Monday, November 13, 2006

November Eleventh

This is an interruption to the Calfornia report, but I want to post it while it is still almost topical. I meant to post it on the eleventh but I hadn't yet had a chance to type it up.

In Canada November 11th is a statutory holiday called Remembrance Day. At 11:00 am on the eleventh day, school classes, radio and television stations, and many places of work simply stop activity to observe two minutes of silence. Every town has a cenotaph, a memorial to soldiers from that community. Their names are usually listed on the monument. It's common for the cenotaph to date back to just after World War I, with the 1914-1918 dead listed on one face of the monument and then as you walk around the monument another face will list the 1939-1945 dead. On Remembrance Day there is usually a public ceremony at the cenotaph, where the mayor and other diginitaries lay wreaths, and surviving veterans attend in uniform to be honoured as well. There might be a fly-by of vintage aircraft in missing-man formation, and maybe some speeches.

It's actually more like Remembrance Fortnight, because around the end of October, people start wearing poppies, as a symbol of remembrance. I've never seen anyone wear a real poppy, but as long as I can remember, volunteers have distributed little plastic and felt pin-on poppies in return for donations to veterans' organizations. I've seen a lapel poppy from England, and it was a different style from ours, but still recognizable.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a man standing on a Canadian street corner, carrying a donation box that was absolutely stuffed with green banknotes. The green ones are twenties in Canada--more than the usual donation for a street-corner poppy, but he was more than the usual person giving them out. He was at least seventy, but fit and trim, standing up straight wearing a green military jumpsuit with faded embroidered patches. He was so dynamic that everyone had to stop and talk to him, and donate for a poppy. I intended to tell you which regiment he had served with, but it turns out that the Duke of Edinburgh shoulder patch isn't enough to identify it, as the Duke is patron to multiple regiments across the country. Someone asked him what year the uniform was, and he said 1953.

I gave him a donation, and he pinned a poppy on my coat. I said thank you, for the poppy, and then I thanked him also for his service to my country. Then I turned away to continue on my errands, and because my voice was cracking. It means a lot to me that people volunteer to fight the battles that we determine are worth fighting. I'm sure they volunteered for all kinds of reasons: to defend the innocent, to prove their worth, to live up to community expectations, for the money, for the travel, to get away from home, or just because all their friends were going. They were probably sometimes scared or bored or lonely and lots of them died. There are still Canadians dying and being wounded in Afghanistan, and I try to remember them all, as I wait for the light to change.

A young Japanese woman, probably an exchange student, indicates my poppy and asks me what it is for. She has noticed that almost everyone is wearing one. I'm taken aback for a moment, because I was under the impression that the 11th day of the 11th month was remembered as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day or the like around the world. I explain that it is to remind us to remember the soldiers in all the wars, that it is not a victory celebration, but to honour those who fought. "You could wear one too," I tell her. She says thank you, maybe for the explanation, maybe for the acknowledgement that soldiers from her country also died in wars. The light changes and we walk away.

A week later, I was in California, watching the news with a couple of members of the Canadian nerd herd I'd come south with. There had just been an election and the outcome could change the balance of power in the Senate and House, legislative bodies which presumably ratify decisions affecting American soldiers, and therefore soldiers of America's allies and enemies. Watching the footage, I noticed an odd thing.

"None of the newscasters or politicians is wearing a poppy," I said. In Canada, anyone putting forward a public face would be wearing one. It crosses political lines, because we're not honouring the decision to send soldiers to fight, nor the causes they fight for, we're honouring the individuals. I've never heard of anyone shunning poppies because they disagreed with a war or a peacekeeping mission.

"Maybe," it was suggested, "November 11th isn't such a big deal here."

"Or maybe they just don't have poppies. After all, a Canadian wrote the poem."

I've since checked to see if the poppy was a mostly-Canadian thing, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The first Google hit on "In Flanders Fields" is from the Arlington National Cemetary site, and the next one is from Belgium. As this Australian site says, "The poppy soon became widely accepted throughout the allied nations as the flower of remembrance to be worn on Armistice Day." It certainly means that in Canada. We have a circulating coin with a red-coloured poppy on it. User Friendly is a cartoon that is usually silly, often geek-topical, but that took the day off making jokes for the commemoration.

As it turns out, I was with Canadians on the eleventh, but we didn't time our day properly, so we were driving at 11 a.m. (we actually got it mixed up and were thinking 11:11) and just after we parked we noticed with regret that we had missed the appointed hour. "Ah well," said one of my companions, "In gratitude for their sacrifice, let us now go and have a good time enjoying our freedom." And so we did.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Time Travel

When major events happen on my blog, sometimes a few readers cry foul, because they discover that I do not rush home and blog for them the events of every day before I go to bed. People somehow feel cheated because a total stranger didn't sacrifice her sleep and her passengers' safety to tell them every terrible or wonderful thing that happened to her on the very day it occurred. Readers get so caught up in my story that they miss references to dates that are in the past, believe that an October day in the north could be so scorching hot that the pilots were sweating on each other, or that a hut by the side of a runway, with no running water, would have internet access.

I love that you get this involved in my story. I love having you with me, and it's exciting that you start to believe that "yesterday" means "the day before you read this" instead of "the day before I wrote this in my notebook." But then people accuse me of being responsible for their disappointment that my stories don't take place as they read them. And that is frustrating and painful. It's quite similar to the feeling I get when one captain castigates me for flying an airplane the way another captain insisted upon. I can't fulfil two conflicting demands at once. Without even addressing the fact that it takes me time to gather the emotional strength to tell even my closest friends about dramatic events in my life, please look at some facts about this blog and my life, and see how much sense it makes to assume that it is being posted in real time.

You probably know most of these facts.

a) I post every day, with rare exceptions.
b) I frequently work fourteen hour duty days with minimum rest periods--that is, just enough time for meals, personal hygiene and sleep.
c) A Canadian charter pilot does not have regularly scheduled days off, just thirteen individual days off out of every ninety. I can legally work forty-two days straight.
d) I take the air regulations seriously.
e) CAR 700.16(4) states "A flight crew member shall use a rest period provided pursuant to subsection (3) and Section 700.19 to obtain the necessary rest and shall be adequately rested prior to reporting for flight duty."
f) It takes time to write and edit a blog entry.

All but (e) should become quickly evident to a regular reader, and even if there were not such a regulation as (e), a reasonable person would expect me to use my rest period that way. It thereby quickly becomes clear that to blog in real time would defy both law and logic.

During any day, I take quick notes on memorable events or interesting thoughts. In fact sometimes I catch myself thinking about how I'll blog something as it happens. If I have I make some attempt to flesh out the entries as soon as I can, before I forget anything. When I have a chance I type them into the computer. I like to have at least five completely written entries ready at any time, so that if I am very busy I need only select, copy, paste and post. In addition, sometimes I dedicate an entry to my take on current world events, a technical discussion, or a joke. Most of my entries follow a chronological sequence, but I try to keep some timeless entries available to be thrown in when I'm not up-to-date on transcribing the scribbles out of my notebook. Sometimes a day is so eventful that it takes two entries to blog it. Every day that I don't post about that day's complete adventures, I get another day behind. Maybe someone else would just skip that day, but if it has something interesting in it, I don't. I have only very occasionally combined two days' entries into one, and I feel dishonest for it. It's important to me that I be truthful and post my entries in order. A time delay is not a lie.

As I post entries, usually I can't help fixing them up a little bit, adding a bit of information that makes them seem more real time, or that will make a later event easier to understand. Also I make the real-time illusion better but the time slippage worse when I try to hold up a little and match the day of the week of a blog entry to the day of the week that I post it. I'm not bothered by the fact that my entries run behind. It puts some distance behind the bad things before people start questioning me about them, and allows me to relive my triumphs after they have initially faded.

The result is that my blog ranges from one to six weeks behind my life. If you read a magazine series or watch a TV reality show, you would be much further behind that that. But it's still fun, right? I keep writing entries at one end, they keep coming out of the pipeline at the other. You get to read them. Folks, I'm not going to risk running out of blog entries any more than I'm going to risk running out of gas!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Missing Links

Historical posts discussing specific jobs have been removed from the blog. They may be published commercially in the future.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Marriage Proposal

I wrote this a week or so ago before all the excitement started. I don't have opportunity to blog right now, just a couple of minutes to send this off.

Most radio conversation with air traffic control goes quickly, using the official 300-odd word vocabulary given to ATC. When the frequency is not so busy, there's a bit of chat, some jokes and personal greetings. But the recording linked below represents what may be a first in Canada.

Special message from the ground controller.

It's perfectly safe for work, even if you're an air traffic controller, but it made me cry the first time I listened to it. The controller's name is Bryson Katzel, and his fiancée, as he says, is Christine Watters.

Apparently Bryson got a talking to from the big cheese in NavCanada in Ottawa, as they discourage this kind of thing, but he wouldn't have been planning on doing it again any time, anyway. I don't know any of the people involved, but I wish the couple all the best.

Thanks to Eric Martin of Futura Studios Digital Design Center for hosting the clip. Be nice to his bandwidth and save it to your computer before you play it for someone else.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Leaving It All Behind

It's kind of melancholy leaving everyone and everything, because I've developed not only friends, but a lot of specialized skills on this job that I won't need on the next one. In the course of saying good-bye to people I'm receiving comments and cards and kudos that confirm that I've done my job well. I know I can do the next one well, too, but it will take a while to go from the new person who has to be watched to the one who can be counted on.

