Monday, May 31, 2010

Iron Chef: Hotel Room

The snow continues while our airplane is safely ensconced in a hangar. It's cold and windy and nasty outside, so no one really wants to go out to a restaurant, even though there are lots on this block. It's time to stay in and eat the stuff I've bought and placed in the hotel fridge.

It's time for buffalo. Or bison. Or whatever. The giant humped bovine that once dominated the grasslands here is properly called a bison (really: the scientific name for the subspecies is Bison bison bison, so they're really sure about the bison part) but everyone calls it a buffalo. I'm using the words interchangeably, because that's how I talk. I bought the rib steak when the project manager mentioned that he had brought a barbecue, but the weather hasn't supported barbecuing, so I'm going to have to prepare it another way.

A reader commented recently, I look forward to The Aviatrix Cookbook - 101 gourmet meals you can prepare in a hotel microwave oven, featuring special recipes suitable for re-heating on a Lycoming Turbo 540 and/or Janitrol cabin heater. That's pretty close to reality. At the same time, I was thinking about a new Food Network show in which contestants are given a per diem, a knapsack, a microwave-safe Tupperware container and a Swiss Army knife. They can source any ingredients and supplies they like as long as they can walk to where they are sold, pay for them on the per diem, and carry them back to the hotel in the knapsack. And then you have to prepare the best meals possible. Your only cooking appliance is a single microwave oven in the hotel lobby. You may also use a plastic spoon, a hotel ice bucket, and a daily copy of the National Post. Here are my instructions for Buffalo Stew.

Create a cutting board by laying the plastic bag liner from the icebucket on top of yesterday's National Post. Using the large Swiss Army knife blade:

  • Cut one 300-400 g bison steak into bite-sized pieces
  • Dice one medium onion
  • Halve a handful of mushrooms

Place the diced onion in the tupperware bowl with a 15 mL olive oil and about 5mL salt-free Italian herb seasoning. Nuke five minutes, stirring once.

Add mushrooms, steak, 20 mL tomato paste, 200 mL red wine (you can buy it in Alberta liquor stores in mini 250 mL bottles), and some more seasoning mix. Nuke with lid as splatter guard, four or five minute at a time, stirring and adding more wine as required. When the meat is just done let sit for a few minutes, right in the hotel lobby where everyone coming out of the hotel restaurant is looking at you and wishing that the restaurant food was as good as that smells. Take back to hotel room and eat.

I had mine with spring salad greens and a multigrain dinner roll. It wasn't all piled up with radicchio on a cute little plate, though.

A before-bed weather check reveals:

METAR CYLL 240500Z AUTO 31012G19KT 9SM -RAUP OVC007 01/00 A2967 RMK SLP071 MAX WND 31019KT AT 0454Z

The AUTO group indicates that human observers have gone home and robots are doing the reporting. The -RAUP group indicates that the robots have observed light rain and unknown precipitation. I always like to imagine for a moment that that it means a biblical plague like frogs or anvils or blood, but so far it never has been. The unknown is probably snow or related white frozen precipitation. Stupid robots. Stupid weather.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Going Nowhere

There's low cloud in the morning, then rain, then snow. And of course that's the point at which the client needs me to run the airplane for another computer upgrade. We go out to the airplane. The engines were run for about ten hours yesterday (yes, my co-worker worked his tail off), so after I pull off the engine tents I check the oil. And indeed it's down a quart each side. I grab a couple of bottles and a funnel out of the nose compartment. The wind is making it really cold out here. And it's ironic that two days ago in 25 degree weather I was running less viscous 15W50 oil, but now that it's minus five or so, before the wind chill, I'm trying to get W100 to run out of the little bottle into the crankcase. As I hold the bottle and wish the oil would hurry up, the wind is driving snow into my face.

After I've added a litre to each engine and removed the engine plugs, there is snow and ice caked on my toque and gloves. I pull them off after I climb on board to start up. I can't run the combustion heater on the ground for extended periods, so I'm running an electric heater plugged into the aircraft AC. It's a perfectly normal socket, like the ones in your wall if you're in the US or Canada, but it only works when the airplane is on the ground plugged into an extension cord. It is, but after forty-five minutes or so (yeah, this upgrade isn't going well) that plug comes out and it starts to cool off in here. Plus after another half hour goes by (did I mention that the upgrade is not going well) I run into another problem: I'm running out of fuel.

My co-worker landed last night with minimum legal fuel, and then ran the aircraft on the ground for an hour, and now I've run it for more than another hour. Fuel consumption is less on the ground than at cruise, but it's not none. And I have to run it higher than idle to meet the power needs. They aren't finished yet, but I have to shut down and refuel. There's another reason why I want to refuel sooner rather than later, and that's that the fuel tanks are due to be refuelled today, and we won't be able to buy fuel during that transfer. The FBO manager is here, so he fuels. I don't really have to, but I stand out in the snow with him as a gesture of solidarity. I also want to be here to see how much goes in each tank. I confirm that they were all almost dry after running that long.

He pushes the plane back into its space and I reconnect the heater for another marathon session of wrestling with the computer. There's a bad smell from the heater, though, so we disconnect it. While we're doing this, a tanker truck arrives to refill the avgas tank. We got ours just in time. It finishes and moves on to the Jet A tank and finally I'm cleared to shut down.

As we're on our way back through the FBO to the parking, the tanker truck driver is billing the FBO. I ask how much fuel went into the avgas tank and it's about a week's worth for us. The manager knows this, so it isn't very difficult to get free hangarage for a couple of days. That saves us from having to worry about the computers freezing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Black Band on My Headset?

This is relevant because one of the products Sennheiser sells is aviation headsets. I have a bright blue one.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mentally in Mexico

My PRM said he'd communicate with the client head office about the delay, because we know the field personnel prefer to get information from their chain of command than from their subcontractors. My job is to fly the airplane, and not to indicate possession of any information that they didn't have first. I understand and try to comply with that, but just before eight a.m. I get a text from the client in the field asking about the airplane. The chain of communication has broken somewhere. I suspect someone is playing politics by hoarding information. I let them know I expect airplane at 11. I'd make a lousy politician. Probably the right way to do that would be to say I expected it at one p.m. but I'd see what I could do to make them work faster.

I arrive at the hangar at 10:20 or so and load up the cabin with my belongings and the nose compartment with the airplane's equipment. I add a case of oil. They haven't given me full oil in the crankcases to start with, just sufficient oil. Some engines just spew out the top couple of quarts anyway, so this is fine. They give me the extra oil still in the bottles.

They want to do a runup to check for oil leaks so they have me run it up while the head of maintenance sits in with me. I like it that way, because that way I see what I want to see and they see what they want to see and we're both agreed that it works right. Everything is normal so they cowl it up and start the paperwork. It turns out that the promised release time didn't include paperwork.

I could stress, but my job is not to stress about where the plane is and whether it's ready and whether the weather will hold for tonight. My job is to fly the airplane safely, efficiently and comfortably, according to all the regulations and policies. I have checked the weather, clear skies all the way. I have done my paperwork. I have walked around the airplane (found one inspection panel screw loose, tightened it myself). My charts are ready. I go outside onto the apron to wait for my paperwork.

It is a glorious day, low 20s, quite a bit of wind out on the runway and aloft, but we are sheltered in between the hangars. I find a cleanish bit of pavement outside on the apron and lie back on the concrete, propped up on my elbows. I wiggle my feet inside my work boots and imagine them bare. I imagine myself up a cute little bikini, too, and now I'm lying on the beach. That roar coming from behind the hangar over there is the surf, and any minute now someone is going to come by with a drink for me, with an umbrella in it.

An apprentice comes by and laughs at me, taking it easy. I tell him I'm in Mexico waiting for a Margarita with a little umbrella in it, and he and points out that if I had a drink I couldn't fly the airplane. He's a low time pilot and knows that when the maintenance release requires a test circuit, I'm a pilot who will take an apprentice up with her "to keep an eye on the gauges" and then will let him fly. That's perfectly legal: the pilot in command isn't required to keep her hands on the controls at all times nor to forbid others from touching them. When something costs me nothing and brings joy to someone else how can I not share? In this case, however, there is no test flight required. I think it's only needed if they do something major like change an engine. If they do major control surface work the release is marked "subject to satisfactory test flight" but I sign for the completion of the test flight myself, so unless I'm taking on passengers at the maintenance facility, the ferry counts as the test flight.

