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.


Grant said...

RE: "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."

Some operators use specialized charts that start at the runway and work backwards to create a pseudo glidepath descent that stays above the MDAs but provides a more "normal" stabilized approach. More calculations, but a nicer approach overall.

RE: "For some reason waiting around is really tiring"

I have the same experience... waiting is a drag. You are fortunate to have an employer who considers a day off as a REAL day OFF and not a waiting for the plane to be fixed day. That sucks.

Jimmy said...

Don't worry too much about the 'chop and drop' technique. My Chieftain has a JPI engine monitor to help quantify shock cooling. Even coming steaming in at 31" and pulling it back to 15" turning onto downwind, the max rate of cool I've ever seen is under 40 degrees/minute. That is well under the maximum rate recommended by Lycoming (50 deg/min).

I'm not saying the above is a good practice by any means, but you can do it. I suspect it might take some life out of the -J2BDs done often enough. It is not that big a deal once in a while (like when ATC throws you a curveball). The worst shock cooling occurs at shutdown anyhow. That is scary to watch... How the engine survives that rate of thermal change for any more that a few cycles amazes me.

Bottom line is with similar equipment you should have similar results as me. Don't sweat it. I don't know where the 'inch per minute' rule came from. In my experience it is a non-factor. YMMV...