Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oshkosh Meetups

I'm leaving tonight for Oshkosh and am hoping to meet some of you there, although some of you are already there and not reading this. I started to arrange a time and place for a meetup, and then found that it conflicted with an international event that someone else told me I couldn't miss, so I stopped. Frankly I'm a little overwhelmed by the size of this airshow, and don't want to commit myself to anything I might regret. I am exchanging phone numbers with the people who send me theirs, and I'll put a notice on the "Find a Person" board, under Aviatrix - Cockpit Conversation with the airplane logo from this blog, once I figure out when I'll be somewhere that will be a good meetup spot. I'm bringing my computer for some "Live from Oshkosh" blogging, as I understand that there is wireless internet, but I won't count on getting e-mail on site. I'll be able to receive e-mail for another seven hours or so, though.

I'll see some of you there, and I'll tell the rest of you all about it!

Monday, July 28, 2008


There's a lot of restricted airspace in Utah. The salt flats are inhospitable and useless for agriculture so the military use those big flat salty spaces for bombing practice, and secret alien experiments. It's always a good idea to heed such restrictions. Even if you aren't directly in the line of fire of a bomb or alien death ray, they will send up interceptor airplanes. You might get shot down. You might just be required to land, interrogated, and have a lot of paperwork to do. Pilots will do things to avoid paperwork that they wouldn't do to avoid death, so it's a serious threat.

The straight line flight to my destination would take about an hour, but I will be an hour and a half en route, because I have to go the long way around to get into the unrestricted space between two vast chunks of restricted airspace. I depart from an uncontrolled aerodrome, bid farewell to the people in the pattern, then call the centre controller (or "center," I suppose) to ask for flight following to Wendover.

"What is your planned routing?" asks the controller.

I tell her "Direct Lucid, outbound on the Lucid 230 radial for 25 miles, then using visual landmarks to avoid the restricted airspace." The boundaries of the restricted airspace will show up on my GPS, and it will warn me if my track will intercept a restricted area, but I don't just depend on the GPS to stay out of trouble. I have planned a route around the restricted airspace that I can fly visually, in case the GPS fails, or the data in the GPS doesn't match the boundaries on the current chart. Twenty-five miles out on the 230 radial from the lucid VOR there is a place where a railroad track approaches a road very closely, just before a ridge. At that point I can fly due south to the other side of the ridge, and I'l be clear of the restricted area as long as I remain west of the ridge until I'm past a particular peak, and then I can fly direct the aerodrome. This kind of flying is called "pilotage," so it's clearly in my job description.

"I'm just checking that you were familiar with the restricted airspace," she says, "You're obviously very familiar."

Nice work, controller. "Are you familiar with the restricted airspace?" has a nagging "Did you remember to go to the bathroom before you left?" kind of feel to it. It's my job to be familiar with the airspace where I'm working, but it's her job to make sure pilots receiving flight following don't blunder into it. If I'd told her I was planning direct, she'd probably have said, "I recommend you fly heading 280 to avoid restricted airspace." Or maybe she would have had an even more diplomatic way to put it. Also if she had asked if I was familiar I would have said no, because I'd never been there before.

Some controllers mean "familiar" to mean that you can find the place on a map, while others expect that a pilot who claims familiarity will know all the local landmarks, quirky clearances and other oddities of the local environment. Like being told to fly direct the Lagoon, outside SLC. Now it was marked on the chart, but looking for a lagoon at your twelve o' clock, you'd tend to be watching for a body of water. This Lagoon is an amusement park.

As I continue around the north of the lake over this deserted land, I find myself wishing for more fuel. I have plenty, but this desolate landscape engenders the same desire for extra extra fuel as the barren north. The nearest usable airports with fuel aren't even in the same state.

The flight goes as planned, with the landscape unfolding just as the chart did, only much bigger and without the creases. I can see what look like guardhouses on the roads leading into the restricted area. Makes sense. Pilot Peak, the mountain I mentioned that was used by the pioneers for an earlier form of pilotage, is inside the restricted area, but visible as I circumnavigate.

Wendover appears right behind two welcoming rocks on the ridge north of the city and I go around them to the west to make straight in for the into-wind runway at the big but mostly deserted airport. There's a single parked on the apron. I think it was a Bonanza. I park next to it, but no one comes out of the FBO. It's six twenty-seven p.m. as I pull on the locked door of the FBO. The sign on the door says they close at six-thirty. They let me in, and agree to waive the ramp fees when I tell them how much fuel I'll be taking in the morning, and daily for the rest of my stay.

I feel like a high roller.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I did a long day's flying in Wyoming recently. I've never been very fond of Wyoming, but my opinion is coloured by two facts, which may mean I'm not being fair to the state.

The first time I ever stopped in Wyoming, years ago, I had the choice of landing at Jackson Hole or Rock Springs/Sweetwater. I chose the one that sounded like less of a hole. Unfortunately Rock Springs turned out to be a hole, or at least the cigarette smoke-filled, economically depressed end of it in which I slept and ate turned out to be. The water may indeed have been sweet, but I don't recall that part, only my great desire to leave and not come back.

The other reason Wyoming weighs on my mind is that it always seems to be not quite most of the way to wherever I'm going. No matter what my destination, when I'm far enough into the trip that I have no conceivable paperwork to do, have to pee and just want to get out and stretch my legs, I'm over Wyoming. It crouches over the American West like some kind of predatory spider of boredom. Its rectangular shape cuts corners out of Utah, Montana, Colorado and South Dakota, and maybe Kansas and Idaho, too. I've often wished that I could click the "send to back" button on Wyoming and have the other states overlap it for a change. It's also a very high altitude state, lacking the drama of Colorado mountains, but imposing the same performance penalties.

This trip I landed at for fuel at a little self-serve airport up on a plateau. The runway was something like fifty feet wide and eight thousand feet long, making it probably the proportionally skinniest runway I've ever landed on. It was sited to match the terrain, not the prevailing winds, which were a precise ninety degree crosswind on the way in, and from the warnings in the airport directory I believe that's par for the course here.

In the five hours I had been working in the area and monitoring the standard Unicom frequency used there, I had heard not one call to the aerodrome traffic, so judged it okay to park at the pumps while we went for lunch. The little FBO/terminal was open, but there was no one around, so we used the washrooms, left a note with my cell number in case they needed the airplane moved in a hurry.

There was a van outside, on the airside, with the doors unlocked and a form on the floor to be filled out by the borrowers. The key was not in the ignition but I quickly found it on the sunvisor. I guess that's how you tell it's Wyoming instead of northern Canada. The van was remarkable in being new and clean, as were all the facilities. I guess there are busier days here, to support this venture, but it's hard to see evidence.

The town itself, or at least the part we encountered, was a gas station, a cafe and a general store, all named after the town. We passed a well-built baseball park on the way. I understand that old Wyoming is cattle, but new Wyoming is oil, and I guess that's where the money is coming from.

"What would you do growing up here?" asked a coworker at lunch.

We concluded that it would be hunting, fishing, riding and little league. Kind of like Canada except with little league instead of hockey. And the riding might be on horses instead of snowmobiles. Maybe both.

On the way back up to the ridge to the plateau where we had left the airplane, a little antelope, yellowish brown with twisty dark antlers, bounded out of the way. Seeing as the airport fence doesn't go all the way around, I'm glad he was going away from the runway and not towards.

The airport attendant was back. I guess he'd been on lunchbreak, too. I started to refill my canteen from the sink next to the microwave in the FBO and he stopped me. "That's not potable water." Yikes. I dumped out what I'd added, then rinsed the canteen with some drinking water from the water cooler, before filling it up. "It wouldn't have hurt you," he said. "It's just very sulphurous." In retrospect I wish I'd tried it, just to report on whether Wyoming tastes like brimstone.

I fuelled the airplane, using a cardlock controller located an inconvenient distance from the physical pumps, collected my receipt and taxied out. The wind was still ninety degrees off the runway, so I picked the departure runway that gave me the shorter taxi. In the afternoon I heard some gliders working, probably enjoying the thermals a lot more than I was, and an incongruous Cessna Citation going into one of the little airports that had been quiet all day.