The paperwork arrives eventually and I close the doors and do a full runup for myself, checking all the systems. Everything is normal and I give a smile and a thumbs up to the head of maintenance, who is watching me across the apron. I get my taxi clearance and head out. At takeoff power temperatures and pressures are normal, but there's still a split in the throttles at take off power. I've become adept at pushing them up unevenly to keep from swerving on the takeoff roll. Airspeed alive, rotate, climb, gear up, right turnout. And there's still a red light on the gear. That probably means that one of the electrical switches that reports all gear doors closed has a bit of dirt on the contacts. I keep the nose up to stay below gear speed and select the gear down again. Three green lights go on. I select them up again. The green lights go out, the red light goes on, then the transit is complete and the red light goes out too. Occasionally having to recycle the gear to get the correct indication is not acceptable. I'm satisfied that the anomaly was an artifact of the maintenance process and not something serious, so I continue to my destination.

Behind me I hear the tower stating the wind to a landing pilot as "calm gusting fifteen" I can hear laughter in the tower cab as he gives it and the pilot laughs too acknowledging it, "I haven't heard that in a while."

I spend the trip watching the scenery and challenging myself to know my position on the chart with out the GPS. I estimate distances to various airports along the route and then check my work. It's no problem. If I flew internationally I bet I'd be way better at world geography than I am, because man do I ever know my way around North America, especially western Canada, now.

At Lloydminster I check out the GNS430 and the autopilot by flying the RNAV RWY 08 approach. I control the altitude and let the autopilot do the lateral navigation. I tell the FSS that's what I'm doing and he acknowledges disinterestedly. My impression of the approach is draggy. I have approach flaps out and cross each waypoint at the charted altitude, aiming to descend on each leg such that I'll reach the next one without having to level out. (I'm doing this in my head, it's just a vanilla LNAV approach with no vertical guidance). But the descent rate is so slow between waypoints that I hardly have to descend at all, so I have to carry more power than I want to. Doing this in IMC I would want to remain higher longer so I could have a steadier descent to the MAP. The wind isn't that strong.

I should be happy that this approach gets me close enough to the ground to have vertical contact in time to be stabilized and look ahead for the runway lights, so why don't I like this kind of approach? Some of it probably goes back to flying singles, when I never wanted to be on final without sufficient altitude to glide to the runway. With these particular temperature-sensitive piston engines, I don't like having to carry high power until short final then chopping it to land and brake. I want to be able to gradually reduce the power, but I know I can't always do that, especially on a non-precision approach. And if I'm below a normal glideslope, as I am coming in from the FAF here, I believe there's an increased risk of forgetting to lower the gear. And that makes me twitchy. I hold the MDA until I'm on a normal glideslope then lower the gear, check the green lights, and land. I'm at the fuel pumps at my ETA, to the minute.

I text all the appropriate people to let them know I'm here, and then see that they are already here. So I drag my gear out of the plane and let them take over. I let the other pilot know about the red gear light, that we're now running W100 oil, and that the engine issue is on watch. I'm more tired than I have a right to be. For some reason waiting around is really tiring, even when you are on a pretend Mexican beach.

We're not expecting good weather in the morning.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hiring Time

I interviewed a couple of years ago at an airline I want to work for, and before I even got back from the airport there was a rejection email sitting in my spam folder. That hurt a little, but the company does that, and the interview itself was respectful and gave me no pause to worry about the company standards. They're hiring again, if you know who they are you know who they are, so I'm applying again. I find this process painfully difficult.

I can hammer out five epic blog entries in an afternoon off, but ask me to write half a page on a cover letter explaining why an employer should hire me and I'm almost paralyzed. Sometimes I start with the stupidest most simplistic letter possible and then pretend someone else wrote it and I'm helping them fix it.

When I started in this industry, I used to mail resumes and cover letters in an envelope with a stamp on it. Or sometimes I faxed them. Then came sending the resumes as an attachment to e-mail. Then airlines started having application forms on their websites. That didn't work out so well, especially for the airline that has the worst IT in the country. There were security problems and database crashes. Now airline websites link to third party recruiting engines, like Workopolis or Taleo. And they switch between them every so often so you have to resubmit everything.

So here goes for this one. I'm stumped on the first question. It's "How did you hear about this job?" I heard about it because a friend e-mailed me to let me know about it, and another one called me. But there's no "employee referral" option in the dropdown. There's not even a choice for "word of mouth" or "employee referral." My options are:

  • company website
  • job board/website
  • magazines and trade publications
  • newspapers
  • organizations
  • talent exchange
  • university/college

There isn't even an other. I pick "organizations" as representing "the loose organization of people who are friends with Aviatrix." Shoot, now it demands I specify the organization, and my choices are limited to aboriginal youth and Métis organizations. I recheck the job title. Maybe I'm being racist: I know there are a few aboriginal/Métis pilots in Canada who are qualified for this position, I'm even aquainted with at least one, but it's not a demographic you see heavily represented in this field. Those who have the qualifications almost certainly also have the connections such that the "Calgary Urban society for Aboriginal Youth" would not be their primary source of pilot job tips.

I know you're rolling your eyes and saying, "just pick something, Aviatrix!" They don't really care how I found out, and now is not the time to be stunned about how marketers collect statistics that overinflate their effectiveness. I almost go with the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth. But it's a job application. I don't round my time up to the nearest thousand hours when I'm one hour under. Lying on a job application is a serious matter. I DON'T DO IT. But it is impossible for me to answer this question without lying. And yes, it's starred as a mandatory question so I can't skip past it. Is this an anti-nerd screening device? Finally I claim to have heard about the job on the company website, because hey, the job is listed here, and I got here from the company website, so technically I did hear about the job here. If it had asked I first heard about the job, I'd be trapped there still.

In the address, at first there's no place for me to put the name of my province. Oh there it is, after country (which has a drop-down with every country on the planet). Then there's another drop-down for the region of the province, in case the person processing the application can't figure out where the candidate's town is, I guess. It's not a list of destinations served by the airline. Most of the "region" names are towns or cities, not all with airports, and a couple really are names of regions.

There's a checkbox to select if I'm an internal candidate. I leave the box unchecked, but the form has been coded so it complains that I haven't entered my employee number if I don't fill in "NA." And I would totally work in Uruguay, but I didn't check that option, because I don't think my Spanish is good enough to be considered for a position there.

Then I uploaded an updated resume, answered all the other questions, and hit submit. We'll see if anything comes of it. If this doesn't work out, maybe there is a job open somewhere for a user interface critic.

Pretty much every job I've ever been hired for, I got by going to see someone in person. They weren't always the person who made the hiring decision, but they were someone I had a connection to. If you're looking for a job in aviation, making and keeping contacts is probably even more important than keeping your ratings current. If you're in the industry in Canada, then you probably know the company I'm talking about, and if you can provide any contacts or guiding information, I'd appreciate it. It would be poor resource management for me not to take advantage of any help that is available.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ready When It's Ready

The next morning I sleep in until I wake up, which turns out to be seven. I expect to get the airplane back at the end of the day, so I stay out of their way until then. This hotel doesn't have guest laundry facilities, but the one in Lloydminster does. I have two more day's worth of laundry, so I can hang on without having to go to a laundromat.

In the afternoon I go out to the hangar again. They are still working on the engines, one cylinder on the right has low compression, so they are looking at why. I ask to borrow a shop vac and they have one, but it doesn't have wheels. It's pretty light, so I just carry it out to the airplane and set in on the floor. I vacuum the floor of the cockpit and all the upholstery on the walls and seats. It looks a lot better, a bigger improvement than I expected. It's a pretty powerful vacuum cleaner. As I go through the cabin trying to get all the dust and grit from between the seat rails and the floor and out of the little apertures for seats and other equipment to snap into, I almost vacuum up an entire tiedown strap. I hope there wasn't anything important on the floor that I missed seeing!

I clean and apply Ice-X to the wing and tail boots. That's a coating that it supposed to protect the rubber and help it release ice better, and it also makes it look nicer, which in this season is more what I expect to do with it. I do the propeller elements, too. The instructions say every 50 hours for boots and every 15 hours for propellers. They certainly don't get that. That would be every day. I suppose I could make it part of the preflight.

Every once in a while the maintenance crew calls on me to play pilot inside. With everything shut down I work all the levers: throttle, prop, mixture, alternate air on each side as they test the travel and make sure the relevant system is responding as it should. Then they call me for the gear swing. I hate this one. The airplane is up on jacks, but sitting in the cockpit all I see is that it looks as if it is on the ground and I am raising the gear. The gear horn wails and they signal me to advance the throttle to turn it off. I should actually be testing that more often, briefing the crew that they will hear a horn briefly, then retarding the power on final before extending the gear to make sure the warning system works. I don't have an SOP on testing it.

