Thursday, March 31, 2005

Loadmeters and Bus Ties

A twin otter has two wings, two engines, two starter-generators, two main bus bars, and two little electrical gauges on the dashboard. There is one engine on each wing, one starter-generator for each engine, and one bus bar powered by each generator, but don't be so silly as to assume each gauge corresponds to one generator.

The gauge on the left is the DC Voltmeter. The needle on its face deflects from left to right over a scale from 0 to 30 volts. This is an indication of the voltage available at the left bus bar (which is normally connected to the right bus bar, so don't worry about it). The power source suppling that potential could be either or both generators, the battery, or an external power source. Ya, you can plug the airplane into an external power source, like your laptop, but that is only useful while parked, unless you have a really long cord.

The gauge on the right is more complicated. It's the DC Loadmeter. Its needle deflects from the centre to the left or the right. The centre is marked as 0 and the left and right extremes as -1 and +1 respectively. If you don't do anything, the gauge shows the charge or discharge of the battery, with each .1 on the scale representing 10 amperes. It shows negative deflection when you are running off battery alone, positive numbers right after the generators come online, and then spends most of the time sitting around zero.

Next to the gauge is a little selector switch, which gives the pilots something to fidget with in cruise, so the passengers think we're doing something important. The switch automatically goes back to BAT when you release it, but you can twiddle it to the left or the right to select L GEN or R GEN. In that case, the needle indicates the loading on the appropriate generator, with each .1 representing 20 amperes. Full scale deflection corresponds to the full 200A output of that generator. The generator outputs are expected to be within 20A of one another unless something is broken.

You have the option of removing the connection between left and right bus bars, useful in certain abnormal situations, but if one of the generators isn't working (definitely an abnormal situation), opening the bus tie will render some of the electrical services unavailable. As a pilot you have to remember what runs off the left bus and what runs off the right bus, so that you know what you are going to lose when you open the bus tie switch. In general, stuff on the right side is powered off the right bus bar and stuff on the left side off the left bus bar: left and right pitot heat, intake anti-ice, bleed air, windshield heat. But, and look for this sort of thing as a sign of quality airplane design, the lights alerting you to the failure of a generator are powered by the opposite bus bar from the one supplied by the failed generator. I always wonder whether they got that right on the first try.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Making Lemonade

"Mr. Leblanc admits the Jetsgo brand has blemishes, but he also says awareness has picked up."
  -- Ottawa Business Journal

Sure, his airline ceased operations in the middle of spring break, stranding passengers all over Jetsgo's routes, but look at all the free publicity! So you see folks, it was all a publicity stunt. Running a jet off the runway didn't net him enough ink, but this was what he needed to make sure the whole country has heard of Jetsgo. Passengers really do want the cheapest airfare, whatever it takes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Yellowknife Road Trip

"Eighty percent of success is showing up."

   -- Woody Allen

You can't get a job in this industry just by sending out your resume, or making telephone calls. Not unless you have time on type and a current PPC, so you could slide right into the left seat and fly it away. You've got to show up, ready to work.

My only useful PPC is now expired, but I have enough total time to keep the insurance companies happy, so I'm employable. The only way I've ever got a flying job was by asking someone I already knew for one, but I had to meet the people in the first place. I'm planning to go to Edmonton, Fort Smith and Yellowknife.

I've already arranged the time off work. Once I show up, I just need to come through with the other twenty percent in order to get a job.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Birds at Airports

Airports attract birds. I whimsically speculate that as the birds are cruising by, they notice the huge metal birds all gathered together on the aerodrome. "Wow," they think, "there must be a lot of food down there to support that many birds. We'd better go check it out." Really, I doubt their little feathered heads are capable of that kind of deductive reasoning. It's probably more related to the fact that the huge area between and around the runways is usually uncut grass, ideal for the propagation of rats, rabbits and bugs. On rainy days the worms wriggle out of the soaking ground to avoid drowning, and lots of worms end up squirming nakedly on the pavement. Birds just see all this as a dog-and-cat-free smorgasbord.

Many airports, including the one I'm sitting at now, have bird eradication programs. These consist of dogs, guys with pickup trucks, and guns. All the ingredients of a country & western song except for whiskey and cheating women. "Trained" dogs (how much training does a dog need to bark furiously and run after birds?) are apparently very effective. I saw a TV show on it once, so it must be true. Here (yes, I'm blogging at work, so I guess cheating women do factor in this equation) there are no dogs, just a couple of guys driving around in a really big pickup truck wielding guns that make a lot of noise and smoke, but don't, I believe, actually kill birds. I disagree with this approach.

The birds aren't really scared of the guys in pick up trucks. The other day I watched a scene that could have been on America's Funniest Home Videos. The guys with the pickup truck kept driving towards a huge slow-moving great blue heron. The heron would then take off, fly around in a big circle, and land behind the pick up truck, or on another runway. Another day they had to close a runway for several minutes because a group of eagles had decided to park there, and really didn't care what anyone thought.

I don't think they should shoot the endangered birds, even though they are endangering humans. I think they should shoot crows and seagulls and let the eagles figure out that they might be next. Even if the guys in pickups were marksmen working all day shooting and killing birds, they wouldn't make a significant enough dent in their population to decrease the threat to aircraft. Likewise, killing a few isn't going to upset the delicate balance of nature. They should kill some so that the sticks that go bang make a significant impression on the ones that remain. When I was a kid my dad pointed a bamboo pole at a tree full of crows and they all took off and swirled away into the sky. "Why are they scared of the stick, Dad?" In that area the police did crow culls with shotguns. Crows, admittedly smarter than your average bird, had learned that when men point long sticks at your tree, you'd better get the firetruck out of there.