I know every rivet and idiosyncracy of my current fleet. I may know where another company's airplane is going from its callsign. I know the people, the places, the approaches. I know where the bumps are, where the winds are going to be, and how to solve the problems unique to this specialty. And I'm going to walk away and let the knowledge decay.

I've been looking at charts. The VNCs are predominately different colours, the MDAs all seem odd, and the 100 nm safe altitudes are startling. The weather will be different, too.

Initailly I'm flying to my new company. I can drive out later to bring my stuff. The jet bringing me there will take off and fly right over my airport. My old airport. I will probably be able to see it through the scratchy window, if the weather is good.

I've flown over it a thousand times, maybe three thousand times. I learned to fly there. I've worked other places, but this is the first time I've got a job somewhere that I haven't flown to or over during previous jobs. I'll no longer hear the voices of my former colleagues on frequency. There will be new colleagues, new airplanes, new expertise.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Last Day Prank

I apparently have a reputation for snagging airplanes (reporting them defective) right before our maintenance staff is scheduled to go home. They come in before the pilots do in the morning, ensure everything is airworthy for the day, and then go home for beer. I stand accused of regularly throwing a wrench in that routine.

I think I snag airplanes any time of the day that they are broken, but they just notice when I'm keeping them from their beer. They aren't trivial snags. Uncommanded gear extension, alternator failure, tachometer failure, things like that. I'm not one of those pilots who writes up "funny noise" snags. But in appreciation of all the times they stayed late so I could do another flight, I had a stunt for them.

I went out to the most expensive airplane in the fleet, made a few arrangements, and then asked the dispatcher for the journey log. I opened it up and wrote carefully and legibly "Left pilot seat will not slide back on rails." I signed it and added my licence number, all according to procedure. And then I had an intermediary call maintenance to tell them to come out to the line. After a short pause, the dispatch phone rang. The dispatcher, in on the prank, told them, yes, we need the airplane tonight. The head of maintenance and another AME came out of the hangar with "some idiot pilot has dropped a pen in the seat rails" looks on their faces. We watched from the window as they opened the airplane.

No wonder the seat wouldn't slide: I'd wedged a case of beer under it. They came back in with the beer and a grin. I gestured to the journey log, wondering what the rectification would be. I think the official document reads, "Cardboard removed from seat rails. Checks ok," with the signature and licence number of the head of maintenance all in the correct places.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

More Excitement

I found out that Vole called one of my references today. (No, this post is not out of order. They called for a reference after offering me a job). The person concerned pried around a bit to find out what was going on, and found out that they are considering putting me on the larger and more complex Monarch Butterfly, instead of the little Weedwhacker.

I'm starting to feel like a bit of a fraud. I'm not telling any lies here, nor on my resume, but this employer is all excited about getting me on board and I feel like I'm going to get there and say "Surprise! it's just ME! You thought you were getting a real airline pilot!" I'd better go re-read what it says on my licence, and remember that I am one.

I've been underemployed for so long that I've failed to realize that my experience has added up, even though I haven't been advancing. GC's misguess as to my new equipment placed me an echelon or two above my real level in the aviation hierarchy. That made me feel like an underaged teenager who has snuck into the bar and is now getting served, thanks only to well-applied mascara and her big sister's ID. But it also gives me a "so there" feeling that despite the fact that I'm just leaving the lowliest level of commercial aviation, my knowledge and experiences fit in with what my passengers would consider being a 'commercial pilot.'

Me Go Girl!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Transferrable Skills

I overheard some ramp workers talking the other day about the skills and knowledge they were developing about the insides of cargo holds and how to cram the most stuff in them.

"Your first day doing this, you wish you'd played Tetris more. And then you know you've been on the ramp too long when a new type of airplane you've never seen taxies up and the first thing you think about is 'I wonder what its cargo hold looks like'."

Me, I sometimes wonder why the area that we park, service and load airplanes is called 'the ramp' when it's flat. Everywhere else in my experience a ramp is a sloped surface that allows loads or vehicles to be moved between levels without lifting them.

Posts are going to get short and sketchy, or like this, some generic pre-written entries, as I prepare to leave, and travel afar. I'll keep lots of notes and try to keep you updated.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

From My Scratchpad

I used to copy clearances onto random bits of scrap paper, but a while ago I started keeping a notepad for them. That way I can look back and see what clearance I got last time, and can keep track of silly conversations for you all. Here are a few.

ATC: Mooseflight 123, maintain 6000', advise prior to descent.
Pilot: Maintain 6000, advise prior to descent, Mooseflight 123.
Several minutes later
ATC: Mooseflight 123, say altitude
Pilot: Descending through 4500'
ATC: Didn't we agree that you were going to advise prior to descent?
Pilot: Sorry about that.

From a crew advised of VFR traffic and still looking for the VFR:
"We've got all our Christmas lights on."

And then there's the controllers who like to give instructions to crews that seem to be having difficulty.

ATC: Swan One, contact tower 123.4
Pilot: Over to Tower 123.4, Swan One.
Pilot: Tower, Swan One, out of 5000' with Juliet.
ATC: Still with Centre. You have to push the little button to get 123.4

The controller is referring to the type of a radio with an active frequency and a standby frequency. To swap the two you have to push a button. Half the time the button double clicks, so you end up on the same frequency you started, and if you don't look at the display, you miss it, and embarrass yourself like the guy above.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Hoops Ahead

Nothing in aviation is certain until it has happened. While I have been formally offered the job, here are the hoops I have to jump through before I am safely buckled in as captain. Most of this is normal training requirements at any airline.

One thing that is unusual, there was no sim check as part of the interview process. So the first thing I have to do is a sim check. No pressure here, but within an hour of arriving in the nearest city where Vole has a base, I'm going to be in a simulator, proving I can fly. Probably a couple of approaches, a hold, and an emergency. It wasn't done prior to hiring because they assume I can fly, but make no mistake: if I'm not up to standard, I'm going home. But I'll do fine.

The next morning, they will fly me to another one of their bases for company indoctrination. This probably includes WHMIS dangerous goods handling certification, familiarity with the emergency response plan (best thing about the ERP is you get everyone's phone number, for organizing parties), learning about the company structure, and so on. All the training that applies to no particular airplane type.

That complete -- I think it takes a day -- I am scheduled to fly to yet another company base for groundschool on the Weedwhacker. There will be a series of systems exams on that, and presuming I pass them all, I'll be introduced to a training captain and receive a few hours of training on the airplane. The last step is a pilot proficiency check. That's a flight test, with either a Transport Canada official, or a company pilot who has been designated by Transport to do internal rides. Occasionally you get both: a company pilot doing the ride, with a Transport official monitoring to make sure the PPC is being done according to spec. Or the other way around for the purpose of training a company check pilot. If you should happen to fail a PPC ride, even though it's on an airplane you just met two days before, that invalidates your instrument rating, and you have to go back to square one and requalify to fly IFR. No pressure or anything!

Once the official Transport Canada designation for the new type is inscribed on the back of my licence (the updated licence comes by mail a few weeks later), I will fly further north to my new base, not yet assigned. There I will undergo line indoctrination, flying with a pilot who is familiar with the routes until I and the company are comfortable with me taking command.

As usual, I will let you know how it goes. Or I'll write about holds.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Good Names For Volleyball Teams

Google directs a lot of people to my website as a result of queries for "good name for volley ball team" and similar searches. This seems to be the result of this one posting. If Cockpit Conversation is the best the internet can serve in the interest of numerous volleyball team namers, I think I and my readers can better the situation.

Volleyball is played either in on a court or on the beach with teams of six people whacking a white, slightly squishy ball over a net. The ball enters play by someone serving it, that is whacking it reasonably hard over the net into the other team's court. Neither team is allowed to touch the ball more than three times before it crosses the net to the other side, the same person can't hit it twice in a row, and it has to go over, not under the net. If you break those rules, or the ball touches the ground within bounds on your side of the net, the opposing team gets a point. Whichever team just scored makes the next serve, and when the service changes sides, the members of the team that just won the right to serve all move around one position, so that a new person is doing the serving.

The various sorts of ball-whacking are called set, spike, bump. I think you're allowed to hit the ball with your head or your elbow. Not sure about knees or feet, probably not. Oh and to keep track of who is going to whack the ball, you yell "mine!" That's about all I know.

Here are my suggestions for team names, based mainly on puns, and my mental associations with the game.

Things That Go Bump in the Night
Bumper Cars
Spike Force
Now Serving
Popular Girls
Blonde and Bouncy
Bruise Squad
Itchy Shorts
It Was In
The Miners
Coal Miners
Diamond Miners
Net Profits
Yours Truly
The Volleyball Scene
Six Guys Named Bruce
Courting Disaster
Nothing but Net
What's That Line For?
Sand in Our Shorts
Hundred Pound Weaklings

And here's a volleyball team naming URL that I'm sure my googlers found, but apparently that wasn't enough. Can we contribute anything else?

If you are one of the googling volleyball people, and you use one of the names suggested by me or my loyal readers, you owe us a picture of your team.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Economic Ties

When I first heard that Air Canada was advertising a one-stop flight from Fort McMurray, Alberta to St. John's, Newfoundland I was a little baffled. Why would there be a lot of call for flights from a rugged northern oil town in a western province to the capital of a province famed for codfish and bad weather. For those not conversant with Canadian geography, Fort McMurray is sort of like a combination of Texas and North Dakota, while Newfoundland is more like Maine combined with Alaska. The distance is like Seattle to Maine. It seemed an odd choice.

