Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two Ways to Slow Down

The next morning I go out to the airport in the dark. I do my walkaround inside the warm, lit hangar. Cowlings are secure, oil is present at the proper level, all the control surfaces move in the right direction, inspection ports are all closed with fasteners in, gear is lubricated and the uplock springs are working, and so on. I'm looking for anything that might have been put together backwards, left disconnected or otherwise messed up by the maintenance work. You might think it was insulting to do this in front of the person who did the work, but it's not an expression of mistrust. My inspection is part of the procedure. By choosing to fly the airplane I certify that it meets my standards. I do this every time I fly, not just when I collect it from maintenance. The engineer apologizes that a couple of the eyebrow lights on the dashboard are still not working, but there are two different sizes of light stalks and he only brought one with him. There is at least one light on each instrument, and I'm not expecting much night flying so I accept it. He promises to order more bulbs, or possibly replace the whole instrument lighting system with a newer technology, at the next maintenance. He says the airplane is ready to go except that I need to condition the brakes before departure. I have done this before, but he is careful and has given me written instructions on a page from a hotel notepad.

Brake Conditioning
Perform 2 consecutive full stop braking applications from 30 to 35 knots. Do not allow brakes to cool a lot between the stops. Cool for 10 mins then check hold at high power. If hold OK for service. If not Repeat.

It's kind of fun doing a brake run-in. I use it as a chance to practice rejected takeoffs. There's a bit of risk. I have heard of a pilot who had one brake lock up on him, causing the airplane to go off the runway. I call the flight services specialist (Grande Prairie doesn't have a tower, but the FSS gives advisories so authoritative you'd think he was a controller), and announce my intention to enter the runway for some high speed taxi checks. There's a howling wind, so the aircraft that are taking off and landing are using one runway, and landing traffic has to backtrack. If the wind is light thy can use the runways more efficiently. The FSS asks me if I can use a crosswind runway, and I accept that, but I have to wait in position for a few minutes anyway, as two landing airplanes use this runway as a taxiway. One of the taxiing pilots calls the FSS and asks if the airplane on the runway can turn off its landing light. (Talking to another aircraft when there is a FSS on frequency is a bit like talking to another Member of Parliament in the House. You address your remarks to the FSS the way you would to the Speaker of the House. (Wrong: "You idiot!" Right: "Madame Speaker, the Honourable Member from North Moose Nipple is an idiot.") I switch off my light and break the protocol by simply transmitting, "Sorry, it's just a taxi light. I didn't realize it was that bright."

"Ah, it's not," says the other pilot. "I just wanted to make sure you weren't rolling."

It's a common SOP, but not at my company, to turn on the landing lights as an acknowledgement of take-off clearance. I just turn on whatever lights I want or need for the lighting and traffic conditions, and try to ensure I don't have any bright strobes on where they would distract other pilots.

The FSS advises me that all the landing aircraft are clear of my runway. I flick the light back on, call rolling, accelerate as advised, and then I say aloud (but not on the radio) "Reject!" retard the throttles and firmly apply the brakes, touching for practice the other controls that I might use if I were aborting a takeoff on a short runway. This is a plenty long runway, so I repeat the accelerate stop twice more (yes, once more than in the instructions, but it's fun, and we did it more times than that the first time I did a brake run in). I tell the FSS that I'm done and will be taxiing back to the apron.

"You had to wait so long, you might as well do another one!" urges the FSS. I confess to him that I already did, and taxi back to the apron for the cooldown.

It's beginning to be light out now. I taxi back towards where I picked up the airplane, but the fueller there starts trying to marshall me and I don't need fuel. I make a thoroughly unintelligible gesture that is supposed to indicate, "I don't actually need fuel, thanks, so I'll go park over there." I shut down and review emergency procedures for ten minutes before restarting for the brake test. They hold. I let the FSS know I'm taxiing for real this time. I just have to wait for one more airplane to land, then I'm taking off myself. I make an immediate right turn to allow a faster aircraft behind to depart without risking running me over. I turn on course.