I like birds. I really do. I admire their flying skills. I would help an injured one. I want them to live. But I want them to enjoy that life in mortal terror of airplanes, runways and airports, so that they make their final flap among friends and family, and not in my face.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Radial Engines

When I mentioned that there was a type of airplane I want to fly before they are all gone, my readers instantly knew what type I was thinking of and where I'll have to go to fly one. The DC-3 was the original airliner. Read the memoirs of any golden age aviator and you'll find the DC-3. I'd rather fly a DC-3 than a triple seven, although the paycheque would be a lot bigger for the latter. Silly that, as there's more skill required to fly the old one than the automatic one. But that's economics.

I've spent some of the weekend trying to learn more about the care and feeding of radial engines, and I've ordered a book. I need to corner a Beaver pilot or two, because so far I'm not finding anything I didn't know. But I'll put down what I know, as I'll get a blog post out of it, and someone else might not know.

Radial engines are piston engines, with the cylinders arranged all in one plane, like the arms of a slightly spastic starfish. There are always an uneven number of cylinders, because the firing order goes around the circle skipping ever second cylinder, and an odd number ensures that works out. For example, if the engine has nine cylinders, like an old DHC2 Beaver, then the firing proceeds as 1-3-5-7-9-2-4-6-8. The crankshaft is a clever arrangement of articulating rods on a hub. I even managed to find a clever animation of how that works.

I know that a radial engine go through a lot of oil. We're talking a quart or two an hour. Although they don't exactly consume all of it. They use oil the way a small child uses food: flinging it everywhere. The joke is that a new pilot for a bush company can find all the camps just by following the trail of oil drips on the ground between them.

Some of that oil has a tendency to pool in the bottom cylinders when the engine is shut down. Oil doesn't compress the way air and fuel vapour do, so the result of starting the engine, or even turning it through by hand, could be a bent piston rod. It's called hydraulic lock and the only way to get rid of it is to remove the spark plugs of the lower cylinder(s) and let the oil run out. Sounds like a fun thing to do in the dark when it's forty below.

That's not all I know about radial engines, but it's all I have time to write.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

An Almost Cunning Plan

Some ex-Skyward pilots who have just found work at Air Badger are on their way out this week from Thompson, where they know pretty much everyone in town, to here, where they hardly know anyone but each other. They will be staying pretty close to the airport where I work. Naturally I thought of taking a couple other local aviatrices to meet up with the guys for some welcome-to-town beers.

And then a plan comes to mind. What if we were to welcome them to town so enthusiastically that they were unable to make it to the Air Badger groundschool course the next day? Clearly we aviatrices would have to go in their stead. Someone's got to fill the pilot seats in Badger's fleet. That would teach them a lesson for being better qualified than us for jobs we wanted, eh?

My plan has at least three major flaws:

  • I could never be that mean.
  • These guys are from northern Manitoba. Who can afford that much beer?
  • They read this blog.

Looks like I'll have to revise the plan. I could kidnap them, but I don't have a basement to keep them in, nor a backyard to bury the bodies. Maybe I'll just meet them and be nice.

Also I met a guy at work today who flies for Air Hyena. They operate a type that I absolutely have to fly before I die, or they're all gone, and apparently I have the qualifications they want, so Tuesday I'm giving the chief pilot a call, and we'll see when I can get out to Hyena to follow up and convince him to hire me. If I don't mention calling Hyena in Wednesday's blog then I'm obviously not serious about this aviation thing.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Would You Refuse?

The day before Jetsgo shut down, thirteen Jetsgo pilots received memos telling them to ferry airplanes to Quebec City for so-called urgent maintenance. Airline founder Michel Leblanc had supervisors issue the fake AD notices, in order to gather the fleet in Quebec City before the public announcement. Leblanc said the ruse was necessary to ensure compliance with the order, and that half the pilots would have refused, had they known the true purpose of the ferry flights was to turn Jetsgo into Jetsgone.

M. Leblanc has extensive experience with defunct airlines, so I imagine his "half of them would have refused" statement is based on experimental evidence, not conjecture. I know it happens. I've even heard of a pilot flying an employer's airplane to an undisclosed airport and hiding it there, pending receipt of wages owed.

Had I been working for Jetsgo, with a $30,000 debt to pay off, and been told to ferry the airplane because the company was shutting down, I might have become so angry that I would be legally obliged to refuse the flight, for the sake of aviation safety. But if my emotions were under control, I'd probably be in the half of pilots that would do the flight. I'd hope my co-workers who refused would understand that I wasn't licking the boots of the management that had kicked us. It's just that knowing it might be a long time before I flew a jet again, I'd want to squeeze the last drop of flying out of the defunct job.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Q: What is a word that starts with "F" and ends with "UCK" that you might hear someone say during an emergency?
A: Firetruck.

Michael Oxner's relayed story about a forced landing reminds me of my favourite F-word. ATC always calls the firetrucks out at the first hint of an emergency because everyone agrees that the fewer seconds anyone spends in a burning aircraft, the better. The only drawback is that it tends to make the passengers think the situation is worse than it is. The firetrucks enter the runway just as you pass over the threshhold and race down the runway with you so they are right there when you stop.

The first time I had firetrucks called for me, I knew it was completely unnecessary, but we'd said the word "smoke" on the radio, giving ATC no choice but to press the firehall button. I chatted with the firemen (hey, what girl wouldn't?) and learned that they appreciate the drill, and would rather it be nothing, just as we pilots would. So I showed them the relevant features of the aircraft, like where the fuel was kept, where to cut through the fuselage without cutting fuel lines, and how to switch the fuel off, and got on with my paperwork.

Reading Dave Anderson's reaction to being told the firetrucks are being called makes me realize there are three benefits to ATC having itchy 9-1-1 trigger-fingers.

  • Rapid response to real emergency need.
  • Currency and practice for the firehall
  • Acclimatisation of pilots to the presence of firetrucks

  • Firetrucks become part of the routine, like the paperwork. (Don't think I work for a company where emergencies are routine. It only takes a couple. Pilots learn fast.)

