Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The USA No Longer Holding Short of Canada

A few readers have written to alert me to a change in FAA regulations effective June 30th. The new rule requires controllers to issue, and pilots to receive, explicit clearances to cross any runway, including an inactive or closed one. Controllers are no longer allowed to simply say "taxi to" the active runway and must give a routing and explicit instructions to cross or hold short of each runway encountered en route. They can still assign an airplane to follow another, instead of giving explicit routing, but must issue crossing and/or hold short instructions to the following aircraft if the route crosses any runways. The "follow the 737" type of instruction is very useful for pilots who are unfamiliar with an airport that has confusing taxiway instructions. The controller can just have us follow someone that they know knows the way, such as a scheduled airline flight.

This rule change makes me happy, because the rule has existed in Canada since before I learned to fly, and was deeply ingrained in my psyche before my first solo. Every time an American controller blithely says to me, "Taxi to runway seven," I frown and consult my runway diagram, thinking "how does she want me to get there?" I choose a route using the taxiway diagram, but my instinct is still to stop at all hold short lines. To tell the truth, even when I am in the States and know that the rule allows me to proceed across the double lines ahead of me, most of the time I still call ground and "confirm cleared across two seven?" The ground controller might sound irritated, but not as irritated as she would sound if I committed a runway incursion.

I believe some US airports have had this in place as a house rule or a local regulation for some time, because I have had explicit US runway crossing clearances in the past. In fact on June 20th I landed at a US airport and my taxi clearance to parking included an explicit runway crossing. The next day when I was taxiing out it didn't, so I confirmed and then followed up with "I guess you guys don't need to issue that clearance until next week, eh?" The previous day's controller was possibly practicing for the change.

What safety procedures already present in the US should Canada adopt? Off the top of my head, I'd like to suggest that Nav Canada print airport identifiers on WACs and VNCs (charts).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Crazy Schedule

I have a kind of crazy schedule this summer so my blogging may not keep ahead of my flying schedule. As you may have noticed I'm defaulting to posting every second day, so that I can get wy ahead, but if I have time I can still insert topical posts as they come up without having to re-date all my queued posts. While this keeps me a few days ahead on write-ups any given day, it makes a longer lag between experiencing things and writing about them, so I'm not sure I can keep all my notes in good order.

I believe I have eight days at home between the beginning of June and mid-September, and my instrument renewal still has to be scheduled in there somewhere. I hope I get a chance to write everything up before I forget it. So if the narrative seems disjointed or if I suddenly stop blogging altogether, it probably doesn't mean that I'm snaring rabbits in the wilderness while waiting for Search and Rescue to find me.

In the meantime, here is a curiosity that didn't get attached to its proper post before that post got published. The passenger terminal at Calgary International Airport now has wireless internet, but you have to 'register' for it. You provide a name and e-mail address, then they give you limited access for fifteen minutes, during which you're supposed to check your e-mail and click the confirmation link, then you get online. That's the first airport I've encountered that does that. I wonder why they chose that route. I haven't been spammed by them yet. (I gave them a "special" e-mail address, so I'd know). I like it best when I can just tell my computer to connect, and then it does so, and then on all subsequent visits to the same place it connects automatically.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I listened to a radio show about nostalgia (ha! "I listened to a radio show" is nostalgia enough for some people). The research conclusion was that people like nostalgia because they are pleased to be able to remember something from the past, especially something that their peers confirm that they remember too, proving that it's a correct memory. It's the opposite of the feeling you get when you can't remember how to do something you once did every day.

If you like to get nostalgic about airline history or aircraft liveries you should look at the posters for sale on this site. They have put an impressive amount of work into building airline family trees of the various successor airlines whose fleets and pilots have combined over the years into what are Air Canada and Jazz today. The aviation industry is so dynamic that I remember the airlines a few generations back. An airplane I have flown is even depicted on one of those posters, in different livery than I flew it, and I saw it recently in a new paint scheme again. I wonder if they stripped it, or if it has the layers of paint still on like an onion.