Here's the plastic piece I threw away.

Once the airplane is ready to come off the jack they need a couple of people to get inside to take the weight off the anchor that is holding the tail down, so they can remove it. It looks as if the airplane will be ready on schedule, but then the the head of maintenance asks me when my duty day ends. "I left the hotel at noon, so two a.m." But I admit I'd really prefer not to be flying the airplane back to Lloydminster at one in the morning. He says he'd never make me do that. He'd flatten a tire or something rather than force that on me. I think he was hoping I'd duty out at 5 p.m. or something so he wouldn't have to make the decision whether or not to ask people to work late. Fortunately it's the PRM's job not mine to crack the whip over maintenance crews, and he's in the communications loop. I let them know that (a) we wanted the airplane to be ready the second after it arrived, and that (b) everyone involved knows that airplanes are ready when they are ready. They work hard up to the end of the day, but decide that in the interest of safety and having things done right they will keep the airplane another night and finish up in the morning. They promise the airplane by eleven.

The hotel where I spent the previous night is now full, but for two dollars less I get another one that has guest laundry and a pool. I do my laundry in my swimsuit, swapping from washer to dryer between laps of the pool. That way I can wash all my clothes at once and get a workout. I think the extra weight I brought into this rotation is gone now, and that I would look hottt in my swimsuit, if only it weren't such an ugly utilitarian one. Inspired by a Facebook conversation about the difference between an American and European monokini (and definitely vive la difference), I rectify the ugly swimsuit issue, going online to order a better one for this summer. A monokini. But the American kind, so I can wear it at conservative venues.

Monday, May 24, 2010

For Those Who Aren't Watching Lost Right Now

In most Canadian time zones, this post is set to publish during the Lost finale extravaganza. Yes, I've been sucked into the vortex of the island, not because it's a particularly great show, week after week, but because I need to know how it all works out. Here's my take.

Some of the characters that are alive in the alternate timeline but dead on the Island, die, sacrificing themselves for the common good. There is a lot of punching and some gun brandishing. Everyone on the island dies in a huge explosion, and the island disappears forever. The newly exploded characters become themselves in the happy alternate timeline, and don't remember the island. We never learn why women who conceive on the island die if they stay there, how the island got there in the first place, why the DHARMA food drops continued in the present or how the Lighthouse (either one) was built. Some fans complain about the ending being too mystical and others complain that it had too much bogus science. Next television season sees a lot of new shows with ensemble casts, mysterious happenings and fist fights.

And with a little luck the polar bears (who will survive the destruction of the island by escaping to Tunisia) will figure out how to survive the melting of the polar ice caps. I think their main strategy so far involves interbreeding with grizzlies, who have the whole finding food on dry land a little better worked out.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Look Smart by Not Trying to Look Smart

I eat breakfast and finish packing, check out of the hotel, and make sure I have a reservation to return tomorrow. I'm out the door and into the truck at 7:25.

Before I leave, the client wants to upgrade software on their computer, so after fuelling I start engines quickly to run the computer power. The upgrade presumably went well, and I pulled back the power for them to disembark without getting blasted. They know how to secure the door, and the cabin door open light goes out before they walk away.

It's a beautiful morning, no turbulence, clear skies, airplane doesn't run hot. My heading matches the runway number at my destination, but in order to align with the runway I have to deviate from the pink line. That seems strange for a moment, but it just means that while the runway heading is the same as my en route heading, the runway does not run through the point the GPS considers to be the middle of the destination airport. I align with the runway and land straight in. I taxi in and park. They aren't quite ready for me in the hangar yet, so I unload my bags and tow them off the ramp, then sweep out the airplane.

Then I hear from the PRM. The customers' boss wants an extension on the scheduled maintenance so they can have the airplane back today. It would have been convenient if they had requested this before I took off. The airplane could have been given an extension without coming here.

Scheduled maintenance can be extended, but Airworthiness Directives can't. Typically an AD is a quick inspection to make sure that a part continues to conform to standard. The minimum interval between the ADs on this type is 100 hours, but in order to give field extensions we do them every 50 hours regardless. But hey, it's a nice day. I don't mind going for another flight back to where I started,

I put my bags back in the airplane and secure them. I am deciding what to do with the loose end of the tiedown strap when another cascade of phone calls riffles back to me. Final word is that the maintenance will proceed as scheduled. I take my bags back out. I knew that if I got the bags and in and tied down I'd have to take them out. But I also knew that if I didn't put them in, I would have to fly back, and thus would have to put them in anyway. It's the way it works.

I hang out and help open inspection panels while the airplane is inspected. One of the guys draining oil mentions that quite a bit of water came out. "Yeah," I say, "We ran out of oil so we used coffee instead. Same colour and everything. That's not a problem is it?" They ignore me. They know that even pilots aren't dumb enough to put coffee in an engine, and that my statement was just pilot-to-mechanic speak for "heh, weird, I don't know how it got there."

The AME whistles at the three page list of snags, but they're mostly just light bulbs and whining. He looks at "right cowl flap makes grinding noise when closing" and asks if he can write it off as normal. "Sure," I say, "But you know I'll just write, "left cowl flap lacks normal griding noise on closing." Everyone in aviation, yes everyone has read that same list of jokes. Don't forward it to us.

The floor of the airplane is absolutely filthy, what with the unpaved parking lot and all the melting snow, so I get a bucket and a sponge and a scrub brush and make like June Cleaver. Except in boots and an ID necklace instead of high heels and pearls.

The head of maintenance has a question about the manifold pressure/CHT snag. "How do you know which engine has the problem?"

That may sound like a whacked up question, but I understand it, and I'm covered. "I don't." I say, leaving "that's your job," unsaid. Nowhere in my paperwork does it say that the right engine is bad. It says it make 2" less MP at takeoff. It's up to them to figure out whether the left engine or the right engine is at fault. Later I find out he told my PRM I was very knowledgeable to talk to about snags. And all I'm doing is carefully making no assumptions, only stating observations. And I think I mumbled something about the wastegate.

While they work I sort through the junk in the nose to throw some things away. There's a plastic panel that probably costs $400 to replace if the part is available, but mine is broken and keeps catching on my pantleg. I confirm that it is only cosmetic, and throw it away. When this piece was made, plastic was as revered as carbon fibre is now.

Eventually everyone knocks off work for the night and I get a room.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Île-aux-Grues Accident

I was chatting online with a reader about anglophone Canadians' [in]abilities to cross the linguistic divide into the language of our other founding nation, when his newsfeed turned up a tragic small airplane crash on l'île-aux-Grues in the St. Lawrence River near Québec City.

The article linked above is in English; if you are able to embrace the français portion of my national heritage, the articles here have more details, and pictures. The more articles you read, the more contradictory details you can find on any accident, but it seems that the airplane flew in from Québec, parked for about an hour, departed again in the direction of Québec and then returned after ten or fifteen minutes at a very low altitude. It crashed into a mound in the field, ejected two of the four passengers and then bursting into flames. A witness saw one of the men die and resuscitated another, but could not approach the burning airplane with the other two victims. The resuscitated passenger was evacuated from the island but later died.

The Yahoo article says the plane "plummeted into the ground." A Radio-Canada story says "le moteur connaissait des difficultés. Le pilote aurait tenté de poser son avion d'urgence dans un champ" (there was engine trouble. The pilot attempted an emergency landing in a field). The comments to that article also have a long argument about ballistic parachutes, if you like that sort of thing. The eyewitness is quoted saying "J'ai entendu quand ils ont réaccéléré pour sauter la butte, mais il était trop tard," (I heard them throttle up to get over the hill, but it was too late). Something happened to that airplane, but whether the motor was troubled or gunned and whether the pilot was attempting to land or to clear the hill will have to be determined by the TSB investigators.

The airplane belonged to a flying school, and the aviatrix at the controls was commercially licenced; I believe the flight was a sightseeing charter. I've done many of those, in the same type of aircraft, but never had to drag one back at low altitude. If you do fly small singles, next time you have a full load, challenge yourself to pull the power to idle on approach and glide in to land. If you haven't practiced this way you may be taken aback at the difference in glide characteristics as compared to the empty airplane in which most flying school practice is done.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Time Check

I wake at six to the sound of my calypso alarm. It's actually an old cellphone, but I like the distinctive cheery alarm so much that I keep it just to serve as an alarm clock. It's not just the cheerfulness but that nothing else sounds like it, so that no matter what weird shift I am working, I can sleep through all kinds of buzzing and beeping of alarms in other rooms, trucks backing out and other sounds without worrying that I have missed my alarm.

