Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Muddled Mouth, Standard Head

Next morning the hotel wake-up call works, but the cellphone alarm doesn't. I don't investigate why, just shower and dress. I forgot to check the tag, but I haven't broken my rule to never get on an airplane, any airplane, without toothpaste, deodorant, my cellphone charger and a change of socks and underwear. And I have my computer, of course, and Internet. The weather looks fine, but Westjet has no new news about my luggage.

Off to the airport. The airplane is parked on the Esso ramp. It's been based here for a couple of weeks. The chief pilot and another pilot flew it up from Calgary in May. We walk around the plane, add a couple of litres of oil and determine ourselves ready to go. My co-worker informs me that we're testing in order of height, tallest person first. It takes me a moment to realize that's me. Oh well, someone's got to go first.

I have my headset--that was in my carry-on--but I don't have my kneeboard, my IFR timer or any of the little gadgets that make life easier on a ride. And did I mention having plates so old they didn't have the tower frequency on them? For that reason I didn't even look at them. The ride is mainly VFR handling stuff anyway. It's just as well I'm getting an opportunity to fly the airplane with just my boss and coworkers on board, before I fly with paying customers.

I know it was close to freezing overnight, but the engines start easily. I let everything warm up, pick up the ATIS (VFR with broken layers starting about 4000' agl) and get a taxi clearance via G and F for a runway 25 departure, contact tower holding short. Taxiway E is a huge wide one, so I pull off there and do a runup, plus a completely mangled pretakeoff briefing, on which I received notes after the flight. I have to practice that in the shower or something.

My problem is that I think too much (surprise, surprise) so I think about the words while they are coming out of my mouth instead of just spewing them out, and then they get all tangled up, and I miss some out.

The briefing most companies want is not actually what Transport Canada wants in a takeoff briefing. Specifically, TC wants only what changes from departure to departure to be recited, where most companies have a long memorized script with only a couple of points that may change. Transport says if it is standard to always abort the take-off in the event of a malfunction before V1 (and it should be) there is no need to repeat this fact. But every takeoff briefing I have ever been asked to use includes the statement of what I will do in the event of a failure while on the take-off surface, airborne with sufficient landing area remaining, and after takeoff with insufficient runway remaining. And the actions are pretty much the same whatever you are flying.

Any critical failure before rotation or after rotation with sufficient runway remaining I will reject: power idle, land/stop straight ahead. After rotation with insufficient runway remaining, it will be a single engine go-around: control, max power, gear up, flaps up, maintain Vyse, confirm & secure failed engine, inform ATC and land with the single engine checklist.

I think about this before every takeoff, but I have to say the words out loud more or I'm going to look like an idiot again.

But I get through looking like an idiot, including in a radio call where I get the alphabet in the wrong order, thinking for a moment that I am on F and have to go further east to taxiway E, when it's actually the other way around. I take off, set climb power, use the appropriate checklists, deal with the electrical fire described, perform a 45 degree banked steep turn to the left, all the way around to the original heading. I use a trick that I learned long ago, and that is to first make a couple of "clearing turns" to look out for any traffic. This is a normal safety procedure, but I do mine at slightly over 30 degrees, making the clearing turns a warm up for the correct horizon position and the tendency of the airplane in the bank. Whether it worked or not, I don't know, but my turn is passable. The next assignment is a turn to the right, this time at 30 degrees bank for the first 90 degrees and then at 45 degrees for the remainder of the turn. This I suppose would catch up someone who had memorized the rhythm of the exercise as opposed to having conscious control over airspeed, bank angle and altitude, but as I haven't been flying enough to have anything memorized, I'm just happy not to have to hold 45 degrees all the way around.

Next are stalls. The first assigned configuration is power idle, flap 25: an approach stall. I'm asked to recover at the first indication of a stall, which in this airplane I know will be the stall horn, unless by some coincidence the stall horn has just broken, in which case it will be either a pre-stall buffet or the chief pilot yelling that there's something wrong with the stall horn. The stall horn works. I shove all the levers forward and recover, wings level, but am told that while not losing altitude is good, I did not check the nose forward sufficiently. For any stall recovery demonstration considered perfect by one examiner, you will find another examiner who considers the recovery to have been performed too soon or too late, and one who considers the pitch to break the stall to be too little or too much. The next exercise is a clean stall, at a power setting that simulates hot day performance at climb power, in a climbing left turn. When the stall horn bleats I keep the wings level with the rudder pedals, overemphasize my pitch change and put the mixtures, props and throttles full forward. That one is approved.

I'm asked to turn left towards that pond over there. The chief pilot is twisted around facing backwards talking to the pilot in the seat behind me. They're trying to find a C172 we know is nearby. It's a trick to distract me as one of the throttles is pulled to idle. I don't see the throttle go back, as I too am looking for the C172, but it's the sort of thing you expect on a ride, so I control the yaw, increase power to hold altitude, and confirm the dead engine matches my "dead" foot -- i.e. the foot that isn't pushing hard on the rudder pedal to keep the airplane straight. I ask as I check the magnetoes, fuel selectors and gauges if there is smoke or fire issuing from the victimized engine and am told no. I simulate a shutdown, indicate that I will advise ATC and return for landing at Ft. Mac, and then am given my engine back. The pilot in the back mutters something like "tabarnouche!", caught off guard by the yaw from the suddenly simulated engine failure.