    Monday, March 21, 2005

    Daytime Flying Only

    This story takes place at a small airline operating out of a tiny aerodrome with no airport security. At check in, passengers exchanged their tickets for a boarding pass, but instead of printed paper boarding passes, the passengers received reusable laminated cards. The only thing printed on them was the logo of the airline. The passengers sat in the waiting area with their cards, and then, when the airplane was ready for boarding, exchanged their cards for admission to the airplane. This was perfectly legal and generally worked well for the airline.

    One day, there were two flights boarding at once, and the busy customer service agents pressed a captain into service collecting boarding cards from the passengers for his flight. "The green cards are for your flight," she said. "Don't let anyone on who doesn't have a green card." Collecting cards is not rocket science, and the captain good-naturedly accepted the task and the instruction. The passengers were boarded and briefed, and the flight departed on time.

    The first officer radioed dispatch as required, with time off blocks, time up, and a head count. There was a discrepancy between the dispatch numbers and the FO's numbers. after some recounting and a few radio calls back and forth it was discovered that one of the cards the captain had collected was not green, and the airplane was carrying a passenger who had bought a ticket for the other flight.

    Why did it happen? I don't know for sure, but I suspect that the captain's medical certificate was printed with the words RESTRICTED TO DAYTIME ONLY. MUST HAVE TWO-WAY RADIO FOR CONTROLLED AIRPORTS. Such a restriction is placed on the medical certificates of pilots who are colour blind. They cannot distinguish between a red light and a green light to determine the direction of flight of other aircraft at night, or to receive instructions via light signals from a tower controller. And a red card looks the same as a green one.

    That airline operated daytime flights only. Such a restriction might have helped the captain get the job initially, proof that he would remain with the company, not going on to the next level of commercial aviation. And it would explain why he did not seek out a higher job, despite his experience and competency. I never asked him.

    The passenger was neither angry nor anxious at the unexpected diversion in his travel plans. He embraced the experience as an added bonus in his travel arrangements, an extra destination for the same price. And the little airline made sure he made it to his international flight in time.

    Sunday, March 20, 2005


    Not only does everyone in aviation know everyone else, but everything affects everyone else. It's not simply empathy that makes me regret airline troubles. Troubles at Skyward and Jetsgo not only eliminate those companies as potential employers, but increase competition for other jobs.

    Skyward hasn't flown in weeks. Some of those pilots are hanging on in Thompson, but others have left town to look for other work. Badger Air hired a number of pilots who had been idled by Skyward's continued OC suspension. Ex-Jetsgo folk are unlikely to be looking at Badger, but they will be competing against people who have jobs I want for the next level jobs. It's an elaborate game of musical chairs, except there's hardly ever any music. Just every so often your chair collapses and you have to scramble for a new one.

    Friday, March 18, 2005

    A Third Post about Timing Holds

    In two recent posts I've been dissecting hold timing. The goal is to fly a racetrack pattern such that, despite winds, it takes exactly one minute to fly the inbound leg. Clearly, if the first inbound leg takes you less than a minute, you need to fly longer outbound, and if the first inbound leg takes more than one minute, you need to fly for a shorter time outbound. The challenge lies in how much more or less.

    As I mentioned before, I subtract two thirds of any excess inbound time from my outbound leg, and add one and a third times any shortfall. A colleague just hacks off half the excess and adds all the shortfall. He's good at math, and conscientious, so I pulled out Excel to find out what he knew that I didn't.

    As I made up the table below I realized that if the first calculation gives me an inbound time of less than 20 seconds inbound, I fly for 20 seconds, which helps me not overshoot. I also don't make a correction based on the very first inbound leg, because that's part of the entry, and not to be trusted. I probably have more arbitrary rules like these that I haven't even noticed.

    The values in the table below use the inbound leg distance calculations from my last hold post and the formula distance equals speed times time, with speed being the true airspeed of the airplane plus a tailwind or minus a headwind.

    IB #1 time OB #2 my way OB #2 his way IB #2 my way IB #2 his way OB #3 my way OB #3 his way IB #3 my way IB #3 his way
    10 126 110 43 35 149 134 54 47
    20 113 100 52 44 125 116 58 53
    30 100 90 55 49 106 101 59 56
    35 93 85 61 54 93 90 60 59
    40 87 80 61 56 86 84 61 59
    50 73 70 60 57 73 72 60 60
    60 60 60 60 60 60 60 60 60
    75 50 53 64 66 48 50 59 57
    83 45 49 65 69 42 44 59 57
    91 39 45 65 71 36 39 59 56
    113 24 33 62 75 23 26 60 56
    150 20 15 80 71 7 9 64 59

    The above data leads me to conclude that with light to medium winds, both methods work fine, mine a bit better, but not worth bragging about. For strong headwinds on the outbound, giving an initially very short times on the inbound, adding one and a third the shortfall works better than just adding the shortfall. For strong tailwinds on the outbound, subtracting the whole excess works faster than subtracting two thirds of it. Which makes perfect sense.

    I initially set up my spreadsheet looking at aircraft of different speeds in different winds, but discovered that it makes no difference what combination of wind speed and airspeed produce a given inbound time, any initial inbound time corresponds to a particular outbound time that will give a one minute inbound. One could make a computerized hold timer that contained a database, such that when you hit stop on the inbound leg it automatically looked up the value and set up a countdown timer for the appropriate time on the outbound leg. Or you could have a printed table stuffed in with your approach plates, giving the same effect.

    No one needs to, because as long as you are correcting in the appropriate direction, a few iterations will converge on the appropriate outbound time. I even tried setting up my spreadsheet so that the correction was a random number and if I limited the number so that the values didn't overshoot, after four turns in the hold, the timing was within a few seconds.

    Why do we do this? Why don't they protect airspace based on a one minute outbound, and tracking inbound, so no one would have to calculate anything? I think they even do that in Europe. Perhaps it's a bit like the practice of putting mirrors in elevator lobbies. It gives you something to do while you are waiting, thus making the wait seem shorter.