So rise, bathroom, dress, nuke oatmeal in lobby while eating banana, eat oatmeal while checking weather. For some reason slush NOTAMs are persisting in the system even though two days of well above freezing temperatures have made the runways bare and dry. There are still piles of snow on the edges of the aprons, but nothing impeding aircraft movement.

CYLL OBST LGT U/S TOWER 531742N 1094908W (APRX 9 NM E AD) 250 FT AGL 2274 MSL TIL APRX 1004301800

CEK6 RSC 11/29 100 PERCENT SLUSH 1 INS 1004141650


I put on my boots and meet the client at his truck at 6:30. We drive to the airport and history repeats. Let the cat in. "Hi Margo!" Unplug the airplane, stow cords, put my gear inside, preflight. There's only one litre of oil left so I split it between the engines.

The airport manager said he'd be here at seven but isn't, so I taxi to the pump and start fuelling. I don't see a light or a switch for one anywhere at the fuelling area. It's light now, so I don't need one. The manager comes out and takes over fuelling when I'm halfway through and confirms that there isn't a light. I guess we're not that far north, so operations can be scheduled to fuel in daylight. There's a little charter company here, but they haven't been too active. During preflight I find a knob on the floor, it's for the pilot-side instrument panel dimmer switch. I put it back on its post and verify that all the swiches and circuit breakers are in their proper positions. And I left the mags on after the taxi. Wake up, girl. I leave them on and start the plane, recording it at 1320, that's 7:20 a.m. local. I taxi out to the main apron and set the brakes for the lengthy warm up and run up and bootup.

When that's done, there's a small airliner coming in to land, calling four minutes out. I quickly backtrack and take off, recorded at 7:36. That was a pretty quick bootup. The mission specialist on board today prides himself on his efficiency. Unfortunately efficiency is hurting today as one of the computers throws a small fit and we have to circle above the airport for thirty minutes while the specialist talks soothingly to it, or whatever he does back there. Our manoevers are confusing the FSS, especially as the airliner is taxiing out for takeoff.

"We're at 6000', two miles west, circling towards the airport, just coming up on the button of 08," I report.

"Are you aware the Beechcraft is departing 26?" asks the FSS.

The pilot of the B1900 settles the matter by stating "We won't be at 6000' for four miles after takeoff." They depart underneath me, no conflict.

I switch from circles to flying in a straight line for ten minutes. Then back to circles for exactly five minutes, then straight lines again. It's good to have variety. I text our flight follower with an updated arrival time while flying in a straight lines. I go eleven metres to one side while texting, but this is an acceptable deviation. Don't try it on the highway.

Normally I just mark operational times like take-off and for fuel management, but today I try to rememebr to mark down everything, for your entertainment.

9:00 Eat apple.

9:30 Tell guy in the back where the pee bags are.

9:31 Add nose down trim.

9:32 Restore nose up trim.

9:56 Turn on the pumps to transfer fuel from the nacelle holding tanks to the main tanks, and switch the tank selector from main tanks to outboards. I also notice that the right engine is running a little too hot, so I crack the cowl flaps and enrich the mixture slightly. The gauges indicate that the engine likes that solution.

10:51 Turn off pumps, switch to inboards until gauges register and confirm that the correct amount was transferred, then switch back to outboard tanks.

11:05 I'm starting to think about needing to pee. Eat arrowroot cookies on the completely unsupported theory that they will soak up liquid in my digestive system.

11:30 Run out of arrowroot cookies.

12:15 Switch tank selectors to inboards.

12:30 Now I'm sure I need to pee.

12:33 Discuss the clouds that are forming

12:34 Conclude that they are above the aircraft altitude and will stay there, plus aren't building rapidly enough to be a threat for rain.

Sometime after one we make our way back towards the airport for landing and circle overhead for a bit. There's a Piper single taking off and the FSS asks me for an estimated time to landing. I say four minutes, and the Piper departs. I was off by two or three minutes, my actual landing time was 13:56.

We idle on apron, at 1200 rpm then taxi to the pumps and shut down at 14:08, turning the mags off this time. My coworker is right there, so I brief him on the temperature/cowl flap issue. and then I get to PEE!

I come back out and get the soapy & water spray bottle and a soft towel out of the nose to clean the bugs off the windows. Yes, that's right, in Canada there is an overlap between bug season and snow season. I guess we have tough bugs. The other pilot is on a stepladder fuelling when I'm done with the nose compartment, so I put the airplane key in his back pocket, explaining what I'm doing so he doesn't think he's getting groped. I also tell him I'm taking the journey log, because it's paperwork day.

14:34 I go inside the FBO and throw out the empty oil bottle from this morning, plus call a number we have for Dennis. He doesn't answer, so I call the other number. I pat Margo, even though she's kind of grimy-looking for a cat. Probably because oily-handed pilots keep patting her.

14:53 I text our PRM to find out where to fly for the scheduled maintenance tomorrow.

14:55 Pay for fuel, ride back to hotel.

15:10 Talk to project manager about our maintenance break. I'll take the plane over alone first thing tomorrow, before the p.m. pilot's duty day starts.

15:15 Eat buffalo sausage on crackers. Check e-mail. Start listening to CBC podcast of Quirks & Quarks.

16:00 Realize I have too much to do to goof off like this. I get the journey log page photocopied at reception then cross check all the numbers on my daily flight tickets with my e-paperwork. Scan receipts and flight tickets for the week. Curse my thrashing computer and multitask by packing while it tries to figure out what it is doing. I should reinstall the operating system. Maybe with a hammer. It's something to do with Firefox I think. Or maybe something to do with me running eleven tabs in Firefox, iTunes, Voyager 4 (my flight planning program), and Neat Receipts all at once.

17:55 Paperwork and flight planning complete, I read webcomics. Fourteen more tabs. Suck it up, Firefox.

18:25-20:00 Mediocre supper with incredibly slow service.

20:00 Blog.

20:30 Work out on a semi-functional exercise bicycle in the hotel weight room.

21:15 Text coworker to come and get journey log when he lands so he can update and sign it before I leave. Also update my duty time sheet, marking days I am "off," not counting the ones where I waited around all day for an airplane that wasn't ready, washed airplanes, or otherwise had duty, even if it wasn't flying. I believe the strict Transport Canada definition of duty days would allow me to mark those as off, too, and certainly Victory Airlines would have expected me to do so, but this company believes in pilots actually getting to relax on their days off.

10:05 Pilot came back from flight and filled out journey log. He saw the same issue on the right engine.

10:30 Bed. The person who will drive me to the airport tomorrow says to meet at 7:30, so I set the calypso alarm for 6:30. That means I get to sleep in for half an hour compared to yesterday.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

We Know Where We Are

Next morning I nuke my oatmeal in the hotel lobby. Yeah, there's one microwave for the whole hotel, no cooking facilities in the rooms. But there's no competition for this microwave. When we arrive at the FBO I open the door and let the cat in. I think it went out again when the next person came through the door. Typical cat. It probably has a cat door somewhere, too.

The airport manager fuels the airplane while I preflight and load. I check the caps, run-up, take off and as we clear the airport area let the flight service specialist on the ground know that I'll be back in seven hours.

We start work quite close to Wainwright, which I manage to call Waremount and other incorrect things, but no one is close enough to care. Or maybe there is a Marewight two hundred miles away so no one in the area is answering me. There are so many towns in Alberta and Saskatchewan that I'm hard-pressed to know the names of just the ones with airports. The other person making calls on frequency sounds like a student pilot on a cross country. He's diligently reporting his position as he shuttles between Saskatoon, North Battleford and somwhere else I didn't catch, giving his heading in each call. As he left North Battleford I believe he was flying "106 degrees." Exact heading is silly information for this sort of thing, because even if you give distance (which I don't think he did) and have been flying that exact heading all along, position depends on your speed relative to the wind. It's a student kind of thing to do, giving heading, perhaps because they've heard pilots give position as distance and bearing, and want to sound official. After a while I ask him if he's having fun and he answers enthusiastically in the affirmative.

