Thursday, November 19, 2009

Easy-Bake Pilots

There's a break in the weather and we're back to work. The outside airplanes have a thick layer of frost and snow on them, so we're glad to have had the airplane indoors. The ramp is so slippery from ice that we all come close to falling as we walk out to the airplane, even as we're all warning each other about it. I pull sideways on the towbar to straighten out the nosewheel so we can reconnect the steering scissors, but instead of the towbar turning towards me, I slide across the ramp towards it. There's not enough friction to equal the force the towbar is exerting on me.

Once again the runway surface condition report is offered as an afterthought, not part of the airport advisory on first contact with the FSS. I looked this up but I can't find anything on why I would know I had to ask for it. Today the runway is 90% ice patches, 10% bare and dry with a 65' wide centre strip sanded. No crosswind. We don't expect any trouble on take-off, and there is none.

Fresh snow on the mountains highlights their jagged shapes, like cat teeth, kind of pyramidal, but with sharp chisel marks all around. They are so like sharp bones and teeth lying there in the landscape that I imagine them to be the remains of huge mythical beasts. Or maybe I'm hallucinating from the heat. Yup, the heaters are still cranked for those finicky electronics in the back.

We fly over some high but very flat-topped plateaus (why is it tableaux but not plateaux?) I try to picture the geographic processes that formed these. I assume they were once jagged-peaked mountains too, and something ground them off. Hard to believe the same glaciers whose disappearance is being concernedly documented all over the world did this kind of thing. The plateaus are tree-covered with only a light dusting of snow. Now that I look more closely, what I thought were deciduous trees in fall colours are actually beetle-killed conifers. The deciduous trees are all bare now.

A crew calls flight services and asks them to please call Fort Simpson for them. "We're supposed to give them an hour prior notice for fuel" they explain. Someone else hears the call and asks the Fort Simpson-bound crew, "got a second for a plus five?" It was "go up a nickel" when I learned it, but funny I haven't heard that in a while. I follow them up to 126.75 MHz on the VHF radio but there's nothing juicy to report so I go back to monitoring 126.7.

It's a bright sunny day, and the sun streaming through the cockpit windows increases the temperature inside, but as the windows are blacked out in the back, it doesn't warm the electronics operating in the cargo compartment, so now we're hotter than ever, even though it's -15 degrees outside.

You probably think this is hyperbole, but it turns out it's literally baking in here. Yes, I mean literally. After landing I gather up my belongings including an uneaten snack, an apple in a plastic bag. The apple is soft to the touch and almost too hot to hold comfortably. I open the bag and it smells like fresh baked apple pie. All I need is cinnamon.

I don't know why this is a problem this winter but it never was before. The boss is working on getting a rear heater installed, so we can stop living in an easy-bake oven.

At least no one on board has swine flu, though. Here's a story showing that Air Canada would rather put a person with contagious swine flu on your flight and in your workplace than waive a flight change fee. They wanted $700 for the certified sick passenger to change her flight to a few days later, and she couldn't afford that. Could you?


ProLedd said...

Why is it that computers get priority over humans? Don't humans also have practical limits on the temperatures we can function within? The computer gets the temperature it needs plus or minus a very narrow window. And the computer gets all the electricity is wants finely filtered to very narrow parameters of voltage and frequency etc... But the humans get day old snacks if they can find them and "just put up with it," on the cabin temp. Sheesh!

As for the "victim" of yet another Air Canada scandal - gasp -- I don't buy it. She says: "...she had no choice but to fly sick." Bravo Sierra! She just didn't LIKE the other choices. I'm so tired of this kind of whining justified by the words: "I had no choice." We always have a choice. She decided that the health of the passengers and crew were less important than her fight with her insurance company to get a new ticket.

So - I'm one for two here. Lots of symphathy for you and your crewmembers. Zero symphathy for another whiny airline passenger.

Anonymous said...

Just watched the 1st. episode of Ice Pilots on History Television. Thought about you as they were de-icing their DC-3 just like you. What a job!

Anonymous said...

Plateaux - Plateaus - The Oxford English Dictionary lists either as correct .So feel free .

Cirrocumulus said...

Computers make heat. You could keep them warm by recycling all or part of the air that comes out of them back to their intake - maybe with a cardboard box or a blanket.
But it's probably less trouble to just let the serfs cook.

Sarah said...

Aviatrix is a 90% ice pilot. That's quite a naming/report scheme, reminds me of having many names for varieties of snow. Down here we just have braking reports, "good, fair, poor or nil".

"Plus 5? Up a nickel?" You pros and your cool slang. I learned something.

But what's a VHS radio? Is it like a betamax radio?

Aviatrix said...

I hear the Blu Ray radios are even better, Sarah. (Thanks, fixed).

If the temperature were so high or low that there was a danger that the pilot was just going to shut down midflight, they'd accede to our needs, but as it is, the rack equipment is much fussier. I do not know why they do not just wrap the the rack in blankets, perhaps it's similar to the reason we don't run the engines on the ground with the cowls closed: without airflow uneven heating is worse than just plain cold.

CurryUs said...

Ice Pilots Video on demand fwiw:

RE: "If the temperature were so high or low that there was a danger that the pilot was just going to shut down midflight, they'd accede to our needs,"

What temperature would that be? Has anyone (after a hundred years of aviation) ever actually determined suitable working environment limits for pilots? I've seen that there are time-fatigue related parameters out there, but how about for other parameters like nutrition and temperature and so on?