I can't win on altitude with this headwind, because it's strong and dead on my nose at this altitude. If I climb higher it will veer more to the right, but it will be stronger, so the headwind component doesn't really change with altitude. I lean out at cruise power and the airplane settles in to cruise at a lovely 135 kts. Ah well, might as well sit in an airplane as sit in a hotel room. I'm enjoying the scenery. I'm flying over the Peace River, approaching Fort St. John. (That's not on the direct track between Grande Prairie and Fort Nelson, but the client asked me to overfly a worksite near Ft. St. John). Just southeast of town I can see a pipeline crossing. Someone one told me a story of walking across that pipeline, high above the water, using a safety line clipped to the wire rail. He slipped and the safety line caught him, but he drpped his binoculars. The funny part is that he had his name and telephone number engraved on the binoculars, and he showed me their smashed remains. Years later someone found them washed up on a downstream beach and he got them back. I get out my camera to take an aerial shot of the bridge for him, but the camera shuts down with a "replace battery pack" message. I only have one battery pack, so that's it for pictures of this expedition.

The camera battery doesn't last that well in the cold. It is cold. I'm wearing a jacket and sweater, but it's still a little colder than is comfortable to sit still. So I turn on the heater, but at its lowest setting, the heater makes the airplane too hot for me to be wearing a jacket and sweater. But I don't want to undress. Sometimes I turn the heater on until I'm too hot and turn it off until I'm too cold and repeat.

I switch tanks, but the left lever sticks and I don't get it in the detente for the proper tank. I have the in-between position selected for a moment while I try to wiggle the lever, and the engine cavitates, starved for fuel. Gah. At least there are no passengers on board for me to scare. I move the tank selection lever to the correct detente and confirm it with the gauge reading. The engine surges and then settles back to running normally.

I reach the spot the client wanted me to check out, make my observation and then turn direct my destination. It's even more into the wind. I won't tell you how long it took to get there, but I did, eventually.

I taxi in and park. It's a parking space outdoors, by close in by the side of a hangar, so that our power cords will reach for the electrical heaters that keep the engines and computers warm. I take some time to examine the surroundings and choose visible landmarks and seams in the pavement that will guide me in to park. The hangar is on the right, so as long as I keep right of this line I will be clear of the hangar, and left of that line will ensure I'm close enough for power cords.


Anonymous said...

I love the tags - "cold, dark, flying" :P

Could I ask a favour? I've always wanted to hear about your experiences as a student pilot, if that's not too personal a thing to ask about :)

Aviatrix said...

I look through the list of tags I've already used and just attach whatever applies. I added the obvious airplanes, flying, and commercial aviation recently, because I realized that my tag cloud didn't reveal this as an aviation blog.

I do have my student pilot experiences written up, in the form of insanely detailed (I think I reported every radio call verbatim) e-mails to a mentor but I don't think they will go on this blog. Maybe an excerpt or two sometime.

Anonymous said...

quote: I do have my student pilot experiences written up, in the form of insanely detailed (I think I reported every radio call verbatim)

I second that emotion. This is the entire focus of my blog so far is obtaining my PPL in Canada. I often thought that I went into too much detail but realized that this blog will be the record that stands the test of time and someday when I'm old and forgetful, I can go back and re-live those memories. Your blog is far more entertaining and adventurous than mine!!

Anonymous said...

(I think I reported every radio call verbatim)

Funny! I can relate. You probably still remember how intense an experience it is. And so does your audience. Please Tell us a story about, oh I don't know, learning holds or your first ILS, hard IFR .... you probably don't remember your 1st solo. (kidding - everyone remembers.)

Being a student for the for foreseeable future - It's a long road - I am also curious about your student days.

dpierce said...

So, the thing about 'brake conditioning' got me wondering what brake conditioning did exactly, which led to a website about ceramic brake materials, which led to one about ceramic decay, which led to one discussing the physics of metal fatigue. Three hours later, I'm back here leaving a comment. That's the way of the Internet, I guess.

I've enjoyed reading the 50 hour maintenance adventure, and your FSS seemed amazingly lucid and situationally aware.

Gary said...


You can always post them in an archive link format. I blog about our travels (the Bride and I) but keep an archive of PPL and now my IR training.

As always a great read on your blog. It's my morning ritual to check in and catch up, your posts go great with a hot tea and they help tune out the rest of the engineering office!

Aviatrix said...

Most on-site FSSes are that situationally aware. Even the ones that can't see you and just operate by radio relay are very good at keeping track of everyone.

Not posting on the blog about learning to fly is not related to the format.

dpierce said...

Ah! Didn't catch that they were on-site.

Callsign Echo said...

Oh my goodness the details! You can see in the earlier posts on my blog how new pilots focus on the minutiae. I recorded my experiences down to how many degrees of course correction I'd needed.

It was only later that sensory and environmental details became important, or that I was even aware of them!