Thursday, May 29, 2008

Passing Wind

I've taken off from the Canadian prairies and am heading south. My take-off was six minutes after filed, which will affect my arrival time at customs. They told me on the phone, rather fiercely, that I had a fifteen minute window. More than seven minutes early or more than seven minutes late and I'm in trouble. Customs officers have families the man on the phone said, and they want to spend time with them, not waiting for me. I'm not worried about the six minutes though, because, knowing I could always slow down if I needed to, I told them I'd be a little longer than I though I would. I can always slow down a little as I approach, or just taxi really slowly, if there are no delays. And maybe I'll luck out and get a customs officer with a new baby at home, who is glad of the opportunity to escape the associated smells and sounds.

I'm VFR today, flying at only a few thousand feet above flat terrain, and radar coverage is sparse in this part of the world, so ATC decide they don't want to talk to me anymore. Theoretically I'm supposed to have ATC contact during the border crossing, so I call up an American ATC unit. They don't want to talk to me either, but I have at least fulfilled the letter of the law as the brown flat bits beneath switch from Canadian to American.

Once I'm established on the faintly red, white and blue striped side of the border, probably in a red state, I'm navigating to just miss the corner of a Military Operations Area. It's marked on the chart, and outlined on the GPS, but that's not what I'm navigating by. This part of this state is basically flat, but every once in a while there's a mountainous part. And this particular mountain exactly coincides with the MOA, almost as though the mountains themselves were some sort of secret military project. Maybe they aren't mountains at all, but an illusion of mountains, created by the people with the black helicopters to hide their secret base. At my out-of-the-wind altitude, I choose to go around the peaks of the mountains, rather than testing their solidity and defenses.

Other than that slight deviation, my trip is a couple of hours of straight travel. The engines gauges all sit happily at their expected values and the engines sound fine on either side of me. There are a lot of bugs on the windshield, though. I guess it's that time of year on the prairies again.

As I approach my destination, and I pick up the ATIS to find out the current conditions, the GPS says my arrival time will be to-the-minute as planned, I've made up the six minutes. Okay, maybe I cheated a tiny bit with power, not just the winds.

Speaking of winds, there is a bit of a crosswind at destination. I think it was 22 knots about 15 degrees off the runway. This airplane is pretty solid in a crosswind. That's not even enough to be fun. I call the tower and am sequenced for landing, almost straight in from my direction of travel. The aircraft in front of me are being passed the winds. (As I type this, a Beavis and Butthead voice in my head says "passed wind, heh heh," but giving someone information by radio is called "passing" and information about wind strength and direction is "winds" so what else can I say?) The winds are increasing and diverging from the runway by the minute. When I am on two-mile final, the wind is 42 knots, I remember that figure, but not the angle. It was over thirty, so more than twenty knots of direct crosswind. There is another runway I can ask for, which by this time is more aligned with the runway, and I'm thinking I will probably overshoot and land on it, but crosswinds are such fun. It won't take any more time now to try and then turn for another runway than it would be to ask for the other runway right away, so I continue, somewhat sideways, for this one. On short final I start to straighten the airplane out. This is where I could discover I don't have enough rudder to land the airplane in this direction. I have been approaching with the wings level and the nose pointed into the wind to keep my direction of travel aligned with the runway centreline. Now I'm rolling my into wind wing down at the same time as I press down the away-from-wind rudder pedal. I have to decrease my bank momentarily to get the nose aligned with the runway, but then I put the bank back in and everything holds.

I don't really have enough rudder left over to cope with any sudden gusts, but so far the wind has been very steady. I keep asking myself, "Should I reject this?" I need to leave room for something unanticipated to go wrong. I'm also carrying enough power that I can keep the airplane airborne in ground effect, and I'm ready to go around. But the wind is from the right, and I expect it to continue to decrease and also back, become more from the left as I descend the last bit to the runway. I overfly the beginning of the runway. I'm straight and on the centreline. I reduce the power and put the airplane down, first the into wind wheel and then the other. Yah, triumph!

Using power that way isn't really the right way to land. By the textbook I should have done a firm, solid landing with no float, so as to get the airplane firmly on the ground before a gust could carry me sideways. I took advantage of the fact that I had much more runway than I needed, so I didn't have to make my decision right at the runway. There's also no problem making the away-from-wind turn to exit the runway onto the taxiway. I expected it would be harder because the airplane would act as a weather vane and try to point towards the wind. I think the surface wind must be less than they are calling it.

I taxi to customs, right down at the end of the runway. There's a little building behind a black helicopter with "Homeland Security" stencilled along it in serious letters. As I shut down the engines a customs officer comes around the nose towards my boarding door. I set the parking brake and come back to open the door. The wind tears it out of my hands and it slams open. Fortunately the customs officer wasn't standing in a position that made me liable for decapitating a federal officer. I'm sure there's a serious penalty for that. I stick my head outside and wow yes, I believe it's 42 knots now. Easily. The officer yells over the wind for me to bring my passport, licence and aircraft documents inside. He'll meet me there. He flees.