The recent celebration of the 30th anniversary of Pacman, not only by Google but as a general theme for the day in mainstream media made me realize that the Baby Boomers' grip on popular culture has finally been broken. They were such a dominant demographic group that their experiences were touted as human experience, so forcefully that many non-boomers almost believed they were ours. Millions of us who never saw the moon landing on TV, who found out that JFK had been shot from a history textbook, and for whom sex has always carried the risk of death as well as of life are finally taking charge of the world.

As I write this, I'm aware that there are working commercial pilots with no memory of the 1980s, people who have always had to press Start to shut down a Windows computer, who have always had cellphones, and who have never seen a VCR so old it flashes 12:00. Heck some of you might not even remember VCRs. Hang in there. Pretend to like 80s movies, 80s music, absorb some knowledge of late 20th century politics and nod along to what we say. Your time will come.

This post is dedicated to everyone who ever thought that flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong sounded like a pretty good job to have.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wrong Tool for the Job

I'm driving in an unfamiliar city, on my way to the airport in a rental car. I have directions that are supposed to get me right onto the main airport road, but the road unexpectedly bifurcates and I'm pretty sure I was supposed to be on the other half of it. It's not a strict grid system and there are bridges and underpasses, so I can't just turn right and reconnect with the proper road. I pull over and pull out my flight bag GPS.

Of course it's an aviation GPS, so it knows where the airport is. It doesn't know where the roads are, but it's a big enough airport that I figure if I can get going in more or less the right direction for the airport, I'll find a sign with a picture of an airplane on it, and I can just follow those to the airport. The GPS will tell me if I'm getting closer or further from the airport, the bearing direct to it, and if there are any large bodies of water barring my way.

With this dubious logic, I pull back into traffic, casting a glance at the screen once I have forward motion and the GPS can orient itself. Yep, this is kind of the right way. I continue. At the next light it's still showing that I'm going pretty much the right way. Then as the road curves I glance at it again and laugh. The whole screen has gone red! If I travel at a speed greater than would be commensurate with taxiing, terrain within a certain distance turns red to warn me of obstacles. The GPS is terribly concerned that I'm flying too low for safety.

As I go under a highway underpass I spot a sign on the highway above giving directions to the airport. I take the next right and get on that highway. The car is returned and I find my airplane.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why Are You Surprised?

I have previously blogged about discontinued satellite monitoring of 121.5 MHz and the ever-retreating deadline for Canadians to switch to 406 MHz ELTs. In that entry I mentioned that Canada was hoping the Americans would require the new emergency beacons first, so that they would make cheap ones and we could afford them. A better reason is probably so that they wouldn't have to decide between making an exception to the rule for American tourists, or losing the tourist revenue when Americans refused to by a new piece of equipment just to overfly Canada.

Curiously, it isn't the FAA (the U.S. agency that regulates aviation) or the NTSB (the U.S. agency that investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations) that have made the move. It's the Federal Communications Commission, the agency that regulates "interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable." These are the guys that decide who gets to broadcast on what frequency, and the ones who spent hours scrutinizing television footage of Janet Jackson's naked breast. On June 1st the FCC released this document. The ELT ruling is in sections 16 to 19 starting on page ten. It says, in part:

After reviewing the comments, we conclude that we should prohibit the certification, manufacture, importation, sale or continued use of 121.5 MHz ELTs. We believe that if 121.5 MHz ELTs are no longer available, aircraft owners and operators will migrate to 406.0-406.1 MHz ELTs, and the advantages of 406.0-406.1 MHz ELTs will provide safety benefits for search and rescue teams as well as aircraft pilots, crew and passengers, while also preserving search and rescue resources for real emergencies.

The American Pilots and Owners Association immediately opposed the new rule, objecting to the sudden cost it would impose on their members. My reading is that the FCC didn't consider existing installations of ELTs to be use, and weren't actually intending to make it illegal to fly with an old ELT. If they really meant to forbid flight without a 406 MHz ELT, then why would they use words like "believe" and "migrate"? Remove the word "use" and I think it would be a pretty clever solution. You don't need to buy a new ELT until you need to buy a new ELT. And I think anyone who needed to buy a new ELT these days would most likely buy a 406 MHz one anyway. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Charter Planning

I'm planning a passenger charter in the airplane with the irritating weight and balance. It can't be flown single pilot with full fuel, so when a charter involves something like flying to A to get people, dropping some off in B, picking more up in C, and taking them all back to A, you have to plan ahead carefully to make sure each leg will work for the number of people and the seats you have put in the plane.