My co-worker pointed out the fact that the image on the Wyoming souvenir I bought is that of the highway leaving the state.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Not a Good Scene

If you can read a technical aviation report, you may want to go straight to this one. The four and a half page National Transportation Safety Board report details an inflight incident where a United Airlines Airbus A320 lost much of its electrical power immediately after takeoff from the Newark Liberty International Airport.

Because of the power loss, many systems stopped working, including three of the six pilot displays, autopilot, autothrottles, landing gear control, all communications radios, and the transponder and TCAS. The ECAM troubleshooting system flashed up messages so quickly that they were erased before the pilots could read or respond to them. They were in good weather, so were able to level off, turn around and land without those systems (the landing gear was stuck down, not up), but that doesn't make it any less of an emergency. An airplane of that sophistication is not designed to be operated just by looking out the window. The co-pilot's screen was also giving false readings and the standby [i.e. emergency backup] attitude indicator gave crazy readings too, before it stopped working altogether on the downwind leg of the circuit. The copilot estimated that if the weather had been bad, and his screen hadn't started working again, the aircraft could have been lost.

Even in good weather, they could have met serious danger. As a footnote points out they were in a large aircraft at low altitude, had failed to make contact with air traffic control, were no longer transmitting the transponder signal that allows ATC to track the aircraft on radar, and were headed for downtown New York. Needless to say, the crew didn't spend a lot of time troubleshooting, just turned back and joined the circuit to land, hoping that the controllers would figure it out. They did, and cleared other traffic out of the way.

Once on the ground, they discovered they had a failure of the #1 electrical bus, but the light indicating the failure had not illuminated in the air. According to Airbus, this is the fiftieth time that electrical bus failures resulted in loss of flight displays, and in some cases all six displays were lost. The failure was consistently difficult to troubleshoot, and in some cases switching manually to the #2 bus did not correct the situation.

A detail that caught my eye is that according to Airbus, the standby attitude indicator is designed to work for five minutes after a power loss. Five minutes?! What possible good is that supposed to do? You can't get anywhere in five minutes. Is that supposed to give you enough time to write a will and make peace with your deity? The NTSB agrees with me here and recommends that Airbus design a backup system that gives a minimum of 30 minutes of standby AI operation, and that the FAA make it mandatory in the US.

It made my muscles feel a little weak, reading that report. Imagine being in cloud, working your asses off to manage an airplane with minimal flight instruments, wondering what hardware was launching to protect New York against you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I'm Going to Oshkosh

Wow, I'm going to Oshkosh! It's very last minute, and I'm only going to be there for three days, but I will be at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh this year. I've never been before, and I won't be there for the whole thing, only three days, but I think it will be amazing.

If you haven't heard of it, it is THE North American fly-in. It's going to be a good time, and if you're going. And if you went and didn't read blogs in time to see this, sorry! I really just found out. I'll tell you about how this happened all in good time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Consumer Survey

The other day I responded to one of those e-mail surveys on consumer preferences. They asked me if I had access to a vehicle, and that qualified me to do the survey. They didn't ask me if the vehicle had wings.

The brands of gasoline available to aircraft are generally the same as those available to cars, so the survey proceeded fairly normally through me checking boxes for all the brands I'd heard of, and the brands I'd used for my last five purchases. They wanted to know what other services I'd used where I had last stopped for gas. Using the washroom, buying maps, buying oil were all on the list. They didn't have a checkbox for oxygen service, but they had an "other" box for me to fill it in.

They wanted to know when I last visited a Phillips 66 service station, how much did I spend on fuel, to the nearest dollar? I remembered the number because I had just entered it on my expense account. I put in 188 US gallons for $1003 and change. So I typed in 1003. The webform rejects it. The number must be between 1 and 999. I giggle and enter 999.

And from there the survey gets weird. They start asking me for my impression of various gas stations, as if I have some kind of personal relationship with the place, or have done extensive research. They're asking me which brand of gas is better for my engine, gives more power, better economy or is more environmentally friendly. I'm confused. I was under the impression that it was all gas. I honestly thought it all came through the same pipelines before it was pumped into the delivery trucks with different coloured paint jobs. I keep saying to the screen, "No, it's just GAS!" As long as it isn't mixed with diesel or contaminated with water, it burns fine. The target consumer has a much deeper commitment to his or her service station than I do.

They ask me what Techron does. They have an array of about forty possibly functions of the additive. I don't check any of them and fill in the other blank with "it's a marketing ploy."

How likely, they ask me, am I to return to the last Phillips 66 station for my next fill. Considering it's 800 nm away, and I'm going the other way, it's very unlikely. I think my responses won't be very useful in formulating their next marketing campaign. But I got some entertainment out of it. And I hope you did, too.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Salt Lake Flying

Geographically, Salt Lake City is quite amazing. On one side, mountains rise to over ten thousand feet. They're literally right against the city: the north-south VFR route is called the mountain road, and the GPS keeps popping up with extreme terrain warnings as I fly it. On the other side is an immense lake, saltier than the ocean, and around the lake stretches a plain so flat that it's the place to come to set land speed records.

I'm not sure whether the person who said this was not paying attention to the name of the city and the lake, or simply possessed of a sense of humour drier than I could detect, but with deadpan delivery he observed curiously, "It looks as if there is salt all over the ground."

And well, it does look that way. Sort of like it looks as though there are huge pointy rocks to the immediate east. The Great Salt Lake is salty on the inside and salty all around the edges. And it's vast. And flat. There are a few islands, though, here's Antelope Island.

I pity the pioneers who had to cross this state at ground level and at walking pace. Here's a sample conversation between me and a coworker while we drove across part of the state.

"That's sure flat."

"That's a lot of salt."

"I guess that's why they call it the salt flats.

fifteen minute pause in conversation

"Man, is that ever flat."

I can just picture the poor pioneers with no other topic of conversation for days.

I know Brigham Young's crew stopped at Salt Lake City, but I know others went further west. There's a peak west of the lake called Pilot Peak and it's not named for the benefit of people like me, but for those who navigated by it in much slower times.

From my modern vantage point the lake water looks purple in places. I don't know if that is from the minerals in the water, or the lake bed. There's a whole lot of nothing everywhere else, especially north of the lake. I loaded twenty-five litres of drinking water just in case we had to land out there for some reason. If I had a double engine failure or an uncontrollable fire and had to land immediately I think I would not land out in the flattest part. Although I know it is as flat and hard as a runway, I might take my chances in the scrubbier part closer to the road. Getting down is one thing. Getting out is another.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Scholarship Opportunity

I'm just back online and going through all your comments and e-mails. One, with the subject line Aviation scholarship turned out to be not the usual desperate would-be student hoping I could connect them with some magical source of funding, but an actual offer of funds, from Conklin & de Decker. Money is available to students not in flight programs, but in the field of aviation management. The fact that they contacted me about it suggests that they are not overwhelmed with qualified candidates, so if that's your field, it's worth a shot. The application deadline is August 1st, so you'll have to hurry if you want to apply this year.

I'm slowly getting to all my mail and comments, but it will be a while before I'm caught up.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Still on the Golf Course

The airplane should be leaving today, and the boss wants me to help with the work however I can. So I check out of the hotel and come to see what I can do, even though I'm fairly certain that "stay out of the way and stop bugging us" is my major contribution.

Item number forty-three on the big list is a frayed elevator trim cable. That definitely needs replacing, and they'll have to get the part. I have opened a company account with the local parts supplier so they can get what they need, and am trying to stay within earshot but out of tripping distance, in case they do find a use for me.

I've found a job for myself. One of the aircraft propellers was replaced, and the old one needs to go back to Canada. The packaging material for the new one is still on the floor here, so I'll use it to package it up and arrange for shipping. Now this propeller is an eighty pound object, that includes not only three long metal blades but a hub that protrudes almost a foot up and down from the plane of the blades. At the moment the propeller is resting on a bucket, to let the oil drain out of it. On a complex airplane the propeller is not just a twirling metal airfoil, but a twirling metal airfoil whose blade angle is automatically adjusted through a complicated arrangement of counterweights, springs, valves and oil pressure. I start by wiping oil off the exterior of the hub. And then I stare at the assembly.