And then the article explained it. Newfoundland experienced an economic upsurge about ten or fifteen years ago, with the development of offshore oil. Many Newfoundlanders trained as oil workers, and now they are working all across the country, including the Alberta oilpatch. And apparently they travel home often enough to have created a demand for more direct flights. Makes perfect sense. It's why there is Indonesian fast food in the Netherlands, Indian fast food in England and Senegalese street vendors in Paris: history. I like that sort of stuff.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Weedwhacker Flaps

The WD40 has electrically actuated flaps. A flap-shaped lever to the right of the power quadrant controls movement: up for up and down for down. Full flap extension is 40 degrees. When the flap selector is returned to the neutral position, an electric brake stops the flap motor to freeze the flaps where they are.

An electric flap position indicator above the lever shows the position of the left flap. Both flaps are supposed to move together, and any asymmetry will cause roll. "Split flaps" -- one being extended more than the other -- are vanishingly rare on what I fly now, but the training manual discussion of asymmetric flap deployment leads me to suspect that it is a recurring problem with the Weedwhacker. There is some protection in place, but there are a few holes.

Limit switches will cut off power to the flap motor when the left flap reaches the full up or full down position, or if the left flap fails to move off its stop within one second of power being applied to the motor. One second here equates to 4 to 9 degrees of travel of the right flap. So as I read it, if the left flap moves and the right one doesn't, it's up to the pilot to recognize the asymmetry and shut off the flap motor. Likewise there is no sensor other than the pilot if the flaps are at an intermediate position, and then the pilot attempts to retract them or extend them further. For this reason, pilots are cautioned to disengage the autopilot before operating flaps. (The autopilot is not smart enough to say "that's funny," and would continue to attempt to fly the airplane without reporting its need for an unusual amount of anti-roll input). Other advice to pilots is to move the flaps in one second increments, confirming proper roll control before continuing their travel. If the flap circuit breaker tends to pop, there is likely some problem with the flap mechanism, and the flaps should not be extended beyond fifteen degrees.

Later models have a lever that moves in a track, with the lever position corresponding to the selected flap extension. The flaps will automatically run to the selected position and stop. These ones also sense the position of each flap and compare them throughout their travel, shutting off the motor if the difference exceeds five degrees. It even has a test function: while the flaps are moving you press the test button and it sends a false asymmetry signal to the amplifier, and the flaps should stop, until you release the button. I don't know how the circuitry works for that, but it can't be indistinguishable from the real signal, because if a real asymmetry is sensed, the flap system must be reset by maintenance before it can be operated.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Circling vs. Contact

Paul asked of the contact approach Isn't this about the same as a circling approach? I guess in a circling approach if I lose sight of the runway I am to execute the missed procedure, except I was more or less on downwind.

A contact approach resembles a circling approach in that both leave the electronic paths set out by nav aids and ask the pilot to navigate by looking out the window, but they are not the same. The circling approach is conducted when the published instrument approach that the pilot is flying does not lead straight to the landing runway. The pilot flies the approach down to published circling minima, and then, only if the runway is in sight and she has a reasonable expectation of being able to remain visual while maneuvering to land, she turns as required to line up with and land on the correct runway.

A circling approach can be as simple as widening out to the left or right after the runway is sighted. Some approaches are published without a runway number attached, just a letter designation like "NDB A". That means that the approach track is more than 30 degrees off of the runway heading. Sometimes the approach is lined up perfectly with the runway, but there is a tailwind on the approach. A pilot wants to land into the wind, so has to widen out, usually to the right, so she can see the runway on her left, and fly all the way around to the other end of the runway before descending to land.

Sometimes there are circling restrictions published on the plate, a little circle with sectors blocked off and deisgnated "no circling." So you can only circle in the direction allowed on the plate. Other times, if there is a tower, they might clear you to "circle north" to make you conform with, or keep you away from VFR traffic. You have to remain within a specified distance of the runway, depending on your speed: 1.3 nm for up to 90 kts, 1.5 nm for 91-120 kts, 1.7 nm for 121-140 kts and 2.3 nm for over 141-165 kts. There's a category E for over 165 kts, too, but you only find those on military plates. Apparently only the military thinks its smart to build airplanes that can't be safely slowed down to land. The circling altitudes published for most approaches step up for higher airspeeds, so it's not like there's an advantage to going fast.

If you were wrong about being able to remain visual until reaching the runway, and have to conduct a missed approach, you turn towards the centre of the airport and hook up best you can with the missed approach published for the approach you just flew.

So a circling approach starts at a specific point and altitude right at the airport, and must remain within a specified small distance. A contact approach can start miles and miles away. Technically, you might be able to request a contact approach in cruise, four hundred miles from the airport. It wouldn't be smart, but I don't see any rule forbidding it. I can imagine there might be a situation might arise in VMC where for some technical reason a contact approach is better than cancelling VFR or getting a visual.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Contact Approaches

I'm studying up stuff I don't do much in order to prepare for my training and proficiency check. I don't think I've ever done a contact approach. It can be a dangerous maneuver.

An aircraft on an IFR flight plan can follow instrument indications almost all the way to the runway (a precision approach) or to the immediate vicinity of the airport, descending further only if the runway is in sight (a non-precision approach). It is possible also to remain on an IFR flight plan yet stop navigating by instruments and start navigating by looking out the window, before reaching the airport.

If the weather is good -- at least 3 sm visibility, and ceiling at least 500 feet above the minimum IFR altitude -- and the pilot sees both the airport and any traffic which she is supposed to be following, ATC can clear her for a visual approach. She finds the airport, flies to it and lands. She is respnsible for wake turbulence separation, noise abatement procedures, and looking out for VFR traffic. There is no published missed for a visual. If weather might bring on the need to miss the approach then the pilot should not accept a visual approach. A visual is easy. I do those a lot. The weather limits are equivalent to those required for VFR flight in controlled airspace.

If the weather is lousy, and the pilot can't see the airport, but thinks she can find it, she can ask for a contact approach. The visibility has to be at least one nautical mile, the very minimum allowed for VFR flight. The aircraft must be flown at least 1000 feet above the nearest obstacle within five nautical miles of where the pilot thinks she is. The airport must have a published instrument approach. Pilots are cautioned to be familiar with the local terrain and noise abatement when attempting this kind of approach. I think some companies forbid them.

I've just made that sound really sketchy, but there are times when a contact approach can be safe and useful. Your airport is on the shore, and there's always a bunch of cloud right around the MDA. You are at the MEA, but you can't see the airport. You request descent to the MOCA, but you still can't see the airport, although you can see the shoreline and recognize the geography telling you you're almost there, and the AWOS says you have at least a mile in mist at the field. You ask for a contact approach, descend out of the MEA and follow the shoreline until you have the airport in sight and then you turn and land. I guess the contact approach is meant to fill in the gap between cancelling IFR when there's a chance the flight can't be completed VFR, and turning away from an airport where you could land perfectly well if it weren't for the stupid rules.

And I've probably used this joke before, but it fits.

"Centre, Barnburner One, request the visual approach."
"Barnburner One, confirm you have the airport in sight?"
"Uh, negative Centre, but we know where it is!"

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Weedwhacker

So now that I know that I am to be a Weedwhacker captain, I need to learn everything there is to know about the Weedwhacker. Why don't I call it the WD40, to save typing, and to further confuse visitors to the blog who haven't your attention span. Those of you familiar with low-end commercial aviation are going to recognize this bird quite quickly. Feel free to e-mail me any advice or information you might have. I've surpressed comments on this entry to curtail the enthusiasts who want to prove they know the identity of the airplane.

I happen to have in my possession an excellent manual for the type, produced by a now defunct California airline. It could be called "Weedwhacker for Dummies" as it contains lots of really basic piloting advice like "make sure all wheels are turning when you begin taxiing" and things most sentient beings can figure out on their own like "if you have broken bones, try to avoid moving." It also explains the systems and operation of the airplane. Once again it is my responsibility to know as much as I can before groundschool. School is no place to learn anything!

The WD40 is a low wing, aluminum airplane with two reciprocating, turbocharged engines. There are different subtypes, and Vole operates both the regular and extended cab editions, with different engines. (The two can be distinguished by counting the windows). The basic three-axis flight controls are manually operated through cables and pulleys, and the elevator is equipped with an anti-servo tab that moves in the same direction as elevator deflection, but further. This tab provides feedback, such that the further you deflect the elevator from the trimmed position, the more force is required to move it. This is called positive stick force gradient and considered a good thing because it discourages us from tearing our own airplanes apart.

And now I have to start packing to leave.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Encouraging Excerpts

It is said that one should focus on the positive. Focusing on the positive makes you happier, and puts you in a more positive frame of mind. This is not only good for your mental health, but affects the way others treat you. Many people believe that what you focus on manifests in your life. The formula of prayer is to give thanks for the good things in ones life and to ask without expectation for additional blessings. I've been collecting these the last few months, to look at whenever I felt tempted to focus on the negative.

"I have set your resume on top."
--Steve Vizcacha

"She has extensive fized-wing experience, great interpersonal skills, high intelligence, works well in a team, and is mature, professional, and of excellent character."
--my internal reference in a letter to Steve Xenarthra

"You currently meet or exceed our minimum requirements."
--Taxidea form letter

"You're a shoe-in!"
--Dingo line pilot, on reviewing my qualifications

"You're perfectly positioned to take advantage of the industry move."
-- a contact at Zibellina Aviation

"I am very happy to offer you a position on the [Weedwhacker] as Captain."
-- e-mail from Steve Vole, received while composing my positive thinking post

Insert image of Aviatrix grinning and leaping about pumping the air with her fists in glee.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


It has been pointed out to me that the three day period I gave myself to get a job offer from my preferred company contains a weekend. To cover for the fact that I am that stupid, I blinked in mock confusion at the person who told me this.

