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.


Anonymous said...

50 Hz higher, in this case 126.75. Fifty hertz

That would be 50 kHz and fifty kilohertz.

If it was only 50 Hz you'd just hear a change in the tone of their voice.

Aviatrix said...

I do that every time. It's a good thing I know which knob to twirl in the airplane. And that I have you around to set me straight. Fixed.

Sarah said...

There's a weird tendency pilots have to defer to the bigger airplane "you go first...

Yeah, I don't know if it's so weird. Granted, no freakin little ittle bitty wants wake turbulence behind a jet, but bigger airplanes are faster, too. No one wants to be overtaken on final...

And then there's the knowledge of how much money going around costs a big airplane. We're just being nice.

I have never bothered with the US chat line, 123.45 but am guilty of using 123.3 for lots of glider-glider talk. Always good to keep track of where people are, either out on course or in the same thermal.

Geekzilla said...

"They don't know I have a yummy chunk of one of their brethren in the freezer compartment of my hotel fridge."

I just about died laughing at that line!

Aviatrix said...

You guys have an official chat line frequency? I guess that's to make up for not having a frequency for blind position reports.

Unknown said...

Flying over Wood Buffalo National Park? Anywhere near the 'World's Longest Beaver Dam'?
(additional info at

Sarah said...

Well, I don't think 123.45 is official in the US. It's the kind of thing where you may not want to use your callsign. Besides, professional pilots don't use 123.45

Standards vary between countries apparently. The US FAA has decreed 122.75 for "air to air" communication between fixed-wing aircraft.