    I've had enough of holds for now, even though I haven't touched correction angles or hold entries.

    Pilots are Rude

    Q: What do pilots use for birth control?
    A: Their personalities.

    This post from Douglas' Weblog complains about ATC rudeness not pilot rudeness, but it may have the same cause.

    I once heard one flight attendant explaining to another about pilots. It went something like this. "You know how we say, 'Oh could you please pass me that?' or 'Would it be a problem for you to do that?' Well pilots don't do that. They talk very directly. They just say, 'put that here' or 'give me that' or 'anti-ice on.' You think they are being rude, but that is how they talk to each other and on the radio, because they have to talk fast."

    Very enlightening. If any pilot scoffs at the idea of carry through from cockpit SOPs or radio language into social interaction, just mumble your reply. "Say again?" they'll ask. I've heard a controller say simply "unable," during a normal, non-radio conversation where "I'm sorry, that's not going to work out," would have sounded a lot nicer.

    On the radio, politeness can be rudeness. There's a controller I know who prides himself on his friendliness, but in busy airspace I don't want to spend the extra second listening to him wishing me a 'great day' on the ATIS, while I'm waiting for it to cycle through and give me the active runway. He thinks it doesn't matter because it's at the end, but when we tune the ATIS we usually come in at the middle, and have to listen to the middle, the end and then the beginning. So one second of niceties anywhere is a wasted second I could be using to get my clearance, except that the radio is blocked by a handoff involving reciprocal best wishes for the future.

    Expressing maximum information with minimum words and minimum ambiguity is a learned skill. If you want to waste time and go on and on about something, keep a weblog. And have a great day.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    1960s Era Turboprop

    A CBC story on an air crash near Varendei, Russia terms the Antonov-24 "a 1960s-era turboprop." While that's true, I've flown a 1960's era turboprop and I think our passengers would not have been so pleased about the airplane if we'd called it that. I think the average reader will come away from reading that "hundreds of the Soviet-designed aircraft are in service in Russia and the former Soviet republics," with the idea that operating airplanes of that age is a dangerous practice unique to impoverished areas of the world. There are a lot of good airplanes of that vintage operating in Canada. The shape of airplanes has changed a bit with fashion, but the 1960s-style fin on an airplane isn't as distinctive as the ones on a car.


    Fuel prices are heading up through another roof, but Brazil has an answer.

    Embraer just delivered the first commercial aircraft to run on ethanol. Apparently there are already 400 airplanes running on ethanol in Brazil, this is just the first in commercial production. CBC claims that the aircraft is a commercial jet, but the press release makes it clear that the EMB202 Ipanemao is a single-engine crop sprayer, with a 300 hp engine, presumably piston. Embraer also offers a retrofit kit, and plans more ethanol-burning aircraft. Brazil has a domestic supply of ethanol, made from a byproduct of sugar cane processing.

    As a Canadian, I can't link to Embraer without mentioning Bombardier. The two companies are both adept at producing regional jets, attracting governement handouts, and whining internationally that the other offers unfair competition because of the level of government subsidy. Fortunately, Bombardier has a story today, too.

    The Bombardier Board of Directors has given the go ahead to offer the C-Series. Based on customer response, and government subsidies, they may actually make the thing, basically a Canadian answer to the B737. No word yet on whether there will be a version that runs on fermented maple syrup.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    More Hold Timing

    I figured out my hold timing puzzle in the shower. I had made it far more complicated than I had to.

    See, while I need calculus to determine the travel of the aircraft at an arbitrary time t, I don't need it at all to determine the total travel during a 180 degree turn. I am considering only the distance the aircraft moves in the direction parallel to the inbound radial; the distance along the curved track and the distance the airplane moves perpendicular to the inbound radial are not relevant for this calculation. Performing a 180 degree turn in still air, the aircraft covers zero distance in the direction parallel to the inbound radial, so I can consider that the airplane is standing still for one minute, under the influence of the wind w. Speed times time equals distance. During the one minute turn, the aircraft travels a distance in nautical miles of w/60. (The 60 is the result of multiplying by 60 and dividing by 3600, because t is in seconds and w is in knots).

    With this amazing escape from the need for definite integrals, I'll consider the case where we have a headwind on the outbound leg:

    If there is a headwind on the outbound leg, the aircraft finishes its turn before passing abeam the fix, so the pilot travels that distance w/60, in order to draw abeam the fix, and then starts the timer. Thus the time taken to make up that distance is irrelevant. The pilot then flies outbound for one minute, covering a ground distance of (v - w) / 60 nautical miles, where v is the true airspeed and w is the wind speed. At the other end, of the hold, the turn to inbound ends up closer to the fix than it started, so the inbound track is w/60 shorter than the outbound track. Therefore the length of the inbound straightaway on the first turn is (v - 2w) / 60, and the time required to fly it will be speed divided by distance: 60 * (w + v) / (v - 2w).

    Now the case where there is a tailwind on the outbound leg:

    If there is a tailwind on the outbound track, the aircraft passes abeam the fix w/60 nautical miles before wings level, so the outbound distance (v + w) / 60 is increased by w/60. The outer turn drifts the aircraft a further w/60 nautical miles from the fix, so the inbound distance is (3w + v) / 60, and the time recorded for the first inbound leg will be 60 * (v - w) / (3w + v).

    Initially I thought I could consider only one wind direction, without loss of generality, because the wind velocity could be positive or negative, but that doesn't work because the procedure changes.

    Honestly, while I'm in a hold I think normal thoughts like "ack, the timer didn't start," "What was my EFC time again?" and "damn, I really have to pee." I only think about this stuff on the ground.

    Next time I'm on the ground, I'm going to crunch some numbers through Excel and find out which is the best procedure to determine how long to fly outbound.