I'm handed an approach plate and brief a mercifully simple approach. I would have liked to fly the DME arc, but am told not to worry about that part and just fly a full procedure VOR approach. The HSI isn't working today, so this is done on a standard head VOR in the bottom right corner of the panel. I use the VFR GPS for situational awareness to help me find the radial that will take me direct to the VOR, and distinguish between being off track and simply coming up on station passage. As I turn to the outbound I spend a moment deciding whether to set it for the inbound and use reverse sensing on the outbound or to set it outbound and then reset it for the inbound. I decide on the later, and then there's a moment when I'm still waiting to intercept the outbound track when I think I may have set it incorrectly. But I haven't and complete the procedure turn to intercept the inbound. I remember to start the timer every time, something I tend to forget on time-based approaches, and am psyched for the missed approach, but am asked to do a touch and go. Just before I reach my MDA the chief pilot calls in sight and I maneuver back over to the right where the runway is. The runway heading is seven degrees different from the radial tracked on that approach, so I don't know if the radial needs recalibration or the VOR just happens to be offset a little. The last moment maneuvering takes the place of flaps as an altitude adjusting tool and I touch down with just approach flaps before taking off again.

The next approach is a vectored ILS, again on the standard head VOR, for a full stop. I overcorrect, weaving down the approach, but manage to be on the localizer, on slope when I call "should be visual" at the DH and the chief pilot says I have the runway in sight. I'm still at approach speed, but apply landing flap and bring it right down to the centreline for what my colleague in the back calls a greaser. Anything that makes the people in the back happy is okay with me.

Post-flight notes praise my handling even after three months off, criticise me for the mangled briefing and pick up other items I can improve, but the scoresheet is a row of only Ss. Other possibilities are SB ("satisfactory with briefing" i.e. you're getting away with the error because you understand it and I chewed you out for it) or U (unsatisfactory). I would have given myself a few SBs on that, but I won't complain for not getting them.

Oh and we're not staying in Fort McMurray now. The customer changed his mind. We check out and go for lunch before flying to where we're really supposed to be. I call WestJet and get put on hold for twenty minutes only to find out that there is no news on the suitcase. I tell them to send it to Grande Prairie when they find it.

And in an ugly segue regarding things that are missing, as I write this an Air France A330 has gone missing en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Much of the trans-Atlantic route is without radar coverage, so radar contact was lost three and a half hours after departure. Forty-five minutes later the airplane (not the pilots) sent an automated signal documenting an electrical fault and a possible pressurization failure. (Any automated message following an electrical fault is suspect). There were no further messages from automation nor crew. The pilots also missed a planned radio call to Brazilian ATC. There were extensive thunderstorms in the area. I expect they will have found confirming wreckage by the time this posts.


GPS_Direct said...

Congrats on the pass. Couple of things caught me...

First about your thinking catching up to you. Isn't it funny how our mind can work on auto-pilot (as it were) for some things, and yet as soon as we -think- it all goes wrong? I recall madly copying a clearance sometime back with (no idea why) LAT/LONs instead of fixes. I was doing just fine, until I started to think about why I was getting leading zeroes on some numbers and not others... The it was "Can you repeat, starting at..."

And I laughed at the note about examiners/instructors and stalls. I personally like a nice, sharp break into the stall - kinda like the top of the roller coaster lift - followed, of course, by the appropriate nose drop and recovery. Boy, that sure bothers some - "Don't pull the nose up so much." or "No need to recover -that- quickly." Heh.

Not sure how far behind we readers are, but I'm thinking you're now the owner of an all-new, recently acquired wardrobe...

RIP Air France. Must have been one monster line not to deviate around...

Unknown said...

"...but am told that while not losing altitude is good, I did not check the nose forward sufficiently..."

When the incipient stall happens close to the ground, you bet your sweet burro NOT losing altitude is GOOD! But mushing into the ground still stalled sucks too... I suspect each inspector is picturing a different scenario... ah if we could only read their minds.

Sarah said...

Such a long post... and my long reply was eaten by the internet, this is attempt #2 with my dumb questions and comments.

get a taxi clearance via G and F for a runway 25 departure, contact departure holding short. You talk to departure before take-off in Canada?? Or am I misunderstanding something?

Examiners and instructors all have their quirks, especially around the stall. Kind of like airplanes I suppose. I had one instructor insist it wasn't really slow flight unless the stall horn was sounding the whole time. Yessir.

The pilot in the back mutters something like "tabarnouche!" Oh, I love the foreign language swearing lessons. Apparently the worst ones in Quebec are semi-religious, and so bad they are usually bowdlerized all to heck.

Is it time to take your suitcase packing list on a shopping trip yet?

Aviatrix said...

Good catch Sarah. I typed departure twice when I meant to say "contact tower holding short." I'll fix it.

They seem to think my suitcase exists, so I'm holding out hope.