"Wik-end? wik-end?: I keep hearing this word. What is this wik-end of which you speak?"

It dawned on him that aviation doesn't shut down on weekends. He acknowledged that I didn't get weekends off, so maybe my prospective airline didn't either.

And than I milked it. "While we're at it, maybe you can explain this five o' clock concept that people get so excited about. Everyone's always looking forward to five o' clock. What's so great about that? They are looking forward to the sun going down in the winter, because they like working in the dark? I've heard some people get meal breaks at their jobs, is the dinner break at five o' clock? Or maybe they are just excited about the time they get to report for work in the morning?"

"Oh shut up. Some people have normal jobs."

I'm glad I don't have a normal job. And, one way or the other, I'll have a new abnormal job soon. Fingers crossed, it's Vole.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Job Offer Dance

Knowing that I was likely to get both a job offer from Vizcacha and an interview from Vole in the same week, I gave careful instructions to all who might answer my telephone.

"I'm not answering the phone. I'm just going to let it go to the answering machine, or let you get it. If someone calls for me, and it might be a job offer, don't say I'm here. Just take a message. Don't say when I'm expected back. Just take a message."

I knew the Vizcacha call would be first, and I don't like the dance of trading one employer off against the other. I'd rather have both offers and accept the best, or have the best offer first, or just get the best. Last year I whined because there were no job offers. This year I'm whining because I have the wrong job offer first. There's no pleasing me.

Thus my original message from Vizcacha was in the form of a scrap of paper on which someone else had written some notes from a telephone call. It asked me to respond to someone whose name I didn't recognize via a hotmail address. Hmm. While that would be an amusing trick to play on someone expecting a job offer, I believed it to be real. I now had a strategy, though. My first e-mail response would simply be a query along the lines of "I have a message to contact you at this e-mail address. How can I help you?" And then I can wait for the response, and wait to answer again, because I'm flying, right? I can't check my e-mail ten times a day. And meanwhile I would be doing the very opposite of stalling in order to make the Vole offer happen. Cunning strategy? Watch Aviatrix sabotage herself.

I was carefully composing the e-mail to Vole to tell them why I needed a response soonest, when my cellphone rang. The area code told me it was Vizcacha. So I knew it was Vizcacha. So I knew I shouldn't answer it. So I let it ring. Three rings. Then I answered it. Yeah, I answered it. What is wrong with me? This time it is the gentleman who interviewed me. So the job offer is real. I tell him I have had another interview, this one for a permanent job, and I am waiting to hear, "When do you need my answer?" Oddly, he reminds me that if I accept I am expected to stay for the full term of the contract. "Yes, and I fully intend to. I take committments seriously and won't accept unless I am willing to stay." He says he has promised the people he just interviewed that he will let them know within a week. So inexplicably, I tell him I can give him an answer within three days. What is wrong with me?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Family Feud

Do you know the television show Family Feud? A surveyer asks a hundred people a question like "name a vegetable" or "give a reason why a couple would fight" and then teams (usually composed of members of the same family) try to guess what the top answers were in the survey. I saw an episode that had a relevant question.

Top eight answers on the board. Reasons why a person would turn down a job.

Low pay/Salary 60
Location 17
Schedule/Hours 6
Don't like job 4
Overqualified 2
Don't like boss 2
Lousy benefits 2
Got a better job 2

I've got an offer from Vizcacha. It has low pay, a lousy location, pilot hours, and lousy benefits, but I'd take it in a minute. Except that I'm holding out for an offer from Vole. Vole has better pay, a worse location, and some benefits I think I'll like. Don't worry: I won't turn Vizcacha down unless Vole is in hand.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

SMS Buzzword Bingo

Whether or not it's really required to be two days long, my Safety Management Systems training is complete. SMS is to the first decade of the 21st century what ISO was to the 1990s and TQM was to the 1980s. If you too are required to do this training, here's a way I came up with, in between the Power Point slides and the meaningful group activities, to make it a little more interesting.

On a spare piece of paper, or inside the back cover of your workbook, draw for yourself a five by five grid. This will be your bingo card. Choose twenty-five buzzwords or events from the list below and fill them in, one per square, anywhere in your bingo card. Now let the lecturer be your bingo caller. Mark off each square as it occurs in the lecture. When you have five in a row, put up your hand and ask a question or make a comment containing the word bingo. For example, "We experienced a similar situation at a job in Gold River," or "Won't rubbing out one error here just cause another?" Then clear your card and start again. Whoever has the most bingos at the end of the lecture wins, but you lose a point if you laugh.

The List

Words & Phrases: safety culture, responsibility, trust, feedback, risk, spokesman, committee, pencil-whip, sabotage, learning, improvement, situation, analysis, experience, model, training, negligence, authority, responsibility, function, standard, accident, oversee, revision, process, empower, implement, review, case study

Events: presenter quotes James Reason, presenter quotes himself, coffee is spilled, a cellphone rings, someone gets called out of the room, a graphic is illegible, anyone tips a chair over backwards, audiovisual equipment malfunctions, slide shows a flow chart

At the end of the class we signed forms pledging to have a "positive interaction" with any of our coworkers whom we observed "engaging in unsafe acts." The guy sitting beside me wanted to know if condoms would be provided.

P.S. An HR company representing Vizcacha has called at least one of my references. This is a good sign.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Vizcacha vs. Vole

I don't know the probable outcome of a contest between a vole and a vizcacha in a zoological sense, but for the companies they represent, I must know what I should choose.

Vole would be taking me on as a captain on an ubiquitous airplane type that I'm not identifying because I like to be coy, and because I don't want to be a Google hit for the name. This airplane's nickname is homonymous to that of a garden implement, so I think I'll call it the Weedwhacker. Over at Blogging at FL250, Sam refers to his steed as the Megawhacker, so Weedwhacker fits right in. Vole operates a number of aircraft types, enough to keep me occupied for years, and from all accounts it's a fine place to work. There are a number of bases, only one of which I've ever been to, and some of which qualify as armpits. Very cold armpits.

Vizcacha operates something I'll call the Cuisinart, a synonym for its real life nickname, and the job there would be seasonal. I know it has a great company spirit. The flying would probably be easier. It's all VFR, specialized aerial work. The experience would be valuable, and a summer spent doing that would make it easier to get a job at another company like Vole, possibly with more attractive bases. The pay is lower, although the high-end pay for the experienced specialists is probably better than the mid-range at Vole. None of the bases is as attractive as Vole's best base, but I wouldn't be at that base with Vole, anyway.

I should go for the best long term prospect, which is Vole, but Vizcacha will call first. Also Vizcacha is easier flying. It would be like a summer vacation. I really thnk I'm going to get both job offers. What a fantastic luxury.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Fun with the Speakerphone

I had my telephone interview with Vole.

Three Volians gathered around a speakerphone in a distant city and dialed my number. I was sitting next to my telephone, surrounded by notes about myself, the company, and my qualifications, plus the reminders "smile" (because you can hear that over the telephone) and "don't babble." And then the interrogation began.

They weren't the head honchos of Vole, but rather a cross section, assigned the task of ensuring that I would fit in with the company. I think one of the three was more nervous than I was, which instantly provoked my "looking after" instincts, and removed all nervousness from me. The paralyzing impact of such standard questions as "Communication is very important in our industry; tell us about a time that you had difficulty communicating, and how you resloved the problem," is softened when it's clearly delivered by someone who is hunched over a speakerphone, reading it haltingly off a script. They were clearly nice folks, and I had fun talking to them.

One highlight may have been the question "Tell us about the toughest group you had to integrate with." I was racking my brains, trying to think of a time in my life that I have had to struggle in order to work, or live, or otherwise get along with a group of people. Being silent at the end of a phone is probably worse than being silent in person, because they can't see you making 'I'm thinking' faces, and you can't gauge just how impatient they are getting. So I mused out loud about the fact that integrating with people is one of my strengths, but that there must be some example. "It would have been some group that I wasn't with very long, so they didn't get a chance to know me, and I didn't have an opportunity to try different strategies ... maybe it was ..." I was just about to pull out a poor example (which, in retrospect, might have described the personnel at the base where they could be sending me), when suddenly it came to me. "Oh!" I said with certainty. "That would be HIGH SCHOOL!" Everyone laughed. All those fifteen year olds, desperate to fit in, and trying so hard. Thinking back on the question, it's obvious that the correct answer is to say that you get along with everyone, to recall some incident from the past, and point out what you've learned from that that will make you even better at it. I didn't think about answering the question that way, but it came out that way, honestly and spontaneously. And everyone remembers the agony of high school cliques. I'd like to use that answer again at the next level of interviews, but it's too bad it will never again have that spontaneous revelation.

They ended by telling me that they felt the interview had gone well, and that I would likely hear from the boss shortly.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Recurrent Training

The aviation industry acknowledges the fact that most people don't remember what they've been taught for very long, so it requires us to be told the same things over and over again, every year. They've recently introduced a new thing for us to be reminded of every year, and that is safety management. I was hoping to escape this round by giving notice and getting to do it at a new company, but that hasn't happened yet, so on my upcoming schedule I have two mornings of safety management training.

Two mornings? One of them is even on what should have been my day off, and as it isn't flying, it doesn't count as flight duty time, so it cuts directly into what remains of my life. And seeing as they are holding another seminar in the corresponding afternoons, for the other half of the company, why not just do one half of us one day, and the other half the next day, allowing everyone to write off just one day of their life? Well it turns out that there is a reason.