    So I'm driving home after a long day at work. I've had two strong disappointments in the last twenty-four hours. I'm tired. I've had a headache since two pm. My headset doesn't usually hurt my head, but it was bothering me today. It didn't seem to matter how I adjusted the radio, it was either too loud and gave me a headache from the noise, or too quiet and gave me a headache from straining to hear. This isn't whining, I promise. This is context.

    I'm driving home, and I'm thinking about my career, wondering if I have, in Peter Principle fashion, reached the pinacle of my career. I'm considering concentrating all my energies at excelling at my current job, instead of beating my head against the next level. They are tired, headachey end-of-the-day thoughts, because deep down I know I'm good at what I do. And then a song comes on the radio.

    It's a country song, one so generic that I can't even Google it, because all the lyrics are cliches. Like many country songs, the verses are a series of vignettes, in this case about various people who had every reason to give up, but didn't: the couple who had been told by the nth doctor that they couldn't conceive, the lonely single mom waitress who can't make ends meet, you get the idea. And in each case the verse ends with the revelation that the couple is already pregnant, or the regular customer she's so fond of has already bought an engagement ring in order to make his proposal. They "just don't know it yet." The song urges the listener not to give up on hopeless causes, nor to underestimate the power of the heart. Standard country fare. But the coincidence of timing gets me, and it chokes me up.

    I wouldn't blog about my fatigue-induced hallucinations that a song on the radio was speaking to me, except that when the song ended, the DJ announced, "This song brought to you by Badger Airlines." Really. Except he used their real name.

    Update: one of my readers found the song online. It's by Canadian artist J.R. Vautour.

    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Hold Timing

    Sometimes IFR aircraft (aircraft on flight plans that allow them to fly through clouds) have to stay in one place and wait, while they are flying. Typically they'd be waiting for their turn to land at the airport, and the way air traffic controllers say "take a number" is by issuing a hold clearance.

    A "hold" is an oblong path: two parallel straightaways connected at the ends by semicircles. It is defined by a point called a "fix," a direction to that fix, an altitude, and whether the turns are to be made to the left or the right. The pilot identifies the fix using radionavigation equipment. The oblong is flown so as to put the fix at the end of one of the straightaways, just before a turn. Sometimes the length of the straightaway is defined in miles, but usually the length is defined in terms of time: the inbound leg is supposed to take one minute, or, if the hold is flown at an altitude above fourteen thousand feet, a minute and a half. With no wind, the opposite straightaway would require the same time. In wind, the timing of the outbound leg must be adjusted so as to satisfy the timing of the inbound leg.

    Pilots' web has a great picture.

    Imagine the wind is such that the aircraft experiences a tailwind during the outbound leg. That will make it cover distance faster, so that when one minute has elapsed and it turns inbound, it is further from the fix than it would be in still air. But if there is a tailwind outbound, there is a headwind inbound, so the airplane not only has further to go, but covers the distance at a lower speed. Reaching the fix, the pilot will discover that the inbound leg took more than one minute. On the next leg, she flies outbound for a shorter time, to compensate. But how much shorter?

    There are many rules of thumb. During my initial training, I learned that if the inbound leg took more than a minute, to take two thirds of the excess inbound time off of the outbound time on the next leg. If the inbound leg takes less than a minute, add one and a third the excess to the next outbound leg. A pilot I respect, who can talk mathematical rings around me, subtracts half the excess or adds all the shortfall. As long as you're correcting in the right direction at each turn in the hold, you'll eventually converge on an outbound time that gives you a one minute inbound. It's a cockpit not a calculus class.

    This being the internet, not the cockpit, I have filled a few sheets of paper with calculations, and determined that the distance travelled in the direction of the inbound track during a ninety degree rate one turn away from the inbound track is equal to the definite integral from t=0 to t=30 of (v cos (3t) + wt) dt, where v is the speed of the airplane and w is the wind speed. That ground to a stunning halt when I realized that whatever part of my brain had once known how to integrate trigonometric functions has found a new life, possibly storing and cross referencing the details of Friends episodes.

    If someone has a more cooperative calculus-related brain segment, and wants to help out here, here are a couple more things to know about the path in the hold.

    According to AIP-RAC 10.2, we "are expected to make all turns to achieve an average bank angle of at least 25 degrees or a rate of turn of three degrees per second, whichever requires the lesser bank." That "three degrees per second" turn is a common requirement, known as a rate one turn. We even have a rule of thumb to determine the bank angle in degrees that will produce it: ten percent of airspeed (in knots) plus seven. So for an aircraft flying at an indicated airspeed of 175 knots (the maximum permitted in a hold for any propeller-driven aircraft), the bank angle for a rate one turn is 175/10 + 7, or 24.5 degrees. Therefore, for all propeller-driven aircraft the 180 degree turns at the hold ends will each take one minute.

    Timing of the outbound leg starts abeam the fix or when the wings are level after the turn, whichever comes later. Timing of the inbound leg starts with wings level. I have deliberately neglected the effects of wind not parallel to the inbound track.

    Saturday, March 12, 2005

    Sweet Wine or Sour Grapes?

    I should find out by tonight if I'm going to be typed on the Z92. That means the next post to this blog will be either an incoherent jumble of keystrokes made by me bouncing off the walls in ecstatic delerium, or a highly technical treatise on timing holds, as I focus on something else to avoid lobbing my sour grapes around the internet.

    Friday, March 11, 2005

    Jetsgo Gone

    I've been trying to post this since my first cup of coffee this morning, but Blogger refuses to accept it.

    Discount carrier Jetsgo announced early this morning that it is suspending operations, and will be seeking bankruptcy protection. I was wondering what their business motivation was for advertising one dollar fares to a number of destinations. Now I know. It was desperation.