The propeller is heavy, awkward, expensive and delicate. The packing material available includes a wooden pallet, three small aircraft tires, some polyethylene sheeting made into sleeves with cardboard tip protectors, a lot of bubble wrap, some blade-sized long thin cardboard boxes, and about a dozen polystyrene chunks: like packing peanuts, except denser and each is about the size of a rabbit. There's also a lot of plastic pallet wrap, with fragile stickers on it but that's not reusable, I'll have to get more. It's a bit like one of those wooden puzzles where you have to put all the pieces together to make a cube, but the first time you try you just get a lump with bits sticking out everywhere.

I slide the three sleeves with the cardboard tip protectors over the propeller blades, trying to imagine what they could protect against. An impact so minor that it would not just crush or tear through the cardboard probably wouldn't hurt the propeller in the first place. I borrow packing tape and wrap the blades in bubble wrap, wondering if sensitive scientific instruments could detect the miniscule amount of protection bubblewrap would afford against damage, were this twenty-thousand dollar item to be dropped, rolled, or mishandled by a forklift.

While I'm doing this, I can hear the mechanics working on my airplane, trying to get around the inevitable shipping delay in getting this cable. They have considered placarding the autopilot unserviceable ("INOP" in local parlance) and signing off the airplane to be used without the autopilot, but then they determined that the manual and electric (i.e. autopilot) trim use the same cable, so that's not possible. They will need to replace the cable. Then I hear the words "not available." I ask. That's right, this bit of wire is not available from the manufacturer. They are searching online inventories for someone else that might have one, and the words "get one fabricated" drift over to me. The cable of course has a part number, lets call it 34876-7B. It does end in "dash seven bravo," but I made the rest up. I dash off an e-mail to the Person Responsible for Maintenance back at home to see if he has one, but before he replies the parts guy here announces his triumph. He's found one; they're shipping it; and it will be here by ten am tomorrow morning.

And then my PRM replies. He asks me to have them double-check that the part number is "dash seven bravo." According to his information, that cable for an airplane of our serial number is "dash seven eight." This sounds like a pretty clear transcription error: -78 versus -7B read off a sheet of microfiche or a dusty computer screen. And what's the chance that there are two similar cables, with numbers that are identical except that one ends in an eight and the other a B? How utterly would that be ASKING for trouble!

I pass on the advisory. Parts guy looks it up. My PRM is right. He's ordered the wrong cable. We need a -78 not a -7B. There is actually pretty good availablity of the -78 cable, but it's now 4:30 p.m. mountain time and phones in Florida, Chicago and Texas are ringing through to after hours answering machines. Surely there's something in California? Nothing. Seattle? No. He finds one in Peterborough. I shake my head "they're on Eastern Time. Maybe Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver or Regina?" Nothing.

The mechanics re-evaluate whether this airplane can be signed out with the existing cable, and return for the replacement when it arrives. They agree they would be willing to sign the airplane off for a ferry permit, just to go somewhere else to stop, but not to continue work.

I go back to my makework task, getting someone to help me lift the propeller onto a stack of tires on the pallet such that the hub is protected inside the rubber bumper. Adding the styrofoam chunks makes the whole thing look more ridiculous, but not significantly more protected. I go back to the guy in shipping who loaned me the packing tape. "I think what I need is not your packing tape but your packing expertise." He comes out to look.

"The shipping company won't even accept it like this," he says. "It sticks off the edges of the pallet." It's bigger than the pallet, so I didn't have any choice about that. He has proper propeller shippin boxes and will pack it properly in one for a couple of hundred dollars. That makes sense. I hook him up with the receiver and step out of the equation.

The parts guy then comes up to me and says something about my extended vacation in Salt Lake City. I turn to look at him, and he is holding up a plastic parts bag containing a cable. I can see the part number printed on the cardboard at the top. It ends in -78. He has the correct cable in his hand I squeal with delight (yes, literally squeal) and fling open my arms. I stopped myself just in time from throwing my arms around him to kiss him. He might not have appreciated that.

So we have all the parts, but there's too much work to be done to finish tonight. Back to the hotel I go.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Weekend on the Golf Course

Remembering that the inspector from my company was turned back at the border, you may be able to understand the level of stress in my boss when it transpired that the inspector from this company was also unavailable. I found a third company that had an available inspector and was willing to do the work in our hangar. This resulted before the end of the day in a beautifully itemized list of sixty-two items that need to be attended to.

A good portion have already been done, as part of the routine servicing, although the inspector says one engine is two quarts low on oil. Many of the ADs were simply items to be inspected, so the act of inspecting them has completed them. There are a number of trivial items, like the fact that the lens on my cockpit dome light has a crack in it, as does the plexiglass cover over my left nav light. They've both been there since before my time, possibly since before I learned to fly. The former was probably a result of someone struggling with the chinese puzzle of removing seats from the cockpit without violating the Pauli exclusion principle, and the latter is a stop-drilled crack in the edge, maybe a combination of ultraviolet brittling and a sometime-overtightened screw. A number of lines are written up as chafing. They've noticed a missing instrument in my panel. I smile at that one. It's not as if it fell out en route. It was a radar altimeter, not required by my operating certificate, but nice to have. The tone was working, but the needle was stuck, so company pulled it to see if it could be repaired. The hole in the panel is glaring at first, then you stop seeing it.

Here's an odd one, a leaking turbo clamp. A leaking clamp? I usually think of clamps as things that retain rigid solid objects, and leaking as something that fluids do. The guys show me where very hot gases are escaping from it and the subsequent damage on surrounding components. I take a few pictures to e-mail, and then fax the 62-item document to my company's PRM (Person Responsible for Maintenance).

I don't know how long it will take my company to comment on the list, so I go through it myself to give them a start. The customer is now alternating with the boss calling me to find out when it will be done, so I tell them to ignore everything cosmetic, defer what can be safely left for another month, and do anything that they aren't willing to release the airplane without. Kind of a no-brainer. I defer the marginal stuff to the PRM, who calls and discusses it all.

I checked the oil in the low engine and it turned out to be right on the usual fill level, if you look at the correct side of the dipstick. I feel a little smug that the inspector made the same error that I did the very first time I inspected one of these airplanes for a preflight. it's very easy to have a moment of left/right confusion while facing the airplane sideways. I spent most of the day there, but I'm not sure that I really accomplished anything, aside from reassuring boss and customer that the airplane was being worked on. Also I bought a copy of Fred and Ted Like to Fly which pretty much matched my intellectual level by the end of the day. My favourite part was where Fred installs a new propeller on his green airplane in the time it takes Ted to check the oil on his.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ascent of the Northwest Face

I met up with Chris again while the airplane was in the shop, and we had a closer look at Utah by daylight. The plan was to hike up Big Cottonwood Canyon (which is apparently the smaller of the two canyons named Cottonwood) to a trio of lakes called the three sisters. We would then cheer for ourselves, and hike back down. We parked at the bottom of a ski-lift and started up.

It's not really a trail at this point. It's just walking under the chairlift; the trail proper starts further up because the old trailhead was closed to protect it from erosion. There are large patches of snow still on the slope, and we're walking in the damp muddy parts in between. I saw a number of small, fast moving gopher-like creatures, and a raptor of some sort, maybe a hawk. The dirt slope with patches of snow quickly becomes a snow slope with patches of dirt and then a snow slope. Fortunately it's not very slippery because it's warm enough outside that the snow is soft and mushy, so you just kick your foot in and make a step. In full honesty I should admit that Chris just kicks his foot in and makes a step. I follow along in the steps, gasping slightly.