Every fleet seems to have one of these: an airplane that is the same type as the others but through some quirk of history and equipment is way out of balance. I wonder if this continues to widebodies and there's some United captain today looking at his loadsheet and saying to his FO, "Great. We've got N124SA today." Does Air Canada have one B767 that dispatchers and loadmasters despise, and long to see get a shiny new paint job and be towed by the new girl on the ramp crew or left outside in a hurricane? (It's always the shiniest airplane in the fleet, or the one featured in advertising, which gets destroyed in a freak accident).

I work out the permutations and then that airplane is grounded for some mysterious engine problem unrelated to the weight and balance.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Proper Labelling

A cargo shipment was rejected by Southwest Airlines last week in Little Rock because it didn't meet the labelling requirements. I'm not sure why they didn't just return the package to the shipper, or perhaps it was labelled as to the contents, just not according to the rules. It contained a few dozen human heads. I imagine someone opening the package, a bit of reflex shrieking, then a whole lot of people from all over the operation being summoned to come see. They called 'the authorities,' presumably that means the police, and the police brought the coroner. The heads were on their way to a research and educational facility, so here doesn't seem to be any reason to suspect foul play, but they are investigating to make sure the body parts had been legally obtained.

So there's two things I never thought about before. One, the existence of a black market in severed heads, and two the proper labelling procedure for a shipment of severed heads. I don't have any more information on the former, but an acquaintance in the airline business forwarded me information on the latter.

Your severed heads need to be properly packaged in an outer hardshell container, no particleboard or cardboard, with other packing requirements as outlined in the document linked above. Then you must clearly mark “Biological Substance, Category B” in 6-mm-high text on the outer package, adjacent to a properly sized UN 3373 diamond-shaped marking. It does not appear that the container must also bear the legend Contains Human Heads. So to be on the safe side, just assume all biological specimens are severed heads.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Flying Across America

People who fly for fun or who work commercially out of little airports like I do know that new security regulations are made without regard to, and often without knowledge of the way little airplane operate. They are assumed to be toys, or only present during business hours, and the rules can make it difficult to operate.

A couple of pilots in an airplane just like the one we were ferrying start today on a sponsored trip across the US, trying to raise the profile of GA and demonstrate that it isn't necessarily a rich man's sport. I forwarded the website to my companion in the C150 and she was halfway between amused and irritated that these men were making such a big deal of flying this airplane across the country. "Look at all the airports they have down there and all the support they have! How is this a big deal. I'm not making a big deal out of flying my airplane. It's an airplane, it goes places."

She may have a point, that in making an event out of the simple act of flying an airplane across the country, they are effectively claiming that it is some kind of feat, as opposed to an everyday event. People do fly little airplanes across and between both of our countries all the time. Should we make noise about it? I don't know. It's both more fun and more challenging than driving. I would prefer that the challenges remain with the weather and terrain and not include getting permission to land, park and taxi at the only places where fuel is available.

There are some spectacular pictures here of a DC-3 crash in Germany. The first one looks like an airplane-on-a-stick monument, but keep going and you'll realize that it's a photo taken moments before impact. My German isn't good enough to decipher the nature of the malfunction (a problem with the Triebwerk), how many on board or the seriousness of their injuries. Unless "fest" means something totally different in German than English, I'm reading that there was some kind of photography event going on at the time.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Snow Go

The next day the weather is better, but there are some snow showers forecast along our route, and that's a no-go item for the PIC. The guys at the Shell are great and have no problem with us leaving the airplane there for a while. They say someone left a B747 here for four months once. There are a bunch of concrete-filled tires on the side of the apron. We park the airplane on the edge of the pavement and then roll three tires into position under wing and tail tiedown points, and tie everything down securely. Inside, we clean up the snack food crumbs and wrap the equipment we're leaving behind in plastic bags. The airplane looks secure against wind and rain and we know this is a very secure aerodrome. It's quite difficult to get in at night even to get to your own airplane. It's much better off here than it was at Brampton.