As I heard it, Transport Canada mandates that all employees holding certain designated positions in the aviation industry must have two days per year of safety management systems training. The rule doesn't say how many hours constitutes a "day," so a single eight hour course qualifies, so long as it is split over two days. Loopholes!

In other news, my phone calls to Vole have paid off and the current round of telephone tag targets setting up a telephone interview, which should occur sometime this week.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Bucket of Propwash

A new dispatcher at work was trying to handle an inquiry that grew increasingly complex. She finally said, "I'm new here, I'm going to let [another dispatcher on duty] handle this."

The enquirer accepted the deferral and asked, "While I'm waiting, could you get me a bucket of propwash?"

I'm proud of her for the way she rolled an eye at him and said levelly, "I'm not that new."

A 'bucket of propwash' is one of those joke requests used to get laughs at the expense of the uninitiated, like a left handed monkey wrench, or a hundred feet of shoreline. I never sent anyone on one of those fool's errands. Newcomers usually come up with enough crazy mistakes of their own, without my help.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Escape from New York

I am watching the 1981 movie Escape from New York. The premise is that in 1988 New York City became a walled penitentiary, and in 1997 the President of the United States becomes trapped there, and has to be rescued. It's a really bad movie.

The only reason I mention it, is that it features an aviatrix. Or possibly she's a hijacker, it's not quite clear. She's not wearing a pilot uniform. From an exterior shot of Air Force One, we cut to the cockpit, where a woman (did everyone have Farrah Fawcett hair in 1981?) is ranting on the intercom, reading from a written statement about the International Federation of Socialist something or other and declares that the president will perish in the penitentiary. There's no explanation given for why the president's pilot has wigged out to this degree.

I do not suggest you ever rent this movie. In fact, if you have a choice between cleaning the basement and watching this movie on cable, put on your coveralls and head downstairs.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Today I heard that one of my colleagues has an interview with Badger next week, and that another of my colleagues has received the "we will never hire you" message. Different reason, same brutal but honest finality.

I think I will call up Steve Badger and ask him if he would be interested in a pilot with [my time] hours, and a few hundred hours on [his aircraft]. I expect he would be. Then I'll tell him, "This is Aviatrix. If you had hired me last year, that would be me. Do you think you'll still be interested in a pilot like that next year?"

I really hope the guy who has the interview gets the job. He will do a great job. I'm proud to have worked with him. And he has less than a third of my experience.

Someone told me another rumour today that one of our pilots had landed a job at a large company in another province. I hope it's true, because the pilot it was rumoured about is me. Aren't rumours fun?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Mammal Update

I haven't been updating my sidebar, but I have been working on my mammals.

Still haven't heard from Vizcacha, where I interviewed a couple of weeks back, but that was to be expected: I should hear this week. I have also being playing a vigourous game of telephone tag with someone at Vole, who claimed he wanted to set up a screening interview, but then I was stuck being "it" and couldn't get a hold of him. I tried to call someone else there but was told he was out of the country for a month. That sounded a lot like the Nutria chief pilot who was "on a flight" until I revealed that I had time and training on the appropriate aircraft, at which point he magically teleported into his office.

I e-mailed a contact at Vole who says, no, they definitely need people, but that the Steve Jr. I was losing to at telephone tag is unlikely to call me, because he's just had an "incident." My contact has given me a new name to try. I'll make lots of calls tomorrow morning, just in case Vizcacha doesn't appreciate my magnificence.

Speaking of magnificence, I discovered that an amazingly competent, clever, and well-regarded (non-pilot) co-worker had fifteen interviews at different companies and was turned down for all of them, including our company. We called her back after the person we hired didn't work. I was inspired by her story: absolutely shocking proof that multiple rejection should not be taken personally.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Unscheduled Crew Rest

Some airlines that fly long routes have crew rest facilities on board the aircraft, so that the primary crew can sleep while the relief pilots hold the fort. Unfortunately, lack of such facilities (and approval) doesn't stop some guys from nodding off. This story happened to a colleague of an ex-instructor of an acquaintance. (How's that for verification?)

The first officer leaves the flight deck to use the restroom and the captain locks the door behind him, as per policy. The door can only be opened from the inside.

When the first officer returns, the captain does not respond to the correct signal requesting admittance. Nor to the flight attendant's attempt to enter. Nor to discreet pounding on the door. Eventually in desperation, the FO gains access to the cockpit through a method I've been advised to edit out, which is too bad, because it's interesting.

Because it's a FOAF story, it's missing the what-happened-next details. What would you say? Or just leave it at "Thanks." Next trip with the guy, I'd pull an old fashioned wind-up alarm clock with a loud ringer out of my flight bag, set it for ten minutes hence, and leave it on my seat. If I didn't think he'd appreciate the joke, I'd set it when he wasn't looking and leave it inside my flight bag.

There are obviously a few serious issues raised by the story. Crew fatigue? What if the pilot locked in the flight deck had suffered a stroke or heart attack? And the method he used to gain access shouldn't work that way. A study on mental alertness shows that for the first three minutes after awakening, impairment could be as bad as if the person were legally drunk. Effects could last as long as two hours. This should also be a concern for long haul crew who wake up the captain before descent, or in an emergency.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Stupidest Accident Ever

I got distracted from required phone calls this morning by a website that describes the fate of every Boeing 737 ever to be written off. It's not sizably different from a list of accidents happening to any other type of airplane, but I like 737s, and it's an interesting cross section of global air operators. This may seem weird, but pilots like to read accident reports as reminders of what not to do, and to do Saturday morning quarterbacking. Also we can feel superior when we discover things like this:

The pilot set a heading of 270 instead of 027 and ended up 600 miles off course. The error led to fuel exhaustion and a forced landing in jungle, 12 of the 48 passengers were killed in the crash. It took two days for the survivors to be found. The heading mistake went unnoticed because the crew was reportedly listening to a World Cup qualification football match.

If you don't know the 360 degree heading system, that's like being in Regina and heading towards Vancouver instead of Churchill.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

That Interview

It's not fair to tell you I had an interview and then tell you nothing about it, but there has been a lot going on. It took place a few days ago.

I realized that my new, and not fully assembled interview suit was overkill, but that I had nothing else to wear, so I ended up wearing an outfit that I bought in twenty minutes (that's a very short amount of time, guys). Why all this emphasis on wardrobe? First impressions count and the employer has to be able to envision me flying his aircraft, which will be done in casual clothes for this job, but he has to see that respect him and his company. My pants did not fall off during the interview, which, because of the way pants are styled this way, was more of a concern than it ought to have been.

It was pretty standard inteview fare. Tell me about your career so far. How do you make decisions? How many attempts would you make to land before proceding to your alternate? What has been the greatest challenge of your career? Have you ever had a disagreement with a co-worker? Tell me about a time you accomplished something as part of a team. What was the toughest decision you have made? Why do you want to work for us?

Predictably I babbled on some answers, stammered on others and substituted irrelevant stories for carefully thought out but momentarily forgotten prepared answers. I left out lots I should have said, and inadvertantly told one lie, which I realized on the way home.

The interviewer was an old-fashioned gentleman, opening doors for me, not sitting until I did and so on. I'm pretty sure he is smart enough to know that girls fly airplanes just as well as the boys, but I think he has true distaste for the prospect of sending a female into a lousy base. And he referred to one of his own bases, during the interview, as the 'armpit of Canada.' If you're thinking, "I've been there!" remember that by that criterion, Canada must have more arms than a Hindu goddess.

I'll hear within a week or so, and meanwhile I'm playing telephone tag with another employer. We're both working too hard to make contact.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Euphemism of the Night

From a pilot job advertisement ...

We are looking for a responsible, self motivated person that understands and accepts the demands of the industry. [italics mine]

Ouch. Um. I won't be applying for that one. Convenient that they coded it so clearly, as it would be awkward to say flat out "Applicants must be willing to fly over gross, with known aircraft defects, in unsuitable weather."

If you want more to read, AC Pilot is sometimes a little dry, but I laughed until it hurt when I read about the Sandwich Snack.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Icing on the Cake Wing

When I was a kid I used to protest when the grownups would knock all the beautiful icicles off the building overhangs. They were so shiny and magical in their elaborately overlapping patterns. But the grownups said they were dangerous, because they could fall on someone and hurt them. Grudgingly I had to agree that I would not want a giant icicle to fall on me, but I still liked to look at them. To me, a frozen waterfall is one of the most beautiful things in nature. All that power crystallized for the winter.

I have to admit to secretly admiring airframe icing. It's like a tiger: deadly dangerous, yet exotically beautiful. John, Sam and Shawn have recently blogged on the dangers of ice. Shawn has a great picture of leading edge ice. (More icing porn, please Shawn.) So in the wake of learned, cautionary posts by some of my blogging colleagues, I have the audacity to say "but ooh, isn't it pretty?"

I think it's fascinating the way, despite the rush of air past the wing, that rime icing develops forward into elaborate shapes. If the departure airport was above freezing, during the climb the fuel is still warm and warms the wings around the fuel tanks, so that ice forms first on the areas between the tanks. During descent, the fuel has been chilled to the temperature of the cruising altitude, and ice forms where befoer there were gaps. I like to watch the ice patches shrink to nothing as we descend into warmer air.

I feel terribly guilty admitting this, as ice causes so many accidents. I almost deleted it instead of posting it. I know the effect of ice on performance, and respond promptly to icing conditions, but I can admire the sleek beauty of the tiger even as I chase it away from the village, can't I?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Phone in to Win

Here is the ADF story I promised. I heard it from a pilot at a training course, years ago.

