Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sounds Dirty

If you fly airline, you spend a lot of time waiting in hub cities like Toronto, Calgary, Chicago, or Dallas. If you fly charter, you wait in places like Regina. It's a reasonable sized city, pretty close to the middle of the continent. It's a good place to stop for gas on an east-west trip. It's also a good place to leave an airplane for a while, because it's optimally close to everything that might come up. Florida and BC are not so good places to leave an airplane, because they're both really far from many places and can block you in with hurricanes, tornadoes, squall lines, or mountains and fog. So this time I'm glad the airplane I'm getting is in Regina.

Today, for starters, I have to fly from Regina to Prince Albert, wait a few hours there, then fly back again. I didn't think that sounded dirty at all until a friend snickered at it. Now I'll always hear him saying, "Can I get my Prince Albert to your Regina?" I bet I could call up Winnipeg clearance delivery, say, "Looking fire far vagina with Romeo" and, assuming information Romeo were current, get back a squawk code and an IFR clearance via V304. I dare the next person to fly to Regina to do it. When I was a little kid I pronounced V and R pretty much the same way so that both the Saskatchewan capital and the body part came out as "vridge-EYE-na." I seem to recall the Queen's name inducing a bit of a giggle in class, so I wasn't the only one. (Foreign readers, remember that most Canadians pronounce R with their bottom lip against their top teeth, so they are similar letters to us).

All giggling aside, this one was my first flight as a pilot since landing in Nova Scotia in the Aventura, and these are important clients. Lets hope I remember how to fly this size of airplane. I have done the preflight paperwork, inspected the airplane, put cookies and water on board, and checked weather and NOTAMs. The customers won't be here for a while, so I go out and do a run-up, including testing the heaters, because I don't think this airplane has been used for passengers since the summer. It's hard to tell if the heaters are working, really, because the sun shining in the windows is heating it up pretty well, too. But I declare it working, as is everything else, and taxi to where I will pick them up. They arrive on time and ready to go, so I brief, secure the doors and start up.

There's a moment of uhh on my part because the Garmin 496 that is usually in here, isn't. Pilots get very lazy with toys like that. I have to scrabble for the 'file and forget' operational paperwork that I've filled out, telling me how to get there the old fashioned way. How primitive. I have to match up lakes and other landmarks with the paper chart.

The weather is beautiful. No turbulence, warm enough that I don't even have to turn on the heater and not a cloud in the sky. All I have to do is fly in a straight line and not run into anyone. There's not much traffic. I'm just watching for Prince Albert ahead. It's right on the bank of a river, but I note as I pass overhead that it is quite far from the town, and there are no other buildings close to the airport. I join the circuit and land, with a little prayer of thanks to the landing gods, because they might take vengeance if I take sole credit for the silky touchdown I achieved.

The terminal at Prince Albert is locked from the airside, and the code I guess doesn't work. Someone inside takes pity on us and lets my passengers in to meet their ride. I don't follow them, because I don't want to be trapped away from my airplane, so I get back on the radio and ask flight services where the gate is to get off airside. They tell me to come down to the flight services building. I walk over there, but don't see a gate either, so I go in and poke around the briefing room, looking for a code for access to the terminal. Nothing of interest there, but on my way out there is a flight services specialist going by on the other side of the locked door into his area. The door has a window so he sees me and opens the door. He tells me the code. "We're just not allowed to say it on the radio," he explains. I wonder about the added obscurity that he apparently isn't even allowed to say straight out, "Come to the FSS and I'll tell you the code," either. It turns out to be the same one that I guessed. I must have dialled it incorrectly.

I go back to the terminal and dial the code again, but it still won't let me in. Eh? I add one more digit to the beginning of it. An obvious digit if you know what I was guessing, but I won't give any of it away as it seems to be the access code to half the airports in North America. My extra digit works its magic and I'm in.

The only food in the terminal is vending machines, and they aren't very well stocked. Outside the terminal is a monument explaining that this was a training airport in World War II. From 7 July, 1940 to 15 November, 1944, 2467 student pilots trained here. Fourteen died. At first I think that's a lot but then I realize that 2467 is a lot, too, and now I've done the math and seen that it's slightly over half of one percent. In 2007 there were 2228 private pilot licences issued for airplanes in all of Canada. An equal proportion of deaths would be twelve. I don't know how many training deaths there were in 2007, but I would be surprised if it were more than three. This accident

claimed three lives but no one on board was a student pilot. The float instructor, airline pilot, and passenger were killed while the airline pilot was learning to fly floats. The seaplane licence, had it been completed, wouldn't be part of the 2228.