I'm no stranger to going up slopes. It's just that normally if I say I hiked up a six thousand foot mountain, I mean that it was six thousand feet at the top. Here the road to the parking lot starts at 6000'. My lungs and muscles noticed the lower pressure of oxygen. The only thing that spared me from having to call for embarrassing rest breaks every ten minutes or so was that my boss kept texting me to ask me questions about the ongoing maintenance. So I would then stop walking, call the maintenance shop from half way up a mountain, ask the question, and text my boss back. The middlewoman was necessary because my boss was driving through less technologically enhanced mountains somewhere, and when he called the shop his cellphone kept cutting out. I promise I didn't arrange for the diversion in order to get regular breaks.

Despite my cellphone-retarded progress, and the increased snowiness and steepness of the slope, we came out at a bit of a plateau with a big rock on it, and a lake called Dog Lake. The dog in question must have been a Pomeranian, as it was a very small lake, kind of a bog. I had my picture taken, standing on the rock, with mountain peaks in the background, while I'm furiously texting on the cellphone. Seems kind of appropriate for the morning's adventure. I took a picture of Chris, my intrepid guide, and was going to use it as the symbol of my expedition, but the shot wasn't as flattering or as dramatic as Hillary's of Tenzing Norgay, so I cropped it to just scenery, and you'll have to trust we were there.

The trip down was quick, and we managed not to slip and make it even quicker. Chris then acceded to my tourist request to "see the salt lake." Primed by Phil to expect a smelly nasty fly-infested marsh, I wasn't put off by it. It was a bit smelly, and kind of marshy and there were a lot of sand flies. But I just wanted to see the salt. There was an area where people had walked in the marsh and their footprints had filled with water, then evaporated, so each footprint was a plate of crystalline salt. I tried to pick some up, but it was kind of mushy. Another area had firmer sand and a procession of people walking out to try and float in the lake. (The high salinity makes it very easy to float, and so it's probably fun, if you are dressed for it, and want to wade out far enough for it to be deep enough to float. It's a very flat, shallow lake. I didn't taste it, just took Chris's word for it that it's even saltier than an ocean. Apparently brine shrimp live in it. There were an extraordinary number of dead birds on the sand, though, so I guess they don't live well in it.

After lunch I went back to the maintenance hangar to rearrange the dirt on the airplane. It turns out that my company's mechanic got turned back at the US border for unknown reasons, so local mechanics are doing the work. At least it's getting done. I ask if the inspection has turned up anything that will result in a delay for parts or a lot of extra work, but apparently the inspector won't be here until Monday, they're just doing the routine servicing.

The mechanics are very sweet to me, finding me a mat to sit on, as if it were important that some part of me not get filthy as I tried to clean the flaps. I think there is a special sort of dirt that clings to the underside of flaps, because it knows how hard it is to scrub at that inverted angle. It's more tenacious than belly grime or under nacelle grime. And the parts of an airplane that are easy to stand and scrub hardly get dirty at all.

Once I had made most of the airplane closer to white than black, I started wiping down the wing boots, something that is supposed to be black, and a mechanic came up to chat. I'd listened to his accent earlier when I had asked him where to dump grease-contaminated water (some states prohibit it in drains, but in Utah it was okay to pour it down a grate in the hangar floor). He wasn't from the US, and I had been trying to decide where he'd come from. I was guessing somewhere in west Africa, but it turned out to be Kenya.

He asked if I were my company's mechanic and then expressed surprise that the pilot wasn't off golfing while the airplane was in the shop. (Reminds me of someone who once asked me "doesn't your company have people to do that?" My company does. They're called pilots.) He liked the idea of a pilot who would stick around to make sure the job got done, and then he talked about his job, and he couldn't be contained in his passion for fixing airplanes. It turns out that Kenya uses the same aviation terminology as Canada: I suppose both countries got it from the British, so he knew what a snag was and how to read a journey log. He managed to stop a diplomatic safe distance from saying anything negative about the non-ICAO systems the USA uses, and it was fun to have an ally in a strange land.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another Hundred Hours

The flying is busy, letting me see the tall still-snowcapped mountains, the salt plains around the lake, and the peculiar purple water in the salt lake. It must be some kind of mineral in the water. I've never seen purple water before and I know it's not an algae bloom. Before I know it I'm out of time on the airplane.

Out of time? Every one hundred hours that my airplane flies, it needs to have a licensed mechanic from a licensed repair shop inspect it to see if any bits are falling off yet. Every fifty hours it needs an oil change and a bit of tire kicking, but the hundred hour check is a big job. It's fifty manhours just for the inspection, assuming nothing is wrong. And there is always something wrong.

When I started this job, I just flew the airplane, told my boss how many hours were left each night, and he arranged maintenance. But I'm a proactive sort of person so now when I am working in an area I make it my job to find out where there are FAA repair stations or licensed AMOs that might have time to do a 100 hr inspection. I talk to them, and communicate back to my boss about what might be a good shop.

This week I found two places that could do the work. I'll call them A and B. Place A said they were booked up for three weeks and Place B said they could do it, but it would take them a week. I knew that boss and customer expected the work done faster than that. When I reported the information to boss, he asked me if Place A could let us use hangar space for OUR company guys to do it. Place A said yes, and I hooked them and boss up to work out the details. Our guys will do the work at place A, which is in Salt Lake City.

I've chatted with local flight instructors enough to learn the Utahn (that's a real word: the newspapers use it) lingo and landmarks, so when I call up Salt Lake approach and they clear me into Class Bravo airspace, maintaining 8500' along the mountain road, I read it back confidently. The mountain road doesn't really go through the mountains, but when I follow it I snuggle up against the mountains, keeping them just off off my left wingtip as I'm given a step-down approach into the city.

On downwind, the tower controller asks me if I am familiar with the airport. What do I say to that? I've been there once. I have the terminal chart open on my lap. I've interrogated people on the oddities of local ATC. But I'm not prepared if she tells me to fly direct Joe's barn. So I say no. She clears me to land runway 35. I'll forever wonder what clearance I would have been given if I had claimed familiarity.

I hand the airplane over to competent-seeming people with a tow cart, and check into a hotel.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fashion Show

From Salt Lake City I arrive at a small Utah FBO where I receive excellent, almost fawning service from a staff who are almost all also students in the aviation program at a nearby university. My airplane, which at the Salt Lake City FBO was an ordinary thing, an airplane of no particular interest to be parked in the corner somewhere is suddenly interesting. I field lots of questions about the speeds, fuel burn, useful load and the like. They are stunned by how much fuel my engines suck back. They are training on smaller and more fuel efficient Diamond aircraft.

They all fly glass cockpit airplanes from the get go, which is appropriate for them, because that's all they will find in their commercial world. I feel like I'm from another planet, and not just another country, I chat with a flight instructor who has just interviewed with the airlines. He starts in two weeks. He's skipping the whole middle of an aviation career, while I am forever dwelling in the middle he's never visited.

The FBO is very busy today, because for some reason no one can identify there is a fashion show starting this evening in the next hangar over. I have to wait at the FBO for my customers, so I sit back and watch a make-up artist prepare the men and women for the runway. They aren't disgustingly skinny, just healthy with long skinny legs on the women and toned but not bulging muscles on the men. They are black and white skinned, but the white ones all have deep tans. I suppose that's part of the job, just as their legs aren't bruised and scratched like mine from activities like bicycling, chasing frisbees in blackberry bushes and using my knees to help load cargo. It makes me marvel at all the possible things people can do that get called jobs.

After a while I ventured over and asked if I could take a picture. They had no problem with that. The model in the chair is Ramsi Stoker, of Colorado, and the make-up artist, although she initially declined identification, was bullied by the model into being billed as Michelle. None of the models got into cat fights, threw anything at anyone or behaved in any way contrary to the way you would expect a professional to behave when they were at work. I think TV must be wrong. Either that or these folk aren't cut out to be supermodels.

