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.