The crew is flying a heavy Boeing into Vancouver, the captain's home town. It's a VFR morning, and Vancouver has an ILS so they don't need the ADF. They have had it tuned to a local AM radio station since before the top of descent, and are listening to the tunes, the traffic, the weather, and a phone in contest. Tenth caller wins! The captain pulls up his cellphone out of his flight bag, turns it on, and dials in.

"Congratulations! You're the tenth caller."

It turns out that this is the same radio station that many of his colleagues listen to. In fact people he knows are listening to it at that very moment. They recognize his voice. And they recognize the steady whoosh-grind sound of the jet engines as heard from the cockpit. And of course everyone knows you're not supposed to be using your cellphone in an airplane. Especially while you're the one landing it.

The DJ asks the captain his first name, and he gives it. The DJ can hear the background noise, too, but he can't place it. "What are you doing right now?" he asks.

There's a bit of a pause, and then the captain replies "I'm ... driving ... a .. truck."

No word on what the the prize was, or even if this really happened. But I like the story.

Also, apparently Cockpit Conversation is now the third Google result for "how to impress your teenage girlfriend." In the interest of helping those who come here for that, I'd suggest respecting her, planning ways you can spend time together, spending time with her when you pay attention exclusively to her, and not to your ipod or Nintendo, and introducing her to your friends when you meet them while you're out. Oh and get your sister's help on what to wear.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Voice of Command

I had an optometrist appointment. Unless you're lucky enough to have never needed corrective lenses, you know the drill. While I'm seated in the chair, the optometrist projects one line of an eye chart on the opposite wall. There's a contraption in front of me like something out of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and as the optometrist flips levers to change the arrangement of lenses in front of my face, she asks, "Which is better ... one ... or two?"

I'm concentrating on the rows of letters with Aviatrix-like intensity, tossing back "one," "two," "one," as quickly and efficiently as I can. It's a task I've been given. It matters to how well I'll be able to do my job. I take it seriously.

She twizzles a big dial and creates a whole new lens configuration, then projects a different line of letters. "Can you make out any of those at all, even by guessing?"

I focus for a moment and then I realize I know the whole line, but it's cheating. The letters are a repeat. "I have this one memorized from a few minutes ago. Show me another one the same size."

"Please!" she says, like a mother prompting a child for correct manners, but she's quite offended. "I'm the one who gives the orders around here."

I apologized right away, then thought about it some more while I was having my pupils dilated, and my retinas scrutinized, so I could elaborate on my apology. "It's no excuse for rudeness, and I'm really sorry, I think it's like when I'm flying, and I'm focused on the task, the language is very terse. 'Flap ten' or 'say wind' or 'pull up and go around'. It's done for clarity and efficiency, but you are right, it is rude in any other context."

I think she grasped the idea, because she then described an analogous situation. She had been observing an operation on one of her patients, and the surgeon, whom she knew well and had always thought a well mannered person, was being so rude to the OR nurses that she was shocked, but the nurses didn't seem to mind.

I would have nodded, but I still had my chin wedged in the Orwellian optometry device. "They understand. It's the same kind of thing. It's just the way people speak in that environment." What, she thinks operating theatres are like M*A*S*H? I thought that the surgeon intent on the operation and spitting one word commands like "scalpel!" was such a cliché that everyone knew it. In this case it would have saved a lot of aggravation and hurt feelings if I had said, "Could you please show me another one the same size? I can't tell if I can see it, or just recognize it from before."

I have to admit that sometimes I get fed up by how verbose people can be when they ask you to do something. "Aviatrix, bring me a case of oil from maintenance," is not a rude request. I think I already blogged on hearing a flight attendant explain to another that, "The pilots seem rude, but it's just the way they talk. They talk to each other like that too."

The good news is, my eyes are just fine.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Over New York, Again

Way too many job hunting stories lately. I'm hoping it will pay off later with some great training and new job stories. But for today, a joke and some equipment stuff.

The joke is a supposedly true story from the Overheard in New York website.

Stewardess: The plane is about to land. Please everyone turn off your iPods.
Man: Why does she just assume we all have iPods?
Lady: It's New York. Even the people asking for money have iPods.

--United Airlines plane, LaGuardia

The airline pilots probably have iPods, too. Not like us lower echelon pilots who just listen to AM radio on the ADF.

I thought I'd already told you about the ADF, but a blogger search of this blog only turns up an example of replacing it with a round GPS unit. ADF stands for Automatic Direction Finder. It's an old-fashioned, but still in use navigational instrument. The pilot tunes the onboard ADF receiver to the frequency of a navigational beacon (NDB) on the ground, and a needle on the face of the instrument points on a compass card to the direction of the station, relative to the airplane. (The needle does its pointing automatically, hence the A in the name. The older instrument that the ADF replaces didn't indicate the direction to the station until the navigator had carefully adjusted the loop antenna to the strongest signal.) To ensure that the ADF is receiving the correct station, the pilot monitors a morse code transmission from the station and matches the dashes and dots to the ones the chart indicates her chosen station should be emitting.

It just so happens that the navigational beacons in question transmit their morse code identifiers on frequencies in the AM radio band. There are people out there who enjoy monitoring NDB signals, just for a hobby, but when it comes to listening enjoyment, most people prefer a less monotonous type of audio signal. (Is it just my perception, or are the British more prone than other nationalities to observational 'collections' like trainspotting or counting car number plates?) Any ADF receiver can be used to listen to local AM radio stations, while flying the airplane. I have a story about this, for later.

Monday, February 20, 2006


With two weeks left in my plan, I haven't yet acquired the perfect interview suit. Shame isn't it? Especially as I have no sceduled time off during the hours when the stores are open, between now and my interview. The general rule with interviews is that you dress one level up than you would dress on the job. So if the job would require you to wear a filthy t-shirt and jeans, you wear a clean t-shirt and jeans. If the job requires a clean t-shirt and jeans, you go polo and khakhis. All the way up to if the job requires a suit, you wear a damn fine suit (not a tuxedo or evening gown: that's where the rule breaks down). Well my job requires a shirt and tie, so guys wear a suit. But when I wear a suit, that's a skirt and heels. It seems to derail the object. I want the employer to picture me flying his airplane, not stalking the catwalk. Slacks I think.

Getting dressed in the mornng is more complicated for girls.

So as not to dedicate an entire post to my wardrobe, I'll also tell you of today's ATC weirdness. Approaching a busy control zone VFR, I received an instruction from the controller to remain clear of the airspace. He suggested I orbit over a named landmark. Problem was that the named landmark, depicted on the chart and clearly visible on the ground was unambiguously inside the control zone I had been ordered to remain clear of. As the "remain clear" was an instruction and the "orbit over" was a suggestion, I resolved the ambiguity by orbiting over something else, outside the control zone. A moment later I was cleared to enter the zone for landing. After landing, I asked the (less busy) ground controller about the instruction, and then the first controller's voice came on the ground frequency explaining that he thought it would be safer to orbit over the landmark he named, and that while yes, it was technically inside the control zone, that he had expected me to disregard the part about remaining outside, and orbit over his landmark. "But," he conceded, "I can see how that could be confusing." No kidding.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


While making my New Year's resolutions, I wrote:

I'm going to pretend I have my first airline interview on March 1st.

Today's e-mail included more than twenty-five invitations to chemically improve my sex life, and one short e-mail with the subject "Interview." I opened it, expecting it to extol the virtues of "a fine luxury wrist accessory," but instead it said,

You have been selected for an interview ...
It's not an airline, but it is a very valuable step towards where I want to be this fall, and is a sweet payoff for the effort I have put in. At the very worst, it is interview experience.

I can't tell you too much about the company, because if all goes as planned, it will become the new company that I don't tell you anything about, because I work there. I will let you know how the interview went, and then you'll have to read between the lines to see if I got the job. You know how.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Best Range in Wind

The range of an aircraft is how much distance it can cover with the available fuel. The last post I did on range covers the air range - how far the airplane can go through the air. But the air is usually moving, so the air range isn't the same as the ground range. If there is a fifty knot [nautical mile per hour] tailwind at the flight altitude, then over the course of an hour, the airplane will travel fifty miles further over the ground than through the air. And if it's a fifty knot headwind, the ground range will be fifty miles less than the air range, for every hour of flight. And of course it's the ground range that determines whether you get to Anchorage before the fuel gauges get to E.

As soon as there is a headwind, ground range will always be less than air range, but one can somewhat offset the negative effect of a headwind by speeding up. The handwaving argument says that even though increasing the fuel flow will increase fuel consumption per air mile, increasing the ground speed will minimize the fuel flow per ground mile.

The easiest way to prove that an increase in speed could increase range, is to consider the extreme case. Imagine that the airplane is travelling at its best range speed, at a true air speed of 200 knots, but it's in a 200 knot headwind. The effective ground range is zero. If the fuel will last four hours at this fuel flow, then after six hours, the airplane will have gained no ground. Increase the fuel flow such that the fuel on board will only last five hours, and the airspeed will increase. It doesn't matter how small the increase in airspeed is from that increase in fuel flow, it translates to a positive groundspeed over those five hours: maybe it's going forward at 20 knots, for a total of 100 miles range. Increasing the fuel flow further, so the fuel would only last four hours would increase the speed further, but if the groundspeed at the new fuel flow was 24 knots, then the range over the four hours would only be 96 miles.

The trick is working out how much to increase the fuel flow over best air range to offset the wind. Here's the theoretical method using the fuel flow versus true airspeed graph discussed earlier. Look at the x-axis, the airspeed axis. Change the scale so that instead of true airspeed it reads in ground speed. So if there's a fifty knot headwind, the zero knots point of the original graph becomes minus fifty, the fifty knot point of the original graph becomes zero, and the hundred knot point of the original graph becomes fifty. Basically you're subtracting the headwind from every notch of the scale. Now, and this is slap-myself-in-the-forehead obvious but I didn't think of it: find the best ground range by drawing a tangent from the groundspeed zero (the true airspeed fifty knots) to the thrust required (fuel flow) curve.

