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.