    Transport Canada was looking at the company for a few problems, but nothing that would have shut them down. They just weren't able to compete. All jokes, snide remarks, and competition-bashing aside, it's not the employees' fault. If your last paycheque said Jetsgo and you've just found out that there won't be a next one, I'm sorry to hear about you losing your job, and wish you the best of luck at finding the next one. Anyone advertising an MD-80 job this month is going to have a lot of applicants.

    Playing With Fire

    From AIP-AIR Annex 1-4, Survival Advisory Information

    In the hands of a trained person, pyrotechnics can be very good. In hands of a novice they can reduce chances of survival.
    Maybe I have an odd sense of humour, but it makes me laugh. I imagine the various ways in which a novice could use a flare pack to reduce his life expectancy.

    That entire survival section in the A.I.P (Aeronautical Information Publication) seems to have been written somewhat tongue in cheek. The attitude seems to be, "If they aren't smart enough to realize the essential minimum equipment, they won't be smart enough to realize that they are being openly mocked." How else do you get advice like this?

    Training is also needed in how to melt snow in a container over a fire.
    Hint: don't use pyrotechnics. Here are some tips and some more.

    Thursday, March 10, 2005

    Progress Report

    It's been a good couple of days on the new job hunting front. It's emotionally draining making phone calls to people you don't know, telling them that you're a fantastically wonderful pilot and they would be missing out if they didn't hire you forthwith, so I intersperse those calls with calls to mentors, friends, and generally nice folks who I know will tell me to keep it up, and perhaps drop a few juicy rumours.

    I had promising conversations with folks at Groundhog and Badger, and then the chief pilot at Aardvark picked up his own phone and let me in on some recent changes to the company that may mean Aviatrix has a fighting chance at flying airplanes featuring the silhouette of an extensile-tongued mammal on the vertical stabilizer.

    It all made it easier to smile nicely and be happy for the pilot whose interview with Badger went very well. I still haven't got one, so it's unlikely I'm being looked at for this round of hiring.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    See and Avoid

    The Globe and Mail ran an article yesterday on corporate policies regarding employees' blogs. It's a shame they just ran an American AP story, complete with references to the First Amendment. I would have been interested in research for an equivalent Canadian story.

    Quite a few people have been fired for blogging. A flight attendant, a librarian, a congressional intern, and I'm not sure what this last one did, but her name, dooce, has become a verb meaning, "to be fired for your blog." I think technically most of these people have been fired for being rude to their customers or supervisors, for publically criticizing their employers, or for blogging when they are paid to be working.

    These people, and many more who continue to hold down jobs, blog as if their customers, co-workers, and employers inhabit a world that does not have access to the internet. Yes, some customers are amusing in their ineptitude or arrogance. Some co-workers rival the characters on television dramas when it comes to back-stabbing guile. There are airlines managed worse than the fictional Wings. (How was that airline supposed to stay solvent with one single-pilot airplane and at least five employees? They must have done a few extra night flights bringing agricultural products from Cuba). I admit to sharing a few tales through gritted teeth in the crewroom, but in public I've got to be sober, sane and respectful of the people who pay my salary. The internet is a public place.

    I can be fired for wearing my uniform into an establishment that serves alcohol. A pilot is legally allowed to go into the grocery store in uniform and yell, "These frozen turkeys are smarter than my management, and these grocery carts are better maintained than our airplanes!" But if there's a company VP checking out maynonnaise specials in the next aisle, advancement might be in question. Besides, you'd would have to be mad to do that, wouldn't you? If you did it regularly, sooner or later you'd be found out. The internet is a public place, packed with far more people than the grocery store.

    And that's why I don't blog about my company.

    Tuesday, March 08, 2005

    Coffee: Part Two

    Fatigue-related aviation accidents are extensively studied, but what about coffee-related accidents? I've never seen a report that commented on the availability of coffee to the pilots at various stages of flights, or a toxicology analysis that remarked on the absence of caffeine. Searching for "coffee" in the NTSB Accident Database finds mostly reports from witnesses who were drinking coffee when they observed an airplane crash in their back yard, or accounts like, "The pilot stated that he and his passenger had some coffee, and he then called the Flight Service Station."

    There are a few like this one:

    "The flight encountered moderate turbulence, while in cruise flight. During the encounter, a coffee pot fell from a serving cart into the lap of a passenger. The top came off the pot, and hot coffee spilled on the passenger, causing injury."
    The passenger was a seven-year-old kid, too, so that's a definite vote against coffee.

    I remember hearing an anguished cry on the company frequency, followed by a rueful voice informing us that the captain had spilled his coffee all over himself. A bit like the joke everyone knows ...

    The pilot is making a routine cabin announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen we have reached our cruising altitude of thirty--AAAAAAGHHHHHH!"

    After a moment of silence the pilot sheepishly reactivates the intercom, "I uh apologize for that folks. As I was speaking, one of our fine flight attendants was handing me a cup of coffee and it spilled all over me. You should ... uh ... see the front of my pants."

    A passenger hollers back, "You should see the back of mine."

    I'm not going to tell the one with the punchline, "Miss, don't forget the coffee." You all know it, and Cockpit Conversation has to draw a line in the sky somewhere.

    Monday, March 07, 2005

    Suspicious Female?

    I'm hoping that this story is leaving something out that would explain why the authorities consider a helicopter crash suspicious. According to the article, a helicopter crashed near Abbotsford, British Columbia and the only occupant was a woman, who died at the scene.

    There is a "suspicious element" to the accident, said Kirk because police are not sure who was the pilot of the copter or if the [sic] left the scene.

    If an aircraft crashes and there is one person on board, doesn't one start by assuming that that person was flying it? It isn't uncommon for men to assume that a woman on board an aircraft is a passenger or a flight attendant, instead of a pilot, but when she's the only occupant? Possibly she was belted in a seat without access to the flight controls, but the story implies that the police arrived on scene after the woman had been removed from the aircraft. Or the "copter" as the article puts it.