I collect my documents, borrow and set chocks and come inside, probably looking like a troll doll from the wind. The customs clearance is painless. He inspects my licence, my passport, the airplane registration, my proof of purchase of a customs decal and consults the computer a bit then tells me I'm all done. He's much friendlier than the guy on the phone. Maybe he doesn't actually have a family. I ask him if there's one FBO on the field that is more appropriate for my size airplane than another. Sometimes one FBO caters mainly to jets, or one has parking gauged to small singles. He isn't supposed to give recommendations, but manages to let me know which one everyone goes to.

When I get back to the plane I see that the wind has blown the chocks right out from under the wheels! The chocks are two wedge-shaped blocks of wood connected by a rope. That's normal for wheel chocks, so you can pick them up both at once, and hang them on a hook. The wind in this case caught the rope like a flag and that was enough force to pull the chocks out. Fortunately the brakes held. I restart the airplane and get taxi clearance to the FBO, past the Homeland Security helicopter. I don't know helicopters, so I can't tell you what sort it was, but it was big. I wouldn't be surprised if it could seat ten well-armed people. It definitely cost a lot of money. I was going to take a picture of the helicopter for you, but you know, Homeland Security.

I taxi up to the FBO and more troll-haired people marshall me into parking and scurry to tie down the airplane. I laugh, climbing out of the airplane, about how strong the wind is, and how it came up just as I was landing. "We saw you land," they tell me, "you did a good job." I suppose I would sit and watch and laugh pilots trying to land in that, too. Maybe take some video.

I stayed at a hotel the FBO called for me, and ate next door in a truck stop diner. And the food was excellent. I seem to have discovered a pattern lately of unexpectedly good food in diners and airport restaurants in the northern states. Either the baseline standard for restaurant cuisine is higher here, or good restaurants just have lousy decor.

Also there's an e-mail from a company I've applied to, inviting me for an interview for a jet job. I can't come because their week of interviews occurs while I am out of the country, but I tell them to keep me in mind for future opportunities. Perhaps my unwillingness to screw over my current employer will reflect well on me.


Lord Hutton said...

Customs officers and homeland security dont have family, they have spawn. I knew one once, They are trained in racism and how to intimidate ordinary people by fear and aggressiveness in order to justify their sad and lonely jobs. And those of the useless polticians and civil servants. I give you the example of tanks at Heathrow to discourage terrorists.

Anonymous said...

I think you'll find that being "unavailable" to possible employment is like being pollen to bees. It's almost like magic but the less you want the position, the more it gets ya! It sounds to me by your writing that you are enjoying your current work and that happiness is more valuble than anything. As for a 42 KT wind I'm actually shuddering to think of flying in that and you sounded so nonchalant!! BIG cajones....

david said...

For U.S. customs, you have to think about where the agents are based relative to the airport.

When there are full-time agents right at the airport, like Teterboro NJ or Burlington VT, they don't really care if you're a bit late -- they're around anyway. One time when I called Teterboro, they told me I was fine as long as I arrived on the right day.

The next best thing is an airport within a 5-10 minute drive of a staffed border-crossing point (like an international bridge), such as Massena NY. The agents will get upset if you're really early or late (I once saw them chew out a Mexican bizjet pilot for being 2 hours late without calling, but they still didn't fine him). Sometimes they wait for you to land and call on your cell and then drive over.

The worse thing is an airport where the agents are far offsite. They have to make a long drive, often at the start or end of their shifts, and they get very mad if they have to sit around for 20 minutes waiting for you. It's best either to avoid using those airports for entry, or to make a very short flight from a Canadian airport right across the border, so that you can get the time just right.

Anonymous said...

If they whine, give 'em Lucasta's answer*. If they want to to screw your current employer, think thrice.

I'm starting job hunting too, race ya!

* "You would not love me half so much,
Loved I not Honor more".

o said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
o said...

Oh, and wonderful post. These posts are the ones I love the most, when I almost get to feel how it is being you and having a job like yours. I think it feels great, what do you think?

Dagny said...

OH I love xwind's. I remember one day they were about 35kts 90deg to the runway I asked for, cause I felt like being a tough guy..and tower was like..."are you sureeee???" heh.

But it's always a fun workout. I miss it!!! (note to self, when missing flying, do NOT come read your blog...waaaaaaaa)

nec Timide said...

Ya, cross winds can be fun. Thats one reason I used like Kingston ON (and all other BCATP airfields) which have three runways in a triangle so one can practice with a left cross wind for a while, then from the right. Great fun. Unfortunately CYGK 12-30 is now closed.

Dagny said...


that shows how long I have been off, I was unaware of that fact.

Double waaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Damn back.

majroj said...

Two years later...retired May THIS year, and job hunting again.
Shiny side up, ma'am.