Later on, a large corporate jet landed and everyone in the FBO rushed outside to look. It was hilarious. I know I'm not in the big city anymore. Eventually the customer arrives and I and his crew have a big game of musical hotels as we try to find places for everyone to stay.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Salt Lake City

The Utah state bird is the seagull, appointed in honour of a flock of seagulls that saved the early settlers' crops from a plague of crickets. I like seagulls, and have managed not to hit the two that have decided to fly in front of my airplane so far this trip, so I'm delighted that there's a state that honours them. The main street of Salt Lake City that goes up to the State Capitol is over arched by a bronze (material assumed, based on the verdigris) sculpture of a seagull. I took this picture while standing in the middle of the street. Not that Salt Lake City is such a sleepy little town where tourists can stand in the middle of the main street and snap photographs. Salt Lake City has modern conveniences like pedestrian crosswalks and traffic signals. I'm standing in the middle of the street while crossing at the light.

Salt Lake City has, or at least has signs of, other means of ensuring safe pedestrian passage across the streets. Here, up by the T-intersection in front of the Capitol, is a be-your-own-crossing-guard kit, sadly with the essential component part missing. The sign reads Look left & right when crossing | For added visibility carry orange flag across with you. It was an awkward intersection, with the traffic going up the hill and then turning left or right allowed to proceed straight through, but traffic going straight through or turning left or right down the hill had stop signs. Oddly, not only was the flag missing from the receptacle, but there was no matching receptacle at the other side of the street for the successful street crosser to deposit the flag. Perhaps the first person to cross the street is still walking around, looking for a place to put it. I saw a couple of other flag intersections, but none still had a flag.

Another strange thing about the streets in Salt Lake City is their names, or perhaps more accurately, the addresses. They use a coordinate system. When I was first told this I thought, "well, duh, so do most cities." Edmonton works its way out from the intersection of 100th Street and 100th Avenue downtown. Even Halifax, with its seemingly haphazard collections of streets, avenues and roads has street addresses based on a number of blocks along a street in one direction or another. But Salt Lake City takes its coordinates to another level. Sample street address: 303 NORTH 2370 WEST, Salt Lake City, UT 84116. That's the address of the FBO I'm at. It's near, but not at the intersection of streets labelled W 2300 and N 300. Actually I'm not certain there is an N 300, but it's near where it ought to be. I also saw streets with names and with subtitles like W 725. As you probably could have guessed--at least I did--the coordinate system is centred on the Temple. I have some directions written down here that include the line "N Redwood S of W 700 N." I suppose the people who grow up here think everyone else's addresses are impenetrably strange.

I've also been trying to meet Phil, of Where the Hell is Phil but you think it's hard for one person in aviation to scedule a social life, getting two together in the same place at the same time is almost impossible. So far our schedules have antimeshed perfectly, with him having time off as I go on duty and vice versa, but we'll keep trying.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Oxygen Service

I landed in Salt Lake City with 200 psi of oxygen left in my tank, so I called for oxygen service. I was cleaning out the airplane when they arrived with a cart full of long green oxygen tanks, so I got to see how this works. I showed them where the access was, a little door under the nose, and watched as they hooked up. I hopped up into the cockpit to watch the gauge, to ensure that it was filling properly.

I hadn't ever watched an O2 fill in progress before. I guess in my head I imagined them having a compressor, or one giant extremely high pressure oxygen tank from which they would charge my oxygen bottle. Or I never actually thought about it. But this being the real world, they have a collection of ordinary cylinders all at different pressures, and they fill by what they call a cascade. You can't ever get all the oxygen from one bottle to another, only equalize the pressure. So they start with the lowest pressure bottle that is at a higher pressure than my tank, and equalize the pressure between those two. Then they shut off the feed and switch to the next lowest bottle that still is at a higher pressure, and so on. They could just equalize my tank with the highest bottle in their array, but then what would they do with all the half-charged tanks?

Somewhere someone has a big compressor to fill their tanks. In case you're interested, an oxygen fill cost me $45 in Salt Lake City. Quite a bargain for about 25 hours of being able to breathe.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Darth Aviatrix

I mentioned my relationship with my oxygen mask. I have described before the nasal cannula method of supplementary oxygen, and trust me, having a drinking straw up each nose is preferable to having a plastic bag stuck over your face. I understand that if I stuck an ordinary plastic bag over my nose and mouth I would have passed out by now, so it must be supplying me with oxygen, but would anyone tell Transport Canada if I took the damned thing off and just breathed the rarefied mountain air? I wonder if this thing gives me force powers.

If I had blue skin, this is what I'd look like flying over the Colorado-Utah mountains wearing my oxygen mask. I don't really have blue skin: that would be a sign that I wasn't getting enough oxygen. (A co-worker tells me he once was on a flight with pilots who were trying to prove their manhood by flying over the Rockies without supplemental oxygen. he reports being unimpressed by their blue lips.) I don't know what vivid green hair is a sign of, but regular readers know that mine always comes out that way in posted pictures. Let me identify what you see on my head in the picture. The baseball cap (actually a feed cap) is dual function: the peak keeps the sun out of my eyes as I travel west in the evening or east in the morning and the headband serves to keep the sweat on my forehead from running down into my eyes. Sunglasses of course also protect my eyes from the glare, and also the high altitude ultraviolet. The headset protects my hearing from the constant noise of the engines and allows me to hear the radio, and the iPod when it's on. I left it off for most of this trip. Terri Clark wasn't working her usual magic on me. My nose and mouth are covered by the lovely and hated oxygen mask, held on with elastic straps, and in front of that you can see the boom mic from my headset, augmented by a light which I can control with my lip. Well, I can control with my lip when I'm not wearing an oxygen mask. The O2 mask has a rebreather bag, so you can gulp the same oxygen enough times to actually use it, and a tube connecting it to the oxygen supply in the ceiling. And of course there's my luxurious green hair.

I don't want to force this irritating contraption on others. In Canada, oxygen must be available to all passengers at pressure altitudes over 13,000', but the passengers are not required to use it. I check out the FARs to see what the local rules are. I must comply with whichever is the more conservative. It seems that in the US all persons must use oxygen for the entire period of flight above 15,000'. It looks like I brief everyone on oxygen, let them know it's available over 13,000' and then tell them to wear it over 15,000'. But I'm not going to turn around to check if they are complying.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nothing To Do

My client calls me in my hotel room at nine this morning and says, "there's nothing for you to do today. You have the day off." I thank him, and assure him I'll have my cellphone with me if he needs anything, and smile to myself. Just because he has nowhere for me to fly today doesn't mean I have nothing to do. My day's to do list already includes:

  • order nasal cannulas
  • buy charts
  • find out the contact person for permission to access restricted airspace
  • find shop that can do 100 h mx check
  • buy garbage bags
  • send weekly paperwork to boss
  • buy antiseptic wipes for the icky masks, pending the arrival of the cannulas (cannulae?)

But I'll let the client maintain the illusion that I'll do nothing all day.

It's quarter to twelve when I'm done the paperwork and finished all I can do in the way of maintenance and airspace related phone calls and e-mails. I log on to the Utah public transit website to find out when the next bus downtown is. They have the usual little app that allows me to tell it where I am, where I want to go and when, so I punch in that data, telling it I want to leave at noon. I figure I can walk to the bus stop by then.

The application comes back and tells me to board a bus at 11:46. That's now. I click on the route schedule to find out when the next one is. Over four hours from now. Hmm. Time for Plan B. It turns out that the business/church association runs a free shuttle from the airport to downtown, intended to lure travellers with long stopovers into the temple and/or local stores. And my hotel has a free shuttle to the airport. I combine these to good effect and am soon downtown, at Temple Square.

My last night's hosts had warned me that the free tour of the square was weak on history and long on religion, but I could stand to learn more about the local religion, so I attended. The tour guides were young women, missionaries who had signed up for an eighteen month mission anywhere in the world, and they found themselves in Utah. The tour had a little of the aspect of watching news videos posted online, where you have to listen to the commercials in order to get to the content. So we would get a little spiel on the first Mormon commandment of faith, as 'background' and then some historical information. The guides took us to a room that looked out on the Temple Square buildings, and which was surrounded by busts of Mormon prophets. The first was Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion, then Brigham Young who led the faithful to Utah, and at least a dozen, maybe two dozen, more all around the outside of the room. They had somehow managed a continuous succession of prophets. I wondered how they went about finding the next prophet, after one died. Was the next identified as a child, like the Dalai Lama? Elected by the elite, like the Pope? Elected generally like the President? I asked, and they explained that each new prophet is chosen by and from the ranks of the apostles of the previous one, through prayer and consensus.