Later a pilot makes a position report well to the north and another pilot answers and invites him to "go up a nickel." That's an invitation to continue a conversation begun on one frequency, usually 126.7 on a frequency 50 kHz higher, in this case 126.75. Fifty kilohertz used to be the smallest division for radios here, and most still don't display the third digit after the decimal place. I follow them on my spare radio but the conversation is too banal to sustain my interest--and I listen to AM radio. We fly over Wood Buffalo National Park, and I think I see buffalo. Or maybe they are trees. They don't know I have a yummy chunk of one of their brethren in the freezer compartment of my hotel fridge.

I return for landing behind a smaller airplane. There's a weird tendency pilots have to defer to the bigger airplane "you go first" even though there is nothing in law about size, and it's safer for the little airplane not to follow the bigger one. No one wants to force a larger airplane to go around. There's plenty of room for this guy to land before I can turn around and line up with the runway. I park at the pumps and the p.m. crew is already here for the handover.

I gorge on food in my hotel room, then go out for dinner anyway for salad and human company. Just before bed I get a phone call from the p.m. pilot, asking if it's okay if he leaves the fuelling for the morning. He can't find the switch to turn on the light in the fuel pump. I assure him that's no problem, heck leave it for me every morning. It's a job that's easier to do by daylight anywhere. I'm to report ready for work at 06:30 tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Here's an example of why one should not depend on Google Maps for aviation information. Google not-so-helpfully sites the Harrison Hot Springs Water Aerodrome in the middle of a forest. I believe you have to click "view larger" to see the label.

View Larger Map

I often have a look at a place I'm going in Google Maps, to get an idea of what it looks like, the size of the town, if there's a beach or swimming area. Had I been the pilot looking for the Harrison Hot Springs waterdrome, a quick look at the satellite view would probably have clued me in that it was mislocated. It would probably be better to put down on the lake if a water landing is your intention.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Split City: Both Halves Boring

There's no flying for me this morning, so I walk to Saskatchewan. The official border is about five blocks away, but visible from the hotel as it's marked with giant orange pylons. It's three degrees outside but so sunny that I go out in just a sweatshirt over a t-shirt. I have to detour around piles of snow blocking the sidewalks, but the weather soon warms up to t-shirt level. Disappointingly, the most interesting things about the place are its double-L name and it's location. And I seem to be the only one who cares about that. I walk all over town without finding any place that will sell me a souvenir postcard or refrigerator magnet to prove that I was here.

The border really does go through the middle of town, right down the centre of 50th Avenue. How harsh a coincidence is that? Or maybe they moved the middle of town to coincide with the border. That would explain the boringness of the buildings there. Perhaps the original ones were destroyed in a fire or something.

There's an appropriate civic government building on the Alberta side, and a museum, but it's on the Saskatchewan side, far enough out that it's not worth the walk. I think it was the Museum of Crude Oil or something. Not enticing enough to get me to walk six kilometres, or whatever it was. Although I'm told the tar sands museum in Fort Mac is worth the trouble. I haven't had a chance to see that one.

The hotel doesn't have a free breakfast, so I buy breakfast food at Safeway. Three dollars will get me 325 grams of instant oatmeal packets laced with too much salt and sugar, or 900 grams of plain oatmeal, which looks like enough for two months, at least. I choose the packets, effectively paying a 200% premium to not have to throw a bunch of food away, or to schlep it around. I'll probably only be here a week or so. I also buy some other groceries, including organic bison rib steak (you wondered last posting what I was doing outside a slaughterhouse, didn't you?) and some fixings for it.

The other pilot (we'd already agreed to divvy the duties here with me in the a.m. and him in the p.m.) has gone flying, so I know I'll be flying in the morning.

Also, note to everyone on the Internet: if you aren't able to spell "voila" reliably, then please replace it in your lexicon with "trumpet fanfare." (Or, if you insist on poor spelling, "trumpat fanfair.") A viola just doesn't suggest "here it is!" and it confuses me every time you write it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Llanding in Lloydminster

As you all cleverly deduced, I was sent to Lloydminster, the only municipality in Canada that straddles a provincial or territorial border. According to a historical plaque I found posted across the street from a natural meat slaughterhouse, the community was founded in 1903 by a group of British people. They had a falling out with their original leader, who was succeeded by the Reverend Lloyd, after whom the town is named. Note that it's Lloydminster, three syllables, not LloydminIster. Also Canadians pronounce Ll just the same as a single L, not with authentic Welsh gagging. A couple years after the Lloydministerians had established their town, the Canadian government decided that the Alberta-Saskatchewan provincial border would run down the 110th meridian of longitude, which as surveyed at the time went right through the middle of town. For a few years the town had to act as two separate towns, one in each province, but eventually special legislation was enacted to allow them to have one town--and later city--that is in two provinces at once.

If you recall, we were parked in Red Deer. At that airport we loaded and secured all our baggage into the clean airplane and ran up for departure. At the time we left there was no snow there, and after takeoff we didn't see any snow on the surrounding landscape either. We turned northeast and kept our eyes peeled for traffic while Alberta slid by underneath us. We pointed at things out the window and declared what towns we thought we were looking at, and then checked them on the map. I verified that our track wouldn't take us through the restricted area at Wainwright. From the air it appeared that the area under the restricted airspace was a different colour. And then as we progressed further north we realized that it was. There was still snow up here.

The FSS answered when we called and the runway was clear of snow, at least in the middle, so we landed and went around the piles of snow on the apron to the FBO. I had phoned in advance and they had assured us that parking, ample fuel and plug-ins would be no problem. The number on the hangar was easy to spot and the ramp outside was almost entirely cleared so there was plenty of room to park. We shut down there and unloaded. Inside the FBO, all the leather furniture was cat scratched. The cat's name is Margo, and in addition to her obvious claim on all the couches, she has a dog-sized cat bed and a cat-tree climbing/scratching thing. The manager's name is Dennis and he does not appear to have destroyed any furniture.

Dennis shows us around: washrooms, fancy coffee machine, all the access codes to get into here and the hangar, and how to turn on the fuel pumps and where to sign for fuel if we take it when he's not here. He also has a tow cart so we don't have to do an extra engine start just to move between parking and the pumps. (He knows we like to reduce the reduce the number of times we start an engine because every time we start, there are a few seconds with very low oil pressure, and also the starter on an airplane engine isn't as heavy duty as the one on a car, so it wears out easily too). It looks like this will be a good place to work out of. I suspect that if we need to fly in one of our own mechanics there will be no problem borrowing hangar space to work out of.

The airport is in Alberta, and so is the hotel, but the cab company has a Saskatchewan area code. All the cabs are in Saskatchewan, Dennis explains, because the regulations governing taxicabs are easier to comply with there. Even though the city is not divided, the provincial laws still apply whereever you are. The two jurisdictions aren't as different as Wendover, UT/West Wendover, NV, but they do have different time zones, different drinking ages, and different sales taxes. Plus rats are banned in Alberta. If you want a pet rat you'd better live on the east side of town.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Flying Zombie Laser Shark

This is how cool my job is.

To tell the truth, this is pretty much what my job is. I stayed up way too late last night photoshopping a laser shark into the company logo on my business card template. My boss then proclaimed me "head of marketing." Yes, I have a cool boss as well as a cool job.

Oh and you guys correctly found the mystery airport I was assigned to fly to. I am very impressed with how each person revealed that he or she knew the answer without spoiling the game for others. I did eventually land and work there, and will blog all about the city in the proper sequence.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Octopus Assistance

We've been given a heads-up that the client's client is in town and they want to show off their equipment, so we need to ensure the airplane puts on its best face. We stop at Canadian Tire on the way to the airport and pick up some supplies. There's a fluorescent green cleaning cloth thing that promises to be like hundreds of tiny plush octopuses cleaning your vehicle. The word-picture is so appealling that I buy it. Who wouldn't want an army of tiny octopuses helping clean her plane? I also pick up a two-pack of Mr. Clean "Magic Eraser," the secret weapon for getting marks and grime out of airplane headliners. My thanks to a particular captain who loved Cheezies for this invaluable cleaning tip, and for much more.

Some days you fly it and some days you scrub it. We spend about four hours cleaning the plane, including wiping grime off the gear, scrubbing down the belly, washing the floor, cleaning all the oily fingerprints out of the cockpit and trying to detail the interior. We also go through the various storage bins to sorting, discarding and organizing our charts and consumables. We're good on sick bags and kleenex, okay on pee bags, and I need to buy more computer screen wipes: these ones are all dried out. One of the EXIT signs is partly held on with clear packing tape and it looks pretty bad. We krazy glue it back on, my coworker holding it in place for a few minutes, because we don't have a clamp. The manufacturer's logo has come off the copilot's yoke, so we krazy glue that back on, too. Now someone's going to tell me that I have to use special airplane glue for that, and that krazy glue voids the warrantee. We don't have a vacuum cleaner, so the crumbs and dust in the cockpit and the seat rails are stuck there for now. We'll get a power washer next time we have it in for maintenance.