In the airplane, I know how to use that theory to work out a practical best range speed by making a little table of fuel flow versus airspeed, and I know the approximate zero-wind best range speed (it varies with loading, altitude and temperature) of the aircraft I fly, and then using a rule of thumb to compensate for the wind. I can now see that I should be using the GPS groundspeed to obtain the best range speed. In a large jet, the weight change with fuel consumption is significant enough that for optimum range, the best range speed needs to change as the weight decreases. I imagine Dave has an onboard computer that compares his INS groundspeed with the metered fuel flow and can tell him the best range, as well as the most economic speed to fly at every moment. I don't have one of those, but I'm looking forward to learning all about how to use one.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Jazz, City Centre and Politics

I'm posting two political stories in a row. Perhaps I'm thinking that once I'm a big-time airline pilot I'll have to keep my mouth shut about such things, so I'm getting it all out of the way now.

The main airport serving the Toronto Metropolitan Area is CYYZ, the Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Like many large international airports, Pearson is not technically located in the city it serves, but rather a $40 cab ride away. Toronto has another airport, located on an island near the city centre. Air Canada Jazz operates a few flights in and out of the island airport, Toronto City Centre, including a direct flight from Ottawa, the national capital.

Plans are always rumoured about the possibility of building a bridge, or a "fixed link" as politicians call it, to connect the island to the city, thereby allowing arriving passengers to drive away from the airport, rather than taking a boat. That hasn't happened yet, but construction of an improved ferry terminal has been announced. Jazz planned to expand service to the island.

The next move in the game was for the Toronto City Centre to give Jazz notice of termination of its lease, cutting off access to the airport. Jazz says it will suspend service to the island airport effective March 1st. It's all a lovely political mess with the port authority, the city, the province, the airline, the airport's new owner and the outraged condo-dwellers all fighting over the amount of traffic and who will make money from it. Not that I'm any different. I look at every news story with a critical eye: does this make it more or less likely that I will get a new job?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Spy vs. Spy

I had to laugh when I read this piece on the ongoing legal battle between Westjet and Air Canada. It's like something out of Mad magazine.

Many ex-Air Canada employees still enjoy standby flight privileges on the Air Canada. They have a computer login ID and password in order to view the space available on flights, so they can identify the ones most likely to accommodate standby passengers. Westjet hired a few ex-AC people and then initiated a clever ploy whereby they used the still valid IDs and logins to systematically track passenger loads on Air Canada, competitive information that allowed Westjet to manipulate their own schedules to best attract customers from Air Canada. Air Canada found out and sued, and Westjet countersued, and so on. The long sordid tail includes everything from e-mails coded "007" to people going through each other's garbage. As far as I understand it, Westjet says that it's Air Canada's fault because they knew Westject was spying on them and didn't do anything about it.

And in other news, Air Canada is accused of further intrigue related to price fixing for internatinal cargo.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Maximizing Air Miles

Right after I set up the background aerodynamics to talk about jet performance, I saw Dave's latest post on a real life situation involving setting maximum range speed to offset unforecast headwinds. This topic corresponds to two of my best aha! moments while reading this textbook, so I'm going to seize Dave's story and festoon it with trigonometry in order to cement my knowledge and share it with you.

Dole and Lewis treat jet performance before propeller aircraft performance, which confused me at first, but now I realize it's the logical progression. A jet is actually simpler than a prop plane when it comes to performance. Jet fuel is converted directly into thrust. Thrust is a force, and the thrust produced by a jet depends on three things: the speed of the intake air (V1), the speed of the exiting exhaust (V2), and the mass flow of air through the engine (Q). If you want an equation, you can use this one: Thrust = Q(V2 - V1). The faster the jet is going, the more air will go through the engine, and the greater the intake air velocity, but the exit speed remains pretty much constant at different airspeeds. That decrease in acceleration through the engine almost exactly cancels out the increase in airflow, so that at a given RPM, a jet can be considered to produce the same amount of thrust regardless of airspeed.

Remember the graph of total drag versus airspeed described a few days ago. Here's a graphic of the curve from wikipedia. It doesn't show the high end compressibility, but you'll get the idea. Because thrust counteracts drag, the y-axis can be relabelled in thrust units, making the same total drag curve into thrust required for level flight (Tr) versus airspeed. We can add another line to the graph representing thrust available (Ta) at max power. It's a straight, horizontal line, because jet thrust available does not vary with airspeed. The line runs across the graph and intersects the thrust required curve somewhere on the high airspeed end of the upward curve. When thrust required equals thrust available, you have just enough thrust to sustain level flight. The line and the curve intersect at the highest airspeed available for level flight. At lower airspeeds, there is excess power, so the aircraft can accelerate or climb. At higher airspeeds there is not enough thrust to overcome the drag, so the airplane would have to be descending to sustain that airspeed. At lower rpm a smaller amount of thrust is available, but it's still a straight line to determine the maximum cruising speed. Set the thrust low enough and there are two points of intersection with the Tr curve: one at the high end for maximum cruise at that thrust setting and one at the low end, representing the lowest speed you can fly with that thrust. Fly any slower and you need more thrust to overcome induced drag. There is one thrust setting that is so low that when you plot its horizontal line on the graph, the (L/D)max point at the base of the U-shape curve rests on the line. Set Ta any lower and it wouldn't intersect the Tr curve at all. Where Ta intersects Tr at the Tr minimum, that's the minimum fuel flow required to sustain flight, and the corresponding speed is called best endurance speed. Fly at that speed to stay aloft for the maximum possible time before running out of fuel.

That's not the fuel flow Dave set. He wasn't trying to stay in the air long enough to finish showing the onboard movie. He was trying to get to Anchorage before his fuel reserves dropped low enough to require paperwork. Note also that he wasn't trying to get there before the bars closed: he had to reduce fuel flow and slow down to set best range speed. As Dave put it, groundspeed/fuel flow x fuel remaining = range. If that is unfamiliar, realize that when you divide nautical miles per hour by pounds of fuel per hour, the per hours cancel and you get nautical miles per pound of fuel. Nautical miles per pound times the number of pounds you have left tells you how many nautical miles you have left.

Another way of putting it is that to get the furthest distance possible using the available fuel, you want to burn the minimum number of pounds per nautical mile. You want the smallest possible value of fuel flow divided by groundspeed. That's flipping it over from the way Dave did it, but that's how it works best with the graph. If you can increase the airspeed without increasing the fuel flow by a larger factor, you win. And if you can decrease the fuel flow while keeping the airspeed from reducing as much, you win, too.

The same y-axis that yesterday time I called drag, and two paragraphs ago I called thrust, could just as soon be labelled fuel flow. Thrust overcomes drag, and fuel flow determines thrust. So we have a graph of fuel flow versus airspeed. Note that this is airspeed not ground speed, the difference being the considerable headwind Dave was fighting. As it stands, the graph is concerned only with the speed through the air, the result of the fuel flow. I'll get to the headwind after solving the zero wind case.

For any point on the curve, its distance right of the y-axis represents the airspeed and its distance up from the x-axis represents the fuel flow required to sustain that airspeed. That is a somewhat duh statement, as it simply restates what is plotted on the graph, but I'm setting up my first aha. Consider any point on the curve and draw a vertical line from it to the x-axis. The length of that line is fuel flow. Draw another line from the origin (zero-zero point on the graph) to the point under consideration. That line is the hypotenuse of a right triangle. The base of the triangle runs along the x-axis and its length represents airspeed. Fuel flow divided by airspeed equals fuel per distance, but now you can see that it's also the perpendicular divided by the base of a right triangle. If you know trigonometry you see what is going on, and if you don't, this should be enough to make you rush out and learn, because the perpendicular of a right triangle divided by the base is equal to the tangent of the angle between the base and the hypotenuse. The tangent of an angle decreases with the angle. Now remember that we're looking for the lowest possible value for fuel per distance. So now all we have to do is find the line that goes from the origin to the curve, making the smallest possible angle with the x-axis. Inspection quickly reveals this to be a line tangent to (i.e. barely touching) the curve.

There's a way to realize this without the trigonometry. Lets say we start at the (L/D)max point at the base of the curve, with the lowest possible fuel flow and a low airspeed. If we add a little more thrust, we get an increase in airspeed. Add a little more, a little more airspeed. The goal is to stop adding more thrust at the point when the airspeed increases less than the fuel flow does. That's the point where the curve bends away, curving more up than forward, the point described in the final two sentences of the previous paragraph.

I had known the handwaving argument that the best range speed could be determined from a tangent drawn from the origin to the thrust required curve, but I hadn't noticed how to mathematically prove of it. I like it.

The speed and fuel flow represented this way corresponds to the maximum distance the aircraft can travel through the air with a set amount of fuel: its air range. My other aha! moment in this chapter was an even simpler demonstration of how to adjust the best range speed to compensate for a head or tailwind: best ground range. I'll write about that soon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

No Delay

When pilots are ready to take off, we taxi up to the hold short line that separates the taxiway from the runway and announce ourselves. If it's an uncontrolled airport, we just have a good look to see that there is no one coming and then broadcast our intentions on frequency. At a controlled airport, we are announcing ourselves to the appropriate tower controller. Something like "Flight whatever holding short on bravo two," meaning that we're on taxiway B2. Some people just say "Flight whatever ready to go" and make the controller work out where they are.