Next I toured the house of Brigham Young, where my guides were from Brazil and Italy. We saw the furnishings and restored interior of the house he had built and in which he lived and entertained visiting dignitaries. I had noticed by this point that all the missionaries carried around a copy of The Book of Mormon, much the way Phil has to be within reach of is flight attendant manual. (Thanks to Phil, I was momentarily distracted from the presentation by the idea of a doubly burdened Mormon flight attendant. Yes, Phil and I are trying to arrange to meet up, but when two people are in aviation, meeting is complicated.) Eventually I asked one of the guides if I could see her Book. She said of course, and I sat down to look at it. It read, and I hope I can say this without offending anyone, much like a book of the Bible it supplements. Records and prophesies and stories and lo and beholds. I didn't read enough to see anything reportable, I was just looking to see what it was that Joseph Smith had written. I was wondering to myself at how prolific this man had been, when the missionary mentioned that the book was written in 600 AD. That didn't line up with what I thought I knew. She said that the book, actually engraved plates, dated to the year 600, and had been passed from prophet to prophet until it reached the last one, Moroni, who had no one to give it to, because the people of Jerusalem had become wicked. So he hid it in the ground. This really didn't match what I knew of this being a very recent religion, and one founded in the US.

I asked something like, "But ... six hundred .. Joseph Smith?" The Italian Sister's English was not perfect. She perhaps said the wrong word or number somewhere.

But no, she went on and explained that the last prophet Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith as a resurrected being and revealed to him where the gold plates bearing these scriptures were hidden. He unearthed them and translated them.

"And where were they?" I asked.

The answer was an exotic name that I didn't recognize, so I asked where that was.

"New York."

"New York? United States New York?"

Yes. That New York. Okay, the language barrier had caused some problem here. "How did they get to New York?"

"By boat."

Eventually, after a bit of back and forth, it dawned on me. "This was a trip from Jerusalem to New York that ... most people don't know about. It isn't recorded in ... regular history?"

And she confirmed it. Wow, this religion is starting to sound like an Indiana Jones movie.

"What language were they written in?" I asked.

The answer was in the Egyptian language, but with the Hebrew writing system. The Sister anticipated my next question and warned that this part might be hard to understand, but Joseph Smith was not a very educated man, he translated the plates using the power of God. Given the biblical story of the tower of Babel, and even some non-religious stories of people understanding foreign speech in extremis, that didn't really stand out as the astonishing part of the story. I'd just been told that there was a historical artifact, a written record of biblical times that had been found on North American soil. And I'd never even heard of it! Was this religion so persecuted that something like that could be covered up?

"Where are the plates now?" I asked.

She explained that there are replicas of some of them in the museum, but at that time the people were wicked and they could see that Joseph had these things that looked like gold, and they wanted them, so the angels took them back for safekeeping.

And the act of translation was the hard to grasp part? And then I had a little revelation of my own. All religions are based on faith, faith in something that appears fantastical to someone who does not have that faith. And once you believe in something that others don't, it doesn't really matter how convoluted it is, it's your faith. And perhaps the strength of the faith that is required to support the beliefs is a strength that carries one through adversity, such as the mountains of Utah, the Nazi concentration camps, or simply the horrors of grade nine in high school. It's likely that every single person in the world believes something that I don't. I am absolutely not going to judge or condemn them for that. I'm sure I believe some things that other people find highly unlikely. It would appear that regardless of their beliefs that these people work hard for themselves and to deliver humanitarian relief as well as evangelism to people who need it.

I did not tell the nice woman that her faith was an Indiana Jones movie, already written and ready to be scored by John Williams. I do keep an eye out for evidence that Joseph Young wore a fedora or carried a bullwhip.

I continued walking around Temple Square, looking at fountains and sculptures and monuments. Here's a detail from one commemorating "Brigham Young and the Pioneers," the first group of people to make that trek through the mountains to find this place. The plaque lists all their names, with stars next to those still alive at the time of the engraving. As you can see from the picture, this was summarized as 143 men, 3 women and 2 children, along with assorted animals. The male-female ratio struck me as an odd foundation for a polygamous society that rejects homosexuality, but apparently that group was merely the vanguard, the next year hundreds more people joined them. I counted the names to see if the "colored servants" listed separately at the end counted as men, and they did. Depictions on the monument also acknowledge the Ute Indians and the hunters and trappers who had made it to the valley before the pilgrims.

I had lunch at a restaurant called The Lion House, a historic home also on Temple Square. It was cafeteria style, quite good food and they offered Jell-O among the desserts. I was sorry to observe that there was no green, only red and orange, so I still haven't had the Utah state food. I had black forest cake instead.

I walked from Temple Square up the hill to the State Capitol. I learned about something called book cut marble, the way patterns like the one in the picture above are produced. The marble is cut four times as thick as it needs to be, then sliced in half like a layer cake, and then those leaves are again sliced, allowing the grain of the marble to form a fourfold symmetrical pattern. I spotted this mural of Brigham Young arriving in the valley. It appears that he did have a fedora. Perhaps his bullwhip is in the covered wagon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Quick Tour of the Town

There is virtually no Sunday bus service in Salt Lake City, but my call for local Salt Lakians (I forgot to ask what they were called, so I made that up) produced Chris, who reads the blog, and Bill, who has a regular Sunday night dinner with Chris, and wasn't going to be dissuaded just because Chris had invited a strange woman. They work in software and hardware respectively and are both pilots. Bill has even done a trip that involved landings in all forty-eight contiguous states. They ask me what I would like to eat. I'm not sure. I always like to eat locally, but Utah doesn't seem to be cattle country, nor a good place to get fresh seafood, and there are no orchards of fresh fruit. I inquire if there is a local specialty I should know about and am told "green jello, but we won't make you eat that." They took me to a restaurant called the Red Iguana where I ate chicken, rice, black beans and cactus. I'd never eaten cactus before, that I remember, but it had been despined, so was tasty and not prickly. The water in Utah is also delicious. Bill told me the dissolved minerals from the granite are responsible for the flavour. They get it out of a series of reservoirs in the mountains on the east side of the city, not the Great Salt Lakes to the west.

After dinner I was treated to a quick tour of the city and environs. The centrepiece of the city is Temple Square, consisting of an enormous spired temple built over a period of forty years from granite quarried over twenty miles away and hauled into town by oxen, the tabernacle that is the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, some office buildings and a gigantic auditorium. The temple is lit up at night and glows, like some ghostly apparition, because the granite is very light in colour. Other landmarks included the "City and County": a grand, spired building housing government functions; and the State Capitol: the requisite rotunda with columns and marble staircase, up on top of a hill. And there was a bowling sign. I can imagine Chris and Bill shaking their heads at me, as the bowling sign was the only landmark I asked them to stop the car so I could photograph. You see, I knew I could buy a postcard of any of those granite and marble edifices, but If I wanted to be able to show off the Googie architecture of the Classic Bowling sign, I was going to have to memorialize it myself. We giggled at the replacement T in a different colour.

Salt Lake City was founded by Mormons, who came through those same mountains I just whined about needing oxygen to navigate. They were led by a man named Brigham Young who arrived here and proclaimed "This is the Place." I didn't even know that much about Mormons before I came here. I knew was that they formerly practiced polygamy, but that the main church has turned away from that and the groups that still do are breakaway sects. During the tour I noted that Chris and Bill used the word "they" several times in reference to Mormons so I guess that I can ask stupid questions without fearing giving insult or being evangelized. I ask about the other thing I had heard, that Mormons research their family trees so that they can retroactively save their ancestors. My hosts laugh at "retroactively," the proper term being "posthumously," but my hosts confirm the practice and tell me that there is a giant bunker in the mountains where some of the most comprehensive genealogical records on the planet are securely stored.