The POH for this airplane is little and fiddly with fold out pages. We have that on board of course, but we also have a non-certified copy of the manual that doesn't match the serial number, but which we can read more easily in flight if something comes up that we don't know off the top of our heads. It needs to be hole-punched and put in a binder, so I take it with me to the hotel and punch the holes there.

Company e-mail outlines a 19-page safety assessment document that a new client wants completed before every mission. It demands detailed weight and performance information such as climb gradients for multiple anticipated temperature and altitude combinations. There is page after page of matrices of risk assessments. Crew experience in the given conditions on the given airplane in the given area, and crew experience in a number of broader categories. Number of days on duty. Number of days on rotation. The danger on a one to five scale of conducting a forced approach on the available terrain. I page unbelievingly through the PDF and in my e-mail to acknowledge receiving it, I note that I wish to report a safety hazard: fatigue from having to do all this the paperwork. The boss e-mails back in agreement. I'm not even sure we're joking. Too bad the tiny octopuses can't help with paperwork.

And then I rented Gone With the Wind on the advice of Michael5000. It featured no octopuses.

Additional hint on where I'm going next: the hotel has a different area code from the cab company that will take me there from the airport.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Simple Security

Reader Scott sent me this photo of the pilot's lounge at the airstrip by the Wright Brothers Memorial in North Carolina. How do you open the door? There's often a hint to the code. Sometimes it's the local VOR or UNICOM frequency, but I usually leave the charts in the airplane so have to go back to look such things up. The emergency frequency or "alternate emergency frequency" works a lot of places, but this is a different solution. Admittedly it's not very secure, but the same can be said of many locks.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Not a Zero Sum Game

I posted a blog entry a few weeks ago on how, through e-mail, I introduced two people I had never met resulting in an increase of happiness for all involved in the transaction. It was aviation related and it was also the highlight of my week, so I blogged about it. I was reporting on the fact that by doing absolutely nothing of difficulty, effort, or cost to myself, I suddenly felt amazing. I claimed no intellectual analysis of the possible improvement in someone's life, therefore resulting in a more peaceful planet. It was just some happy chemical released in my brain when Michael thanked me, inducing joy.

Most people have done something in their lives that was trivial to them, but meant a lot to another person, so most commenters empathized. There were, however, two fascinating dissenting opinions that I want to talk about, and rebut in a way, but not without leaving the comments open for more discussion of the topic. I am delighted to have so many people read my blog and am honoured when people of different philosophies still take the time to visit. It's easy to read things written by people who agree with you, so when I have regular readers who disagree with me, I know I have a connection with people who challenge themselves and want to change the world to the way they think is better. Everyone should be so bold. You might want to open the comments from that blog entry in another window, as I'm going to refer to them but not requote them extensively, and I want you to catch me if I paraphrase something unfairly.

One commenter, Anon #1, felt that the experience offered to the refugee was inappropriate because of his race and religion, and suggested that the newcomer should demonstrate that he has fully integrated into his new country by--if I read the comment correctly--recanting his religion before he he was given such an opportunity. Anon #1 also stated that the opportunity given to the particular refugee represented a loss of opportunity to Christian children. I will look at those two points separately.

Integration of new immigrants into the cultural whole is important for a country. The understanding is that if everyone feels like part of a whole then they will look out for one another, be willing to pay their taxes, obey the laws, join the armed forces and endorse the mores of the community. People who feel disenfranchised might foment civil unrest or become targets for terrorist recruitment. Presumably that is the reason that the teenage refugee programme is funded in the first place. I agree with Anon #1 that young Abdul (I don't know his real name) should integrate into society, and strive like every other American to make it a better, more ideal place to live. So what does that mean he should do?

I don't agree that he should convert to a new religion. As part of his citizenship exam, I'm sure he had to study the US Constitution and amendments thereto, including the First Amendment which begins ""Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Part of his assimilation should therefore include the knowledge that in his new country people are allowed to freely worship in whatever manner suits them. He knows that he can be a fully patriotic American regardless of the direction he faces to pray, and that he may not discriminate against others for not holding the same religious beliefs. Evidence is that Anon #1 values his religion above his country, because he goes to the Bible's third commandment before his constitution's first amendment; therefore he can deduce that asking someone to choose between religion and country will create rifts instead of patriotic new Americans. For all I know, the reason Abdul is a refugee is that he and his family are Christian converts who fled to the USA to escape persecution in a Moslem regime, but that's not very relevant. The ideals of the United States, if not the reality, accept all religions equally and both Abdul and Anon #1 should work as patriotic Americans to discard prejudice against people who are different.

What else do Americans believe in? Would Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness be a good summary? The American Dream, as I understand it, is to work hard, succeed and have a fine home, family and life comforts. (Canadians are more about winning the lottery and having enough beer). Step one in working hard is to work: stay in school and then graduate and get a job. To this end Michael (the reader who contacted me about Abdul's chances as a pilot) elicited from his class ideas on what they wanted to do when they grew up. Having a career goal inspires good schoolwork in children of any background, and to pay for his training, Abdul will have to get other jobs first, and establish himself as a trustworthy person liked by his coworkers. In the United States a commercial pilot must be declared free of "moral turpitude." I think that means he will have to be a moral, law-abiding citizen of his adoptive country. That all seems like a pretty good definition of integration to me.

I really don't see how 'integration first' would work. One day while I was volunteering in an outdoor program for special needs children there was a young client who was deaf and partially blind. Her vocalizations were not intelligible, but she could sign a little and understand some signs if they were made right in front of her face. One of her regular caregivers said that she could do better if she had some specialized glasses that would allow her to see better, but that her parents had said she could have new glasses when she asked for them herself. Asking an immigrant to integrate first and get information about a career second seems like asking an eight year old to learn to communicate in order to ask for the tools she needs to learn to do so.

Anon #1's second point is more interesting to me. He felt that because Abdul and his fellow international immigrants received a tour of a flight ops facility, other non-Arabic children were discriminated against. Perhaps I was at fault for not explaining what happened in more detail. I was sitting on the couch watching Law & Order reruns and looking at pictures of cats with cute captions. Michael was moving down the list of aspirations and looking for a dentist who was willing to tell a fourteen year old what her job was like and how she got there. The people in the airline ops department were frantically solving the latest scheduling crisis, or possibly also looking at lolcats, depending on the weather and mechanical aptitude of their airplanes that day. The airline pilot who would ultimately give the tour was partaking in some off-duty pilot activity, maybe sitting on the couch with a cold one, watching Jamie and Adam blow up a cement mixer. I sent an e-mail and it inspired the airline pilot to take the class on a tour. Wasted leisure time was converted to happiness. It's possible that the airline pilot cancelled an appointment to inspire white, Christian, American-born children in order to meet with the immigrants, but that's highly unlikely. In fact the reverse could be true: perhaps leading the tour was fun enough that he resolved to take a local school class on another tour next week. The point is, as Sarah said, helpfulness is not a zero sum game. It's a fully renewable resource. You don't need to worry that because someone, somewhere, was nice to someone that there is now less niceness in the world available to you and the people you approve of over your lifetime.

Lets say Abdul is inspired, and has what it takes, and works his little tail off over the next ten years in order to buy a small airplane to learn to fly in. (That's actually a smart, cost-effective way to do it, when you consider all the time building he'll have to do). You could look at Abdul's career progress as competition against your kid, but surer threats are the kids with airline fathers who have had all the contacts, the money and the opportunity their whole lives. Abdul's enjoyment of his hobby could inspire other youths to chase their dreams. Generally one person doing well has a better effect on the people around him than one not doing well. Would you rather Abdul become a flight instructor and try to get your kid to spend money on flying lessons or become a drug dealer and ask your kid to spend money on those wares? Maybe your kid gets a pilot licence too and gets to build some cheap time on Abdul's plane. Or after Abdul has been giving airplane tours for a while he buys a second plane and hires your kid to fly the first one. Maybe your kid goes out of his way to help Abdul, so five years later Abdul serves as a job contact for your kid. Maybe your kid does nothing in particular but Abdul pays taxes that ensure your kid doesn't starve. It is of course possible that Abdul is not able to achieve anything and your kid is the one whose taxes support Abdul. The point is, it is in your family's interest that the people around you succeed, even if they don't look or think like you.