    [Edit 8 March 2005: It turns out that the suspicious part was one of the two men assisting at the scene had been on board the helicopter and the police suspect that yet another who left the scene had been piloting.]

    Not Air Transat's Week

    A couple of days ago a $7.65 million compensation settlement was finalized for passengers traumatized by Air Transat's A330 no-engine landing in the Azores in August 2001. The company takes the official stance that the matter is over and will not affect finances.

    Today an Air Transat A310 taking off out of Cuba experienced a mechanical problem with its rudder. The exact nature of the problem is unclear, but the CBC story quotes a spokesperson for the airline saying the plane's rudder "partially fell off." I spent a while looking for details on that story, but this National Post story is equally vague.

    Half Mast

    Every airport flag I saw today was flying at half mast. I know that it's a gesture, just a piece of protocol, but it accurately reflects the public mourning for RCMP Constables Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, all killed Thursday, doing their job. This is not a grow-op story, an automobile repossession story, a pedophile story or a gun registry story. It's a story about one completely unhinged individual operating outside the bounds of society and law.

    In the months ahead this shocking event will be spun to support or oppose a number of political agendas. I hope that one of them is to improve whatever training, resources, or policies could have been in place to protect those four young men from a shooter whose own father termed "evil."

    Sunday, March 06, 2005

    Hydrocarbon Fuel

    All aviation fuel, whether avgas or turbine fuel, is a mixture of hydrocarbons: substances made of chains of carbon atoms, with hydrogen atoms attached. Different hydrocarbons have different freezing points, boiling points, densities and energy content. In general, the longer the chain, the higher the boiling point, but some chains are branched, and the three dimensional shape of the molecule affects its properties, too. Crude oil is a mixture of many different hydrocarbons, as well as compounds containing other atoms.

    Crude oil is refined by distilling it in a column, and separating out fractions with different boiling points. Light hydrocarbons like butane and propane come out the top of the distilling column, with gasoline lower down, followed by kerosene and diesel. The products may be again refined by removing undesirable components such as sulphur compounds through further chemical reactions. The big molecules left over at the bottom of the column may be broken up to produce more gasoline, kerosene and diesel.

    Avgas, for piston engines, is refined to increase its octane number, a comparison of the amount of a particular eight-carbon chain molecule versus n-heptane, a straight chain seven-carbon molecule. Additives such as tetraethyl lead can improve the smooth running qualities of the fuel in an engine and increase the octane above 100, where it is called a performance number. Avgas has a higher ratio of energy per unit weight than turbine fuel, but a lower ratio of energy per volume.

    Turbine engines orginally used kerosene, not for its properties, but because turbine engines could burn anything, and development took place in wartime, when gasoline was in short supply. After the war, the US Air Force started using "wide cut" fuel, spanning the range from gasoline to kerosene. The logic was that you can make more of it from the same amount of crude oil. Unfortunately, it also evaporates at a lower temperature, leading to loss of fuel at high altitudes and increasing the risk of fire during ground handling or crashes.

    Americans standardized on kerosene-type Jet A fuel, which freezes at -40 degrees, for domestic flights. Much of the rest of the world uses Jet A-1 (almost the same as US military JP-8 fuel), which freezes at -47 degrees Celsius.

    Wide cut fuel, known as Jet-B, is still used in northern Canada, because it doesn't freeze until -51 degrees Celsius. The Russians use something similar, called TS-1. Because jet fuel is a mixture of so many different fractions, it remains pumpable for about ten degrees below the temperature where it starts to freeze. I wonder at what temperature human testicles freeze. I'm glad I haven't got any, in a country where the difference between -47 and -51 is significant enough to warrant a grade of fuel.

    Saturday, March 05, 2005

    Engine Recipes

    Old Lady 1: I've been shopping!
    Old Lady 2: What d'you buy?
    Old Lady 1: A piston engine!
    Old Lady 2: How d'you cook it?
    Old Lady 1: You don't cook it.
    Old Lady 2: You can't eat that raw!

        --- Monty Python's Flying Circus, Episode 43

    Actually, you can cook a piston engine. One stellar way is to lean out the mixture at high power and run it for several hours. You still can't eat it, but the company has to eat the substantial cost of replacing the cylinders. What a company pays a pilot in a year is a fraction of what the pilot can cost the company through poor engine handling.

    In a piston machine, the pilot controls the ratio of vapourized fuel to air that is burned in the cylinders, using the mixture knob. It's usually red, an attention-getting colour that should underscore its importance. By sliding, twisting or pulling (aircraft manufacturers didn't get together on these things) the mixture control, the pilot decreases the flow of fuel to the engine. Pull it all the way out and there is no longer enough fuel flow to sustain combustion. That's the normal way to shut down a piston engine. The fuel actually has two purposes. One is to participate in the combustion reaction and the other is to provide cooling.

    I could, and will later, write a whole post on combustion but essentially it's a recipe. Like a screwdriver: two ounces of vodka, six ounces of orange juice. You can slide that ratio a fair way in either direction. Excess orange juice serves to quench your thirst without getting you drunk, while excess vodka gets you drunk without filling your belly. An exceptional excess of vodka leaves you passed out on someone else's floor with one of your eyebrows shaved off.

    The pilot's job is to adjust the mixture such that fuel is not wasted, but the engine does not overheat. At high power, that usually means full rich. The engine will burn a lot of fuel, producing a lot of heat, and the extra provides cooling through evaporation. That cooling is especially needed in the climb, when the forward speed and thus cooling (most piston engines are air cooled) is reduced. In cruise, the mixture can be reduced ("leaned out") so that the fuel flow more closely matches the available air, according to the altitude. This saves fuel and produces a smoother running engine. Before increasing the power, the pilot should increase the mixture. Lean the mixture too much or leave it lean while applying full power and you have a recipe for a cooked piston engine.