There's nothing of interest at this airport. I'm wondering what I'll do with myself for the next few hours. Someone arrives in a car and I ask him to confirm that there's nothing within walking distance to eat or do. He says yes, but that he's just bought a lot of pizza and he figures I could share. He's in management at Pronto Airways, an airline serving this airport, and has come to meet the troops. They are very interesting and competent-seeming people who told me lots of interesting things as well as unbegrudgingly sharing their pizza. There's plenty to go around and I cheerfully participate in dissing the competing airline that shares the terminal. It seemed like a fair payment for the pizza.

After my mooched lunch I went outside, back on the apron to enjoy the day. It was the most perfect weather imaginable. I was wearing long pants and short sleeves and it was neither cool nor warm, almost like my body wasn't there at all, with fresh air all around and leaves showing just the faintest tinges of yellow.

While I was on the ramp chatting to a Pronto employee (who I assumed was Dene, but turned out to be from Chile), an airport consultant came out to inspect the area. He asked some questions of the other employees, including asking one to e-mail him a picture of the mouse they had trapped. He had already noted the absence of food and entertainment. I suspect that if I come back to Prince Albert next year it might have a Tim Horton's and perhaps an airport cat.

The flight back to Regina was a little bumpier, so I climbed a couple of thousand feet to get into smooth air, which still wasn't cold enough to require me to switch on the heaters. The customers thanked me and left quickly. That's what charter flying is for: efficiency.

My next port of call is Grande Cache, Alberta, but I'm not taking this airplane. There's an airplane there already, and a pilot I have to relieve. Grande Cache doesn't have airline service, so I need to get the airlines to Edmonton and then drive. There are no Westjet flights leaving Regina until tomorrow afternoon, and Air Canada has only executive fares left tonight (how do you justify charging $800+ for a ninety minute flight between cities in a CRJ?) but they have a seat sale for the morning, so I choose the latter. After I've booked the ticket the website pops up as usual asking if I would like to rent a car or book a hotel. I usually ignore all that stuff, but in this case I do have to rent a car. So I click through and book a car. From Hertz. This will become relevant in a later posting.


Anonymous said...

Oh my GOD. Being the aged naif that I am I googled Prince Albert. Go ahead, I dare you to "feel lucky".

Other than that, another nice slice of a workin' pilot's life. Sounds like you file VFR much more than I'd have expected for commercial flying.

By the way, I & examiner recently survived a private/airplane checkride so won't add to any bad statistics on the US side. Now I have that "license to learn" and plan on starting the instrument piece this winter.

dpierce said...

I love how a significant portion of your documented life is the quest for food. It's very human and something I empathize with in my own adventures.

Unknown said...

@ Sarah...surely "feel lucky" and "Prince Albert" are mutually exclusive!

love the thought of bimbling around in beautiful weather and getting paid for it. Hertz ,mentally = hurts(but i'm a tightwad and couldn't live with myself ,paying their sort of charges.

Anonymous said...

My Regina Hertz?

Anonymous said...

I think Price Albert Hertz more.

Ok, you started it...

amulbunny's random thoughts said...

Will you let him out of the can for pete's sake?

Anonymous said...

Just to let you all know, if anyone is acquainted with greybeard's blog (Pitch Pull) - he has decided it would be an hilarious gag to post an apology to himself in my name, as my actual comment regarding the results of the US election were too much for him to cope with.

Just thought I'd let you all know that a fair and balanced blog is not what greybeard runs, and Aviatrix - I would recommend removing him from your blog roll.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you ought to go and buy one of those lightweight, folding "commuter bicycles", which you could take on the plane with you, so whe you get to places like Regina, you could just cycle to the nearby town.

And think of that lovely exercise you would get!

nicnacjak said...

IF you were going to KIC in Califronia a portable cycle like that would work out great. There us a bike trail going right from the airport into town.

Best of luck to you Sarah. And Aviatrix flying with out the Garmin? How do you do it? Charts you say oh these things are cool....

As If I am an example I did a sim run in the 738 with VNAV and LNAV engaged while watching election coverage last night. Bad example to follow.

Aviatrix said...

We (company pilots) have discussed the folding bicycle thing, but we get moved unexpectedly and have to take airlines, and when the airplanes get to the home hangar for maintenance, the guys remove everything and put it in storage, so we're afraid we'd spend that money and not have a bicycle to use after all.