The second anonymous dissenter, who signed off as Person in the Middle, is a little more mysterious. He or she (I'll guess he) writes in fluent English with North American "-ize" spellings, and his errors are those of a native speaker such as occasionally using the wrong homonym. I would have assumed he lived in the US, but he states that he is neither in the twenty-five richest western countries nor "at the bottom of the pile, where someone will pick them up and emigrate them to a country like yours." Most have-not countries that use English as a first or widely-studied second language use British English, but I think China may be the exception. But native-like English would be a ticket to ride in China. I think I'll stop playing this game and assume that PitM is an American or Canadian speaking on behalf of the downtrodden of unspecified countries.

His first objection seems to be that I had the opportunity to do something good only because of the advantages I already enjoy. It's true that I have a pretty good life, and I can see that one commercial pilot calling on another might seem like an exotic transaction to someone outside of aviation. Heck, that's part of why I reported it: it was an example of the power of blogging. I knew both of those people only because they had written me in response to the blog. So I had this power as a result of my own efforts in blogging. I suspect anyone who blogs in a specific field will collect an impressive list of associated contacts. But although the feeling of being a power broker was fun, it isn't being someone who knows someone that triggers the happy.

I know this because I felt just as good when I gave a drug addict my socks. (I was out for a jog and she was sitting on the pavement outside the hospital, having been discharged after treatment for an overdose. She had no money and just shredded nylon stockings inside her running shoes, and a long way to walk. I don't take any money or bus coupons out jogging, so I gave her my nice thick running socks and ran home with my bare feet in my shoes). True, it wasn't my last pair of socks, and I'm doing better than most of the world to own running shoes and multiple pairs of socks, but the point I'm trying to make is that you don't have to be Bill Gates to help someone out. You don't have to give anything physical, even. The Dalai Lama makes this point more eloquently:

If people have compassion, naturally that's something they can count on; even if they have economic problems and their fortune declines, they still have something to share with fellow human beings.

Person in the Middle emphasizes that many people are in circumstances from which they cannot escape, and who are ignored by their own countries and the world. It seems like he's saying that because I cannot help these people I should not take pleasure in helping anyone. Kind of like the rule from grade one that you can't bring candy to class unless you have enough for everyone. That can't really be his point, because no one can ever help everyone, so the only way to be fair would be to help no one ever, and that would be a sad world. Unless you're in an explosive atmosphere or have to conserve oxygen, it's better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the dark.

I'll end this by clarifying that neither of these posts is meant as a claim that I am exceptionally generous nor that the things I have done for anyone are particularly momentous, or even positive, either for them or the world in general. The first post I would summarize "isn't it cool that we're hardwired to take pleasure at helping" and this post as "you don't need any special skills or connections to be nice to people."

Feel free to choose your own path to happiness.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Second Hint

In response to your group effort in producing a stunning list of Canadian airports that align ith theIr identifiers, I present hint #2. This will completely give it away, but may require a moment's thought or teach you something you didn't know about Canada. The cab company that picks me up from the airport has a different telephone area code from the hotel it will take me to. PleasE forgive weird formatting and weird typos. I'm writing this on an imperfectly calibrated PDA.

Crossing the Mountains Again

The good weather is forecast to last all day, so we meet at our normal start time of seven a.m. If the weather had been expected to move in before the end of the day we might have met before sunrise so as to use every bit of daylight. The airplane is ready to go, because the super-nice airport manager happily volunteered to stay late to fuel us yesterday. I asked him if he owned the fuel business and he laughed. It's city owned. He is a private pilot, too. His interest in having transient pilots happy is just his interest in having a good job and a healthy airport.

We pull the tents and wing covers off -- they weren't really needed, but you never know when the temperature is going to drop more than forecast, and it's probably better for the engines to start at ten degrees than five degrees. I leave the cords coiled by the plug in socket and close up the wing lockers. The engines start beautifully and the equipment that was finicky yesterday passes all its ground checks while I do the run up. I blow the wing boots and test cycle the hot props, even though there is no chance of needing them this flight. I had been only testing them when I expected to need them, but the PRM (person responsible for maintenance) tells me that it is good for them to be cycled every day, needed or not. He also tells me that I don't need to worry about the fact that I can't see the tail boots from the cockpit because the valves on this model are such that if the tail boots don't inflate, the wing boots won't either. I wonder if I knew that once and forgot. I hate that I used to know more about this airplane than I do right now. I hate that knowledge decays in my brain, like sectors on shelved magnetic media.

Once again the winds are okay to use the straight out runway. I don't remember if they were calm, favouring the easy runway or a light tailwind, just that I never backtracked that long skinny runway the whole time I was there. I think there might have been a second taxiway, but I didn't use it. We've been having a bit of a manifold pressure split at takeoff power, so I do a static start so as not to swerve, and so we can record exactly what the split is. It's two inches of manifold pressure at full throttle, and the right tach is just into the red as we takeoff. We've gotten in the habit of tweaking the prop slightly before rotation, just to keep it in the yellow. Engine gauges (the tachometer is for the propeller, not the engine) are green through the roll and I rotate, waiting for a positive rate of climb and landable terrain no longer visible in front of me before I select gear up. Whump whump and the nosewheel gives the last whump then the doors close and the red light goes out, reporting the rubber bits all hidden inside the airframe.

I climb straight up the valley ahead of me, which is actually straight for a bit then a slight turn to the right, as the valley isn't a hundred percent straight. The IFR minima are so high here and the hills give such evident reason that if I had to come in with low ceilings but good visibility beneath, I would give serious consideration to shooting an ILS at a larger airport not far away and flying down the valleys to get here.

We fly over valleys and ridges and cellphone towers. There's one peak that looks like a volcano erupted here, but it's actually the site of a forest fire. It takes three hours to finish the job, so we didn't really miss out by not getting two hours in last night. And I said this yesterday, but I'm going to say it again, this is amazingly beautiful country. It's obvious why people live here. We all resolve to lobby our respective bosses to find more work in British Columbia. And by that we mean the good southern part with the pretty lakes and town names that don't begin with "Fort."

When we land, there's a jet in "our" parking spot. I park at the pumps and ask the airport manager if he knows whose it is. He does. It belongs to the same guy who is now taxiing out in an amphib Cessna single. He should be gone by tonight, but meanwhile we can park behind him. He'll start up on just one engine and taxi out of the way without blasting us. If I read this correctly, that means someone has flown a jet in from somewhere else in order to take his float plane out for a day trip. And people are jealous of my lifestyle. My coworker parks the airplane as instructed while I pay for the fuel (or rather while I sign for the fuel on a corporate credit card). I run the electrical cords through the shrubbery and we snug everything up for the night.

It's usual that we have to wait until the next day to be sure the mission has been a success, but I gently ask if there is any chance we'll be able to get away today, while the weather is still good through the mountains. We don't have another specific job to go to next, but the chances are very high that it will be on the other side of the granite barrier, and we don't want to get trapped here by the approaching weather. I get a negative answer, as I expected. Weathered in here will be nicer than weathered in at Red Deer, anyway.

We all go out for lunch and I order a mushroom burger. It had a name like "mountain of mushrooms" but we're all used to that kind of hyperbole on menus, so I don't give it a second thought. And then it arrives.

The photograph doesn't show depth clearly, but to give you an idea of how thick a plate heaped full of fried mushrooms that is, realize that there is a full sized normal burger completely buried in mushrooms. I had to eat for a while before I even found the burger. No, I did not finish that meal. And I don't expect to see its likeness on Iron Chef America any time in the near future.

After lunch, or maybe before (I'm too sickened by remembering that lunch to check the timestamp on the photos) we drove around to look at the burned out home from yesterday. It was a mobile home, completely gutted, inside a temporary safety fence marked off with yellow caution tape. Parts of the shell were still standing, black, and the inside looked like nothing more than a campsite firepit. There weren't even recognizable appliances remaining. I hope no one has been inside it.

We also went to the mall to look at a display of radio-controlled model airplanes. They were huge and very detailed with interiors and lights and all kinds of details, even little model pilots inside. I would be intimidated to try and fly one, even though I have flown the real version of a few of the types on display. I picked my favourite, the red one below. I guess I like my model planes to be simple archetypes rather than faithful reproductions.