    Turbine engines are even easier to cook, if the internal turbine temperature limits are not adhered to, but Monty Python doesn't have a sketch about them.

    Friday, March 04, 2005

    Cute But Useless Mnemonics

    In continuation of my checklist rant, I present my complaints about checklist mnemonics, the little acronyms people stuff into their heads and recite at crucial moments in aviation. They have their place. Sometimes they are great. Sometimes they are misapplied, and sometimes they were poorly devised in the first place.

    The most common is probably GUMPS:
    Gas - correct fuel tanks selected
    Undercarriage - landing gear up or down as appropriate
    Mixture - full rich for sea level take-offs and landings, leaned in cruise
    Propellers - full fine for landing, lower rpm for cruise
    Switches - fuel pumps, magnetos, landing lights, heater, whatever

    Likely half a dozen people are looking at this saying things like, "No, no, Aviatrix. The P is for pumps." However you say it probably attaches to the airplane you were flying at the time you learned it, and whatever that was had its own unique set of prelanding and after takeoff tasks. That in itself is not a problem, and if you have mapped the letters to tasks that are required for your aircraft, and those tasks properly associate with the letters in your mind, well GUMPS away and I won't even give you a dirty look.

    But the trouble begins when the words don't properly associate. For North American pilots half the time the GUMPS recitation stands for Gear, Um ... The only time many pilots here would refer to the landing gear as "undercarriage" is during a GUMPS check. It's more of a British word. Which is odd, because gas for fuel is more of an American thing. Most pilots say fuel. Look at Kristopher, the student pilot who inspired this posting, saying "I had to ask the instructor to remind me what 'P' and 'S' stood for." So here's the poor guy, smart enough to program computers for a living, and instead of just memorizing a sequence of prelanding checks, he has to memorize it in association with a nonsense word. If you can't remember something, sure, use a mnemonic. But if the mnemonic is harder to get right than the task?

    And then there's the fact that Kristopher is flying a fixed gear aircraft with a fixed pitch propeller. That means that (a) the gear is welded permanently in the down position and cannot be raised or lowered in flight and (b) the propeller is one solid piece of metal and the angle of the blades cannot be adjusted. So what is he using GUMPS for? If he has been advised to say, "Gas: fullest tank, Undercarriage: already down, Mixture: full rich, Propeller: still going around, Switches: fuel pumps on, landing light on," then no wonder the sequence was difficult to learn. If his instructor has twisted GUMPS to align with the tasks that actually have to be completed before landing, then good, but will those associations stick in a complex airplane, causing him to neglect gear and propeller levers? Probably not, because the appropriate lights and levers will be in plain sight. I'm not sure what the use of the mnemonic is when being in the airplane tell you what to do.

    Mnemoniccs get worse, though. I've seen CCCC recommended for an overshoot checklist.
    Cram - the mixtures, propellers and throttles
    Cowl flaps (and/or carb heat)
    Call and advise ATC
    Presumably at some point in here you remember to get the flaps and gear up, too. CCCC is useless, because there's nothing in the mnemonic to put the tasks in the very essential right order. Raise the nose before adding power and you may not be doing much climbing.

    Thursday, March 03, 2005

    Dreaming of Airplanes

    Last night I literally dreamed about a conversation with a member of the Badger management team, where he was setting up an appointment for me to check out in one of their airplanes. The difficulty (don't dreams always have difficulties?) was that he seemed to have mistaken me for someone else, so I didn't know which aircraft I needed to learn about (they operate several types), in advance of the checkout.

    I like the suggestion below from David. I need to get my mentors on the phone.

    The Only Thing Worse ...

    I've been suffering from a ridiculously harsh schedule the last couple of weeks, which hasn't given me a chance to do much lobbying for a job at Badger, nor to prepare for the job interview I really thought I had a good chance of getting. Today I found out that someone I know has an interview with Badger scheduled already this month. It hit me in the gut. Here I had been worrying about getting an interview and not being as prepared as I wanted to be. I will be very disappointed if I don't get an interview at all.

    I'm not a very good nagger. When you invite people to a party, want someone to change a routine, or expect someong to hire you, you have to keep reminding them. You keep checking in on them to make sure they don't forget. I tend to assume people got it the first time, and that they will call me when they want me. I'd make a lousy politician. Which reminds me:

    "To fly a plane with even two passengers a man must pass a test to prove himself intelligent, sane and well balanced. But there are no such tests for politicians, although an unbalanced politician can be much more dangerous than any pilot."

        ---Dr. Brock Chisholm

    Wednesday, March 02, 2005

    Update Update

    lost av8r has reconsidered detailing his employer's woes in a public forum, so the links to his blog below no longer lead to salacious details. The original post is still in my browser cache, but I won't tell if he won't.

    Skyward Aviation Update

    Skyward Aviation, grounded a few weeks ago for maintenance problems, isn't telling customers much, but my referrer logs revealed that new pilot blogger, lost av8r, is less shy than me about revealing corporate information. The first entry of his blog up in the air includes the inside scoop on recent events at Skyward.

    I'm less blasé than Shawn about the discovery of another Canadian commercial pilot blogger. I'd been looking and thought I was the only one.

    Tuesday, March 01, 2005

    U/S, eh?

    When I was a beginning student pilot I spotted a set of three coloured lights on the communications panel of the training plane and asked my instructor what they were.

    He said, "Those are marker beacons, but they don't work: they're American."

    Later I encountered a logbook notation that the landing light was "U/S." I asked what that meant.

    "It means it's broken."

    U/S, U.S., U.S.A., American, broken. Okay, they all mean the same thing. Aviation slang is strange sometimes, I could deal with it. It was a while before I discovered that marker beacons really are an American system, that U/S means "unserviceable," and that "American" isn't really pilot slang for broken.

    I still giggle inside every time I see an airplane with US Airways stenciled on the fuselage. I believe the Americans prefer the term INOP for their broken equipment, so it isn't so funny for them.