We drive up into the beginning of the mountains to see the high-priced subdivisions where formerly there were mines. There are a number of professional people who live in Utah because it is beautiful, natural place with excellent airline connections to the rest of the country, so they can live here, and work wherever they are called to go.

All considered the evening was one of the better ways getting into a car with two strange men could turn out. I got an opportunity to explore the city by day later, so I'll have more information on some of the things in this entry later.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I Pronounce Me Here

They've been telling me we are going to Nevada next. I was given a day off in which I didn't do much but swim laps in the (big! outdoor!) hotel pool, and draft flight plans for Reno and Las Vegas. There are other places in Nevada, but I figure if I know how to get to the big ones, I'll be able to figure out the way to Winnemucca. (The problem with that would be pronouncing it when I get there. Did you know I managed to pronounce Birmingham wrong!) And then they told me to fly to Salt Lake City. At least I can pronounce that.

That meant a two leg trip, one flat, one with mountains. The flat leg of the trip was the more difficult one, however, because the flat bits of the US are all about thunderstorms this time of year, and these ones had SIGMETs for hail. Unfortunately I can't find the bit of paper on which I scribbled that SIGMET because it didn't just slap down the symbol GR for hail, it spelled out the diameter in inches of the expected hail, and I don't want to exaggerate when I report the size, because it was a number that was sufficiently foreboding without exaggeration, but I can't remember it. It's a little like if someone told you there was a dangerous, angry poisonous spider in your bed, you might forget exactly how big they said it was. Most thunderstorms do have hail; it just doesn't always reach the ground. And thunderstorms have enough nasty components without hail. But when you consider that hail can be thrown out of the storm ten miles away from where the storm seems to be, and hail like that could damage my aircraft even without gusty winds, downdraughts and severe turbulence, you can see that was a no go. The thunderstorms are not air mass thunderstorms, formed pretty much daily over large flat hot areas with available water, but frontal thunderstorms. They are being caused by a fast-moving cold front that is lifting the hot moist air. That makes for a long, impassable line of storms. I have to go around. Not too far around, however, because there are air mass thunderstorms in the area, already topped to 60,000', about as high as they go at this latitude, to the south, and they are moving north. I'm running the gauntlet between two storm areas.

I pick some VORs as follow-the-dots points for a routing and file my flight plan, IFR because there's a lot of moisture associated with the cold front, even away from the convective areas. I took a few pictures of distant convective cloud, but they aren't very impressive because there's no sense of scale.

The flight goes well. The air traffic controllers are friendly and cooperative, offering me more direct routings and giving me information about the convection and rainfall they can see on their scopes. I cut the corner a little on my planned routing. It was conservative, allowing for the front to slow down, but it moved as forecast and I'm able to curl in behind it, going north in the wake of the storms. There is a lot of moisture left and one controller calls me to tell me he sees about fifty miles of light precipitation ahead on my route. I acknowledge that, I've just entered cloud, and tell him that it is smooth. He then comes right back and says "and then the fifty miles after that is moderate precipitation, let me know if you need any deviations." He must be practicing his comedy routine. I found it really funny that he told me about the light stuff, waited for my response and then told me there was heavier stuff to follow. He was pretty much exactly right, then the clouds thinned rapidly after the hundred miles had passed and the skies were clear for my landing in the middle of the country.

The FBO lends me a courtesy car that is parked on the inside of the security gate. I drive up to the gate, pick up a phone and tell them I want out. The stop sign immediately after the gate says not STOP but STOP HERE AND WAIT UNTIL GATE HAS CLOSED COMPLETELY. It's a smaller point size than your regular stop sign. Gas, washroom, food, weather and go: VFR this time because this leg will put me over my eight hours max IFR, and the weather is clear all the way to Salt Lake City. Yippee-kay-yay! On takeoff I'm cleared on course and to me requested altitude right away.

I put on the autopilot while I check out the scenery. The land is still flat, but not level. It's sloping up towards the continental divide. The GPS tells me that I'm crossing the Canadian River. I wonder what's Canadian about it. There's a North Canadian River, too. I have a notebook in which I write down things I want to blog about later, and I see that last month I crossed the Choctawhatchee River. You can't make up names like that.

I've been flying westbound at 8500' watching the ground get closer as it smoothly slopes up. I've also been kicked by light turbulence, chop as I call it in the PIREP I file after 50 miles of it. I wouldn't ordinarily file a PIREP for turbulence that was only light: I'm doing it because there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence along my route. My PIREP might help the forecasters, or help someone make a decision to fly.

I could possibly reduce the turbulence by climbing higher, but I don't really want to. Eventually the time comes, however, to suck it up and climb. The upsucking is quite literal. Although US rules allow a pilot to fly without oxygen for unlimited periods up to 12,500, I have to obey the more stringent Canadian ones and suck oxygen through a tube for the entire duration over 10,000', if I'm to be there for more than 30 minutes. I can go high enough to go straight up and over all the mountains, but the power of one engine alone wouldn't give me a good safety margin if the other engine quit. I would keep flying on one, but I would drift down, and there might be no escape, no where to drift to, over these mountains. I will follow the line of a pass rather than skimming over the peaks. This route will also give me a better approach into Salt Lake than trying to dive bomb the city.

At this time let it be said that I hate this oxygen mask. It ought to be cool at fourteen thousand feet above sea level, but the OAT is 12 and with the sun blazing into the cockpit from clear skies it's like a greenhouse in here. Clamping a rubber mask over my nose and mouth does not improve the situation, nor does the transit through plastic hoses and rebreathing bag improve the flavour of the bottled oxygen. It's ironic that up here where the mountain air is probably the freshest in the country, I get to breathe out of a bag.

I also get to talk through a bag, with ATC having trouble understanding my routing because I sound like Darth Vader. I wonder idly if I'm suffering from carbon dioxide poisoning, or just going mad. I should buy one of those ear-clip things to see if I'm sufficiently oxygenated. I wonder if they have to poke you, in order to get to your actual blood. If so, I'd bleed all over it. Or do they just look at the colour of your ear, in which case they wouldn't work on dark-skinned people.

Here's me heading for an invisible pass in the mountains. You can't see it from this angle, but the road goes through it, and so did I. Wow, I didn't notice until I saw these pictures side by side in the preview how much clearer the air is for the mountain picture. The windshield has not been cleaned between the Canadian River picture and this one: it's the same flight.

After the pass the land became flatter, but not much lower. I overflew one ten-thousand foot plateau, wind-packed snow berms still visible along the top. The visibility is decreasing, but this is a good sign when your destination is at a lake. When the drier mountain air gives way to moister, cloudier air, that means you're almost at the lake. I fly into SLC from the south following ATC instructions to overfly the interstate. I've studied the airport diagram ahead of time and based on the ATIS and the runway lengths, I guess that I will be given runway 35 to keep me out of the way of the faster airliners. I can see the airport ahead. The freeway passes to the east of it. The controller tells me to follow the freeway and maintain 6000'. He will turn me for the runway about three miles back.

It is less than three miles diagonally to the threshold when I'm allowed to turn to land. I've already cooled my engines and slowed to the first stage of flaps, so now I chop the power and pull up the nose to get the speed down so I can dump gear and the rest of the flaps and plummet to the runway. High density altitude gives me a high groundspeed, but also a high descent rate, so I make it down to runway level as I reach the big 35. I've arrived.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My Customers Know Me Well

I can't remember if I showed you this toy yet or not, so I'll make this entry really short. My customers were departing by airline early in the morning before my legal rest period would be completed, but wanted to leave some equipment in the airplane for me to transport, including something that was coming in via FedEx. I gave them the aircraft keys the night before, along with instructions to just put the equipment anywhere inside the airplane. I would load it properly and secure it in the morning.

They left the keys with the FBO, so next morning I got a cab to the airport in order to stow their and my gear and depart on the trip. Their equipment wasn't too awkward, but as I was putting it away, I was amused to find one item that had been left on top of a table, clearly for me, as opposed to part of the load.