The controller has many possible responses. He could say "wait," meaning that the airplane should stay where it is. (When they appear to completely ignore our call, the message is the same). Better is "taxi to position runway zero one," meaning that we can cross the hold short line and position ourselves on the runway in readiness for take-off, but still need to wait for a take-off clearance. Variations on that include "line up and wait," "position and hold," or "taxi to position behind the Navajo, number two for departure." You can see from the last that sometimes the controller lines up more than one airplane on the runway, so that they can be launched sequentially without the need to wait for each pilot to taxi to position. It can take a few moments as we don't want to go too fast, especially in high winds or with ice and snow on the runway.

The controller may issue the take-off clearance right away, even as we are taxiing up to the hold short line and haven't called yet. He's juggling arriving and departing traffic so that everyone gets the use of a runway, and no one cuts anyone off, even if an aircraft has to make an unexpected go-around. Sometimes the take-off clearance is modified with instructions like "short delay approved" meaning that it's okay to sit on the runway for a few moments, completing checklists, before applying take-off power and getting the heck out of Dodge. Sometimes the instruction is "cleared take-off no delay." If you require a delay on the runway then you must refuse that clearance, with something like "unable, holding short." The "no delay" clearance usually means that there is another aircraft on final approach to land.

This is all a long set up for something that made me laugh the other day. I'm on final and a little Cessna is "cleared take-off, no delay" from the runway I'm aiming at. He doesn't move for a moment, and I think he hasn't heard the clearance, but then he slooowwwwly taxies to position. The tower controller prods him off the runway in time for me to land, with "Papa Quebec Romeo, that's the slowest 'no delay' I've ever seen."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Airbus Testing

An Airbus A380 has been undergoing cold weather perfomance testing in Iqaluit this week. It's one thing to engineer a product and another to see if the passengers are going to freeze to death because of a taxiway traffic jam during a cold snap in Ottawa. Good to see that Airbus is checking it out.

According to CBC:

Since the A380's tail stands eight stories high, it instantly became one of the tallest structures in Iqaluit. And with a capacity of more than 500 passengers, it means the Airbus can comfortably hold about 10 per cent of the capital's population.

It must be drawing quite a crowd. I'd like to see it at my airport. Canada has seen unseasonably warm temperatures right across the country this winter, but the -25 in Iqaluit should be cold enough to allow them to complete the tests.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A New Winner?

Here's the game. The following message was delivered to an e-mail address that I have been using for at least six years. As internet-savvy computer users, you decide whether clicking on the links in the e-mail will lead to an employment opportunity, or to a porn site with pop-up ads for pharmaceuticals.

From: Human Resources

Dear Aviatrix,

A career opportunity matching your profile for a Pilot position is presently vacant.

If you would like to apply online and haven`t met our recruiting team in the past six months for the mentioned position, click here or click Jobs to consult the list of other positions currently available.

If you do not wish to receive further job notifications, please click here to access your profile and desactivate the check box labeled "Please advise me of similar career opportunities".

We thank you for your interest in Air Canada.


Air Canada Recruitment

Replies to this message are undeliverable and will not reach the Recruitment Department. Please do not reply.

The e-mail used my real full name, including middle initial, and the "" domain appears exactly as it does in my inbox. In the original, the links go to a long address not at the domain. There were also two attachments to the mail: "this_mail_in_html2.htm" and "this_mail_in_html3.htm". So what do you think?

Investigation reveals that this is genuine Air Canada recruitment mail. Why do I feel like they want me to stuff envelopes or be in their internet porn movie? Has Air Canada outdone WestJet in the "make your recruiting e-mail look like spam" sweepstakes? The only thing missing is a request to send money to a box office in Nigeria.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lift Does Not Act Up

Comments on my last post revealed some confusion regarding the role and direction of the lift force on an airplane in flight. I now attempt to dispel and elucidate. The following is basic theory of flight, not anything dramatic or unique to jets.

Lift is the component of aerodynamic force that acts perpendicular to the direction the airplane is actually travelling. (The movement of the airplane through the air, relative to the air, is the same thing as a wind blowing towards a stationary airplane. Leonardo da Vinci figures that out). The direction and strength of the airflow caused by the motion of the aircraft, but before the airplane actually disturbs the air, is the relative wind. To repeat: lift acts perpendicular to the relative wind.

When the airplane is in level flight, as depicted in that ubiquitous four forces diagram, the flight path is parallel to the ground, so the lift does act straight up and thus is in direct opposition to the weight. Thrust balances drag, (and all the moments I haven't mentioned balance out), and thus there are no unresolved forces. Disturb that equilibrium and the airplane will accelerate (speed up, slow down or turn) in the direction of the unbalanced force. The change in motion will result in a change in the forces, until either the forces are balanced, or the airplane disintegrates or hits something.

It doesn't matter which way it is going or if it's an eight engine bomber or a glider, the lift vector is perpendicular to the relative wind. Really. In the glider, relative to still air, the unaccelerated flight path is always slightly down. (The glider can go up if the air it's in is moving up (a thermal or updraft), or if the pilot raises the nose to zoom (that's actually a technical term) the aircraft, trading airspeed for altitude, but I'm talking about the stable, sustainable case.) It applies equally well to a glider or an aircraft with power at idle.

So your flight path is inclined below the horizontal at an angle I'll call gamma (γ). There is no thrust. Drag acts directly backwards along the flight path. Lift acts perpendicular to the flight path, so up and a little forward. Weight acts straight down. We wave our wand of trigonometry and resolve weight into two vectors. One, of strength weight x cos(γ), acts perpendicular to the relative wind, directly opposite lift. The other, of strength weight x sin(γ) acts along the flight path. (I'm using x for multiplication because * is nerdy, and I'm pretending that non-nerds are going to be following my trigonometry). Inventory the forces according to the direction they pull, and you discover that the only force opposing lift is weight x cos(γ). A cosine is always less than one, so lift is less than weight.

You will also see that weight is the only forward force. That is why the flight path must be angled down: if gamma is not greater than zero then there is no force to offset the drag.

Shove the nose of your glider down, accomplished by lowering the elevator such that the airflow hauls the tail up, and everything changes. It's complex, more complex than the next few sentences indicate. The angle at which the wings meet the air decreases, decreasing lift. The unbalanced weight accelerates the airplane downwards. The change in direction changes the relative wind, changing the directions of the components of lift, drag and weight. The higher airspeed changes drag and lift. The airplane continues to accelerate until the change in drag can offset the change in the forward component of weight, and the new lift offsets the new perpendicular component of weight. Or the glider is still accelerating as it lawn-darts into the ground.

If instead, you haul the nose of the glider up, by shoving the tail down, what happens? There is the same complex dance of changing forces. Lift momentarily increases, because of the increased angle of attack, and the glider accelerates upward. Weight doesn't change, but with an upward flight path, now there is a component of weight that acts backwards along the flight path, and what is there to act forward? Nothing. Lift acts perpendicular to the flight path, opposite weight x cos(gamma;) but as weight and drag both slow the glider down, lift decreases. You can keep hauling the nose up to increase the angle of attack, and that will work right up to the critical angle, when the glider stalls, and if you don't get it flying again the only forces acting will be weight straight down and drag straight up. The weight will accelerate the glider downwards until the drag increases to equal the weight. Or you hit the ground. That's a good way to land a small airplane, by the way. Just arrange for the stall to occur just above the ground, so that you hit the ground before the plumetting starts. If you're going to be plummetting, you want to do it in something really draggy, like a parachute. With that, the drag equals the weight at a speed that is low enough to survive the impact.

If we want to go up for long, we need another force along the flight path. That's thrust. So here's our aircraft with a flight path inclined upwards by that same angle gamma (I hope html does γ on everyone's computers.) As always, drag is opposite the flight path and lift acts perpendicular to it. Weight (W) is still W(cos(γ)) perpendicular to the flight path and W(sin(γ)) backwards along the flight path, just as in the previous paragraph. Thrust we'll consider aligned with the flight path. For the aircraft to be in equilibrium, forces along the flight path must balance and forces perpendicular to the flight path must balance. Along: Thrust = Drag + W(sin(γ)). Perpendicular: Lift = W(cos(γ)). Once again the cosine is always less than one, so the lift is less than the weight, and the steeper the angle of climb, the less lift is required.

Another way of explaining what is happening is that in a climb, the thrust is helping to hold the airplane up, and in a descent the drag is helping to hold the airplane up, so not as much lift is required. That explains why with the same power setting, you can't go as fast as level flight in a climb, but can go faster in a descent. The climb thrust has to help out lift and overcome downward drag, while the descent thrust is being helped out by downward drag. That's the handwaving, non trigonometry way of describing it, but I know some of you went "greek-greek-geek" to yourselves, as you skipped over the trig.

To answer anoynmous, yes, the thrust often is acting other than directly along the flight path, giving a component equal to the sine of that angle times the total thrust, that acts in the same direction of lift, and reducing the forward thrust to total thrust times the cosine of that angle. For small angles, the sine is small enough, and the cosine is close enough to one, that people don't worry too much about it. As the angle of thrust theta above the flight path increases, as it does when the airplane flies more slowly, then the upward forces in level flight must be counted as Lift + Thrust(sinθ)). The authors of my Air Canada-recommended textbook are not especially concerned about the off-flight path component of thrust at normal speeds, so I'm leaving it out. Directed thrust like on the Harrier jet (did you see the movie True Lies?) steers us towards the realm of rocket science. I once saw a t-shirt that had equations all over it, and said "As a matter of fact I am a rocket scientist." I wish I had bought it.