radio newsreader relayed the information that Boeing plans to close its Toronto manufacturing plant due to low sales for the 717 model, then she asided to her colleague that she'd never seen a Boeing 717, so maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to discontinue that line of aircraft. I can't blame her for not recognizing this former star under its latest pseudonym.

Here is a picture from

The airplane launched in 1965 as the DC-9, the latest addition to the Douglas Aircraft Company line of Commercial aircraft. The Douglas Aircraft Company went bankrupt in 1967, but the takeover company McDonnell Douglas continued to develop the product. A longer, quieter and more economical version carried the name DC-9 Super 80 in 1977, and in the early eighties quietly became just Super 80 and then MD-80, to disassociate itself from a number of high-profile DC-10 crashes. Development introduced a number of new model numbers between MD-81 and MD-95, but in 1998 Boeing renamed the whole program Boeing 717. (The 717 corporate page may disappear soon, as it contradicts the press release, proclaiming that "Boeing has affirmed its commitment to the 717 program and the 100-passenger market by announcing it will continue production of the airplane.")

It was a strange name choice on Boeing's part. They had already briefly used the number 717 to designate a military aircraft, so reassigning it seemed to deposit the aircraft into history, between the 707 and the 727, both already discontinued.

The press release doesn't acknowledge the history of the 717, and even this interview with Pat McKenna, director of the 717 program, doesn't reveal that he has been involved with the aircraft since 1968. reports total production of 976 DC-9s and 1191 in the MD-80 series while Boeing reports 125 717s operating in passenger service, totalling a minimum of 2292 of these airplanes made. That's a lot. I wonder now whether the MD-80 figures don't include the DC-9s.

Look for two rear-mounted engines, a T-tail, one eyebrow window each side of the cockpit. Lookalikes include the Tu-135 (look for the spike on the front of the tail), and the BAE 111 (has skinnier engines, and the cockpit windows don't dip down at the side).

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Loads 1: Paying Pax

CBC is reporting that Air Canada enjoyed record passenger loads of 75.2 per cent in December, with a load factor of 77.5 per cent over the year. WestJet reported a December load factor of 74.7 per cent, better than the December 2003 figure of 73.6 per cent, but WestJet's full-year load factor was down 0.6 per cent to 70.0 per cent.

Load factor refers to the percentage of seats filled by paying passengers. For a scheduled airline, load factors are very closely related to profits. The fixed cost of flying an airplane on a scheduled route is so high that a majority of the seats must be sold just to break even. Pilots know that their paycheques depend on exceeding the break even number of passengers. Management tells the pilots what that number is, but pilots always believe management is overstating it, in order to justify denying raises.

Load factors themselves are as closely guarded as company financial information. A three way lawsuit slugfest in progress among Air Canada, WestJet and JetsGo began with allegations that WestJet was systematically spying on Air Canada's loads. Whether it consists of pilots turning their heads to see how many people walk across the tarmac from a competitor's aircraft in Williams Lake, or management going through each other's trash, everyone keeps an eye on load factors.

I'm not one

Two news stories caught my attention today, both about terrorists that apparently weren't.

According to the BBC, American authorities forced a British Airways Boeing 747 to divert, three hours into a flight to New York. One of the passenger names matched a USA terrorist watch list. CNN says the captain was given the option of landing in Maine, but chose instead to return to London. There, the passenger, who was travelling on a legitimate French passport, was met by police, questioned, and released.

Why return to London when Maine was closer to the intended destination? By the time the aircraft had landed in Bangor, completed immigration procedures and prepared for departure, the time remaining for the continued flight to New York may have exceeded the the pilots' duty time. The time required to allow a full rest period for the original crew, or to transport a replacement crew from the UK to Maine would have been greater than for the return to London, where a replacement crew could be waiting. I'll leave it up to the police to determine whether the delay and expense was necessary in the case of this individual.

The second story, reported by the CBC is that one of two Turkish nationals who took advantage of the American terrorism paranoia was sentenced on Tuesday. In June 2004 he called in a a fake bomb threat to delay departure of an American Airlines flight, so a friend wouldn't miss a flight. Kind of like pulling the fire alarm in school right before a test you haven't studied for. And that would have got you detention, too.