I had a fun mini project to assemble the model and display it in my hotel room. I carefully took it apart afterwards and packed it inside a book so it's safe at home now. I like the idea that they were offered the model or saw them as give-aways at the FedEx office and said to each other, "Aviatrix would like one of those." And they were right. My customers know that deep down I'm five years old, and all they have to do is give me a toy and I'll be happy.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bug on the Hardware

During preflight today I noticed a gigantic insect on the empennage behind the rear door. It was translucent green with long legs and swoopy antennae and maybe wings. It was almost the size of my cellphone. The picture doesn't completely do it justice, as it was backlit and the camera darkens everything to make up for the brightness of the sky, so you can't see the sun shining through it. I should have handed it a dime to hold so you could see how big it is, too.

I have no idea what it is. Some kind of giant grasshopper, or maybe a locust. I'd hate to encounter a whole swarm of them! I think I got one of this guy's relatives on the cockpit window after takeoff too. Splorch!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Recut Movie Trailers

Today I have for you three "recut" movie trailers. They all contain actual footage from actual well-known movies, with accurate voiceover descriptions of the movies, but somehow the movie you actually saw was quite different from what the trailer suggests. I recommend you watch them in order, to get the best laugh out of the third. I didn't get the first one, having never seen The Shining, but what was going on became clear with the trailer for the scary version of what I remember as a cute children's musical Mary Poppins. And so I watched the Top Gun one eagerly. I knew this movie well. Were they going to turn him into a criminal? A terrorist? At first I'm thinking ... this is just the normal movie, and then I started to laugh. It's such a subtle change. And nothing I hadn't noticed already. I should have seen it coming. Right into the Danger Zone, indeed.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Top Secret SUV

As I walked out to my airplane at the FBO today, the whole parking line behind my aircraft was filled with snarling fighter jets, almost cartoonlike with their painted teeth, and very real guns and missiles. They were cordoned off with a low nylon rope around orange traffic cones and there was a very small sign with the word Warning on it, propped in front of the middle airplane. I put my camera in my pocket and walked up to read the sign. It said, roughly,

This is a restricted area.
No entry without direct permission from the commander.
The use of deadly force is authorized.

It didn't say anything about photography plus or minus, but the potential administrator of the deadly force was behind the rope, in a beret and desert fatigues, with a large pistol holstered on his thigh. I pointed to the sign, to indicate I'd read it, and held up the camera. "Is it okay to take photographs?"

He said yes, but indicated I was not to photograph the sign, nor the black SUV parked between two of the airplanes. Apparently it's okay for me to read the sign, and they can't stop me from memorizing it, but I mustn't show it to others. Perhaps there were hidden defences embedded in the sign. The SUV I hadn't even noticed, but of course the forbidden draws attention. It appeared to be their guardhouse. He wasn't alone on the airplane guarding beat. There were others, and presumably snacks and water, inside the vehicle.

I took my photo and went back to my own airplane, to add oil, clean the windshield, and other Aviatrix tasks. As I continued to watch the jets, the guard crossed his perimeter rope and came over to talk to me. I told him about my mission and asked him if he flew one of those airplanes. He said no, he was a cop. I asked him if he had been there all night and he said no, there were shifts. I realized there were shifts, what I was trying to ask was whether he was going to have to stand long in the sun, or was going to get a break. I started to clarify my question, but then figured it might be interpreted as a sensitive security issue, so I aborted that line of inquiry and asked if he got to travel different places for his job. He said yes, he had been all over the world, and that he liked his job.

"I've been doing this a long time," he said.

Regrettably I couldn't help blurting out, "you don't look that old!" and he didn't. Heck he was young enough that I bet he gets IDed in bars. He was young enough that my words were an insult. So that was the end of our conversation. As he turned and walked away I realized that he had a much larger gun, an automatic rifle, slung over his back. He looked great, like a recruiting poster, a Fourth of July exhibit, or many a boy's dream. I wish I'd asked, "Wait, may I take your picture, please." But he probably would have said no, anyway.

Oh and I found out this year that John Adams proclaimed that July 4th, the American Independence Day, "...ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations." Go for it, guys.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Beer Credits

I've been sent to pick up an airplane that has been waiting idle for me. I've paid my parking fee (a suspiciously symmetrical $100: I suspect they just pulled the number out of thin air), finished the walkaround, cleaned grime and bug corpses off the windows, loaded the cargo and gone to the bathroom. It's time to make airplane noise.

I run the prestart checklist and reach for the electric fuel pump to prime the right engine for start. The switch goes click. Not whirr. Just click. I turn the switch off and on again a few more times. I listen to the quality of the click to see if the switch is perhaps bad. I recheck the circuit breakers, even though those were part of the prestart checks. Click. I check the other pump. It works.

I've been here before. Anyone remember? I think it was in Stoat Landing, maybe Earwig Creek. The problem was solved by having a grizzled individual crawl underneath and hit it with a hammer, all without taking the cigarette out of his mouth.

I'm now in a town named not after an animal and a body of water, but named after a person, probably the wife of a famous white guy. Perhaps here we will use tools more sophisticated than hammers. I shut off the magnetos and the master, text the boss about the delay, and go back to the desk of the FBO to inquire about professional help. She directs me to a nearby maintenance hangar. There doesn't seem to be anyone inside, but I wander through into an adjacent hanger where there are two young guys at a workbench bench. I ask. They do interiors, not mechanical, and they direct me back to the first hangar, telling me which hidden door to look behind.

I knock and come in, confessing that pilots show no respect for coffee breaks. He's friendly and I tell him my problem. "Did you check the circuit breakers?" he asks. That's an "Is it plugged in?" type tech support question for mechanics. "Where is it?" he asks.

It's underneath, I couldn't point to the exact spot." My memory of watching the investigation being done relates more to the lit cigarette than the exact location of the part. We go out to the airplane and he has me turn on the working fuel pump. He traces its location from the sound and assumes symmetry.

"Wait here a moment," he says. "I'm going to get a ." It sounded like the something was "hammer handle." Must be a technical term.

My phone rings with the boss, who asks me if I checked the circuit breakers, and if I tried turning it on and off again a few times. I tell him yes, that there's someone here who is looking at it.

The mechanic returns with a rubber mallet. I'm still in the cockpit. He passes out of sight under the airplane. whump! whump

"Try it now," he says.

Master on. Fuel pump on. Whirrrr! Big grin from happy pilot. He tells me to leave it on for a moment. He listens and nods. It's good. We're both willing to accept that it just needed a little encouragement after sitting unattended. He waves me off.

I've been helped many times with minor issues like that, without time or opportunity to buy someone who deserves it a beer. I'm glad that last time I met an AME I bought her lunch. In the future, I intend to buy a few beers for unsuspecting GA mechanics. I'm sure they have all done something similarly deserving.

For now I let the boss know that I'm on my way, and taxi out for departure.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Canada Day on the Road

I took this picture last year, but it's still a pretty accurate depiction of my life on the road. The blue notebook is the aircraft journey log, in which every take-off, landing, malfunction and maintenance task is noted. It's a legal document, but not completely standardized, so if you're not careful, when you move from airplane to airplane you may be recording the air time in the flight time column. Often they have columns for weight and balance information, but I'm not obliged to fill those out as that goes on my operational flight plan. That's probably an OFP folded up under the pilot logbook, my own personal record of take-offs, landings and hours flown.

You can see the corner of a VFR chart peeking out under the journey log. The word SUD visible tells me it's a Canadian chart, that's French for south and it tells me which side to open the chart to. American charts have that too, of course, but only in English. It looks like there's quite a stack of charts in that picture. I must have been preparing for a ferry. Under the charts is an invoice book.

The fatter blue book is a Canada Flight Supplement, turned over to the back side that lists the components of a flight plan and of a PIREP. I find it useful to have those on the back there. You can pick it up and use it as a checklist as you're talking to ATC. I also see my hotel key card and the plastic sorting folder that is full of things like old OFPs, my copies of customer invoices and fuel receipts to be reimbursed.

And there on top is a Canadian flag, of the sort they give away at Canada Day parades, which is where I got that one. I didn't stay up to see the fireworks. I had to work early the next morning.