We go back to the room and my coworker calls to see if we should approach the client about leaving early. "Already did: no dice." But I others higher up saw the weather issue too, and the client was happy with the work, so we were released early to scram back to Red Deer, for lack of anywhere else to send us. It's kind of a rule that the more secure the airplane is and the nicer the place you are staying, the quicker you'll be out of there. We untent, unplug, and pack everything up for the quick trip over the mountains. This time my coworker takes the left seat and flies, playing with the new autopilot at first, then turning it off until we're clear of the valleys. See, I'm not the only Luddite who won't trust an autopilot with important work.

The visibility is terrible through the mountains, with mist and an overcast layer above eliminating the contrast between cloud and sky and snow-covered rock. The GNS430 is a very nice piece of kit for peace of mind in a situation like that. We just have one of those though, so I had charts out with geographical safe altitudes at hand. You always have to leave room for something to go wrong in aviation. Because something usually will.

The airplane didn't manage to come up with anything particular to go wrong, except that at altitude the split in the throttles was noticeable to keep the manifold pressures even. Perhaps the wastegate isn't closing properly. We're soon in Red Deer again, and we secure the airplane for the expected snow. Ah spring.

The snow arrives by the evening and I spend two and a half hours completing paperwork and laundry. There's a rumour where we might be going next: it's a Canadian airport and the last two letters of the airport identifier are the same as the first two letters of the name of the community it serves. (Not the initials of a two-word name, the first two letters of the name). If you can name three airports in Canada that match that description without getting the right one, I will (a) be surprised and (b) give you another hint.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Crossing the Mountains

If a cellphone has an alarm, the concept that the device might sit next to a sleeping person has occurred to its manufacturer. And they have probably grasped the idea that during the day the user would be moving around, not next to an outlet, and thus that nighttime would be a reasonable time to charge it. So why then would they have it beep every hour or so while it is plugged into a charger? With my cellphone fully charged, I check out of the hotel and meet my coworker at seven a.m.

The weather is good, with the exception of very low visibilities in Revelstoke, but I attribute this to valley fog. The river there will be open now, but there will still be snow in the valley, setting up conditions for moist air to be cooled from below. I don't think it represents extensive cloud to altitude. The latest visible satellite photos are still black for BC, and the infrared show clouds but you can't tell the heights. We just have to go on experience. There are still headwinds, but not the crazy turbulence-inducing ones from yesterday, so it's a go.

We load all the gear and secure it, coil our electrical cords, and put away the engine plugs and tents. After warming up the engines while sitting on the grass, I just power off the grass and onto the apron. It's pretty level and not that soft, doesn't even take run up power. We climb out westbound towards the rocks, keeping below ten thousand feet and then climbing again when the looming rocks suggest it's necessary. I note the time as we pass 10,000' so we know how long we can legally stay above it. We have oxygen equipment on board, but we'd rather not breathe with tubes up our noses or bags over our faces if we don't have to. The weather is good, with excellent visibility and we fly right over Golden airport, position reporting with Flight Services on the Golden RCO as we do so. I seem to recall they didn't answer, so I just made the report blind. Perhaps their antenna was damaged in yesterday's windstorm. I don't remember seeing that NOTAM.

I don't know how many times and in how many places I've flown over the spine of the Americas, but I never get tired of admiring the sharpness of the peaks and the tenacity of the snow and ice that highlight them. When you see mountains from the plain or from the coast they look two-dimensional, a jagged line between you and the other side. But every peak you climb over seems to reveal another one behind it, and they stretch on to the north and south all the way to Alaska and Chile. My coworker regretted not having a camera and I pointed out mine for his use, but now that I look at the card I see he didn't take any pictures, so I have none to share.

The next valley over is Revelstoke, but we don't see the airport, just a glimpse of the river, as most of the valley is choked with low cloud. After Revelstoke the mountains subside into big hills and we come over one of those hills to descend into the valley where we land. Through the magic of time zones we're there bright and early. We immediately fuel and then take off for another flight over the hills and valleys. It's really beautiful country. We imagine waterskiing down that long lake. It's probably still way too cold for swimming, but the grass is green and the lake is blue. We're looking forward to spending some time in a town that exists because people want to be here as opposed to because the town is where the minerals are.

I notice a column of smoke coming from the ground and we look at it more closely as we go by. It's a house on fire. Firetrucks arrive fairly quickly, and after a while the smoke subsides. I hope everyone is alright down there.

After some hours I'm hungry and cranky. There are granola bars up for grabs (last summer's Alaska food box is reaching its expiry date) but I haven't brought enough water to eat them. I bemoan my plight and am rewarded with someone's spare water. Drink, eat, happy. Life is good. We're almost done the work so we land for more fuel.

The fueller is great, offers to stay late to fuel us again if need be, and offers us premium parking in front of the terminal, within reach of an electrical outlet. This airport is well supported because there are over 200 medevacs a year out of here, and there's also a very active local pilot community. It might have more hangars than Red Deer. There's no airline service because the valley fogs up too easily and is too narrow to design a safe GPS approach that would come low enough to reach the runway in those conditions. There are literally high hills on all sides of the little runway and the CFS warns that only those familiar with the local area should use it during the hours of darkness.

We have a couple hours before dark, and seeing as we started our day at 7 a.m. we are good until 9 p.m. for duty day, so we have time to go up and finish the mission. I offer the flight to my coworker, but he says to go ahead and finish what I started. He's making things efficient by fine tuning the engine so I can concentrate on not flying into the hills. I give him the radios too, so he can watch traffic while I watch rocks. There's a slight tailwind for the more easily accessible runway, and as I didn't take full fuel for this hop and considering the moderate temperature, I elect to take it for flight efficiency. When we call airborne, another pilot calls up with intentions to join downwind for the runway we announced vacating. I know from his callsign that he's flying an ultralight, much more sensitive to a few knots of tailwind than I am. As I draw breath to ask my copilot to warn him, he's already on the radio doing just that. The other pilot thanks us and amends his intentions to land with the headwind.

We're about to set up for the aerial mission when the mission specialist discovers he has an equipment problem and asks us to land. We fly down the valley far enough to turn around and come back onto the same runway as the ultralight used. He's clear now. I pull off the runway into the runup area and wait while the problem is sorted out. It's almost seven o' clock and the mission shouldn't take more than an hour and a half, but I'm looking forward to it being over. After a few minutes on the ground the specialist decides it is over, to be continued tomorrow, and we taxi in and park. There is a chance of frost, and we want an early start tomorrow, so we cover it all up with tents and wing covers and head to the hotel.

As we check in we realize that we changed our watches crossing the provincial and timezone boundary, but not the idea that 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. is fourteen hours. As we turned our watches back we almost scheduled ourselves for a fifteen hour day. Scratching the second mission left us with only thirteen hours worked, so we're legal. But tired. I discover I have left my wallet in the airplane, but I have my passport for ID and the client pays for the rooms anyway. My most excellent coworker lends me supper money. After waiting way to long for supper and the bills, it's back to the hotel where I curse out the finicky hotel Internet as I do my daily report (10.4 hours flight time) to company, and finally I go to sleep.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

How To Not Fly in the Mountains

Next morning at breakfast time there are still strong winds. The forecast calls for severe turbulence until noon, and moderate is being reported right now by B737s in Edmonton, plus there's bad weather on the ground at Revelstoke. Golden looks okay. The highest mountain range is between here and Golden, which is only a 45 minute flight, so we plan to make that hop as soon as the turbulence subsides out of the danger zone, and then we'll be right there with one less granite barrier separating us from our destination when the weather clears there.

Out at the airplane, the ramp is a skating rink. We're glad to be parked on the grass, because it makes it easy to walk around the airplane without slipping and falling on the ice. We weren't expecting it to be this cold. We spend the morning cleaning the plane, but it still doesn't look that great because we don't have a power washer and we're getting our hot water one bucket at a time from the terminal. While we are working, we discover that contrary to the forecast, Golden has now gone IFR, so we mooch some power to plug in and tent the engines for another night. The wind makes tenting a two person job, as the covers balloon like parachutes, the usually tightly-fitting fabric still pulling up away from the airplane still finding a way to flap once they are fastened down. Our electricity providers say they get in at seven a.m. tomorrow, so we'll be able to recover our cord (shut under their airside door) for an early departure tomorrow morning. We'll make the trip tomorrow in one shot and save some flight time.

As soon as I make a decision like that I should stop checking the weather, but of course I don't. It starts looking better in the afternoon, and I champ at an imaginary bit, thinking "C'mon c'mon lets go!" Really I have no information on the the weather in the mountains, just at three valley stations along the route. There are also TCUs across the mountains. It's snowing and raining at the destination anyway, and we'll be there early tomorrow, especially considering the time change as we cross the Rockies.