Remember: only the United States Joint Terrorism Task Force is allowed to delay you and your fellow passengers' travel plans by claiming you are a terrorist.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Transmitting Blind

When a pilot is uncertain whether his radio transmissions are being received, but continues to make radio calls, this is called transmitting blind. A pilot would do this if he were in distress in a remote area and unable to make contact with ATC, or if he were in controlled airspace with a malfunctioning radio that might still be transmitting. A new blog is a blind transmission.

Whom am I trying to reach with this blog? Not whom I should be targetting. My spare time efforts should be focused on reaching potential employers. If a chief pilot were to stumble across this blog, he'd probably spend no more time on it than he did on my resume, and at least my resume has my name on it. Imagine you're Clive Beddoe, bored at work, surfing the web and reading this. Of course you're thinking, "Wow, here's a young pilot who keeps up to date with the latest developments, has informed opinions on issues that affect our industry, and makes a focused effort not to whine about her work conditions. I must hire her immediately!" What are you going to do? Click the link below and leave a comment like "Hey, nice blog. Call me. - Clive"? Go ahead, make my day.

This blog might be of interest to other pilots, if they have diminished social lives. Oh wait, we all do. Perhaps the help it gives you to increase your knowledge of the industry will compensate for the opportunity it gives you to waste time on the Internet. It costs me nothing to give information away.

Student pilots might read this blog, for its combination of old (but new-to-them) aviation jokes, industry knowledge and insider spin on current events. You'd be better off reviewing your emergency procedures, but at least there won't be a quiz on this. And don't believe everything you read on the internet, either.

Non-aviation folk I assume would find my material dull. It's not particularly consistent. In recent posts I went out of my way to explain pax but made no such concession for flight level. Perhaps the partially explained jargon sets an atmosphere, like "negative tachyon stream inverters" on Star Trek, or snippets of untranslated elven dialogue in Lord of the Rings. I imagine them reading what I'm writing, and I enjoy explaining things, so I write some entries for you.

I'm really blogging for myself. If I read the new RVSM procedures, I might forget them. If I make a few notes on them they'll stay in my mind longer. But if I actually explain them, as I would in response to an interview question like, "Ms. Aviatrix, tell us what you know about RVSM in Canada," then I'll really remember. Plus I get to laugh at my own jokes.

Some Days You Fly

Some days you blog.

Today's challenge is to learn about operating in snow without actually taxiing on the snow-covered taxiways. Imagine you have a nice hot drink (spiked if you like: we're not flying anyway) and some place warm to sit with a good view of the runway, to sit and watch other pilots sliding around in the snow. Not to mock them; no one wants to have an accident, but to learn from their woes. All the accidents linked below happened in the United States last winter.

Airplanes don't require traction from their tires because the wheels are not powered, but when the taxiways and runways are slippery, the brakes are not effective and it may be difficult to steer, see the centreline, or maintain directional control on the ground, especially in a crosswind.

The nosewheel may become stuck in soft snow, causing the airplane to tip forward and become damaged.

If landing on a snow-covered runway is necessary, ensure that you have correctly identified the runway, that the snow is not too deep, that you have enough distance to stop without effective braking, and that you touch down with momentum and aircraft both aligned with the runway.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

What Is This Blog About?

I really shouldn't be keeping a blog (perhaps I'll elaborate later on why) but if I'm going to, I should have a focus. This blog isn't so much about me. Heck, my name isn't even on it. But it isn't about you, either, as I don't know who you are.

This blog is about flying airplanes, learning to fly airplanes, advancing an aviation career in Canada, working as a commercial pilot, and commentary on aviation news. If you want the mixture of bad jokes, industry gossip, complaints, and not much of anything that comprises real cockpit conversations, log off the computer and go back to the crewroom.

It is not my intention to embarrass, slander or otherwise harm my employers, coworkers, customers or even my competitors. Therefore I will not identify companies or individuals, nor reveal corporate information, except in the context of public documents. There shall be no whining, no backstabbing, and no pictures of me, in or out of uniform.

I do reserve the right to make bad jokes.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

I've Joined the Party

Q: How do you tell who the pilots are at a party?
A: They'll tell you.

Hi, Bloggers. I've joined the party.