We leave contact information with the FBO and go around to the terminal to depart. As we board the flight on the jetway I can see our little airplane tied down at the side of the apron. This inspires me to scribble a note on the back of my boarding pass and give to the FA for the pilots. Something like "If you look over beside the Shell you can see a Cessna 150 tied down. You have two pilots in the back who flew it here from Brampton. It took us a whole day. Aren't you grateful for the speed of a CRJ?" I just needed to share our adventure with someone.

At the end of the flight as we are disembarking the captain is standing in the doorway of the flight deck and I hear him say to the FA, "Have the C-150 pilots got off yet?" I identify us to him and he takes a few minutes to talk to us before his next flight. It isn't until later that it occurs to me that he might have asked his question in an attempt to avoid us. I doubt it though. He was very friendly and sympathized with us, remembering the winds we dealt with that day. It's fun the way that whatever you fly, it's still an airplane.

The little airplane sat in Thunder Bay for a while, but my friend got some more time off work and last I heard, she's moving it west again, this time solo.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stuck in the Nexus

Weather the next day is not fabulous, but looks doable. We have breakfast in the hotel and when the waitress chats to us and discovers why we're here, she's thrilled to learn that we are pilots. She has always wanted to learn to fly. Hotel wireless and my iPod touch combine to produce the local flying school phone numbers and we encourage her to take a fam flight. Anyone who is going through Thunder Bay, remember to bring your swimsuit, stay at the Victoria Inn, and ask Daniella if she has gone flying yet.

We take the shuttle out to the airport and load up. The plan is to go to Fort Francis first, then Winnipeg, as Ft. Francis has been confirmed to have the oil we need. One of the wrinkles in the flight planning is the shape of the international border. West of Ontario, the Canada-US border follows the 49th parallel of latitude, as surveyed in the 19th century, but in Ontario it runs along the north shore of the Lake of the Woods. Instead of following the west shore of that lake to reach the 49th parallel on the Manitoba-Ontario border, the border drops straight down, stranding a little chunk of the US to make it accessible over land only through Manitoba. The little finger of US territory also represents a little finger of US airspace, which the Americans demand special protocols to enter. Detouring around it at our speed would cost us a lot of time and fuel, so we want to go through it. Even if we're not landing in the US, an airplane entering US airspace must squawk a discrete transponder code and be in communication with ATC. This in itself is not particularly onerous, it's just that the Americans enacted this rule without providing the infrastructure to support all its implications.

They were thinking, no doubt, of international traffic at an altitude suitable for talking to 'Center' and of a flight plan type such that they would almost always have a transponder code anyway. In Canada if there's a code required for something, there's a dedicated number you call to ask for it. I haven't passed through a sliver of US airspace like this in years. Last time it was also in the Thunder Bay area and I had to make a number of calls to get to someone who understood what I wanted and could give it to me, but perhaps it's changed now. I start by asking the Canadian FSS for the procedure. It hasn't changed. They give me an American number to call and warn me that "It's in Fort Worth, so be prepared for the accent." I give the number to the other pilot to call and the conversation starts off well because she is much better than I am at picking up on cultural cues and having a real conversation. (I talk like I'm on the radio, "This is GXYZ. Request transpoder code for passage through US airspace.") She and the US flight services guy have a nice introductory chat before addressing the matter at hand. He gives her a weather briefing for the area in question, but is baffled by her request for a code, eventually transferring her to another flight service station in Ohio. The briefer there tells her that the code has to be obtained within one hour before penetrating US airspace. You can't get it five hours in advance. We'll hit US airspace a little over an hour into our second leg, and then spend twenty minutes to half an hour passing through the angle. The briefer gives her some frequencies to try, in order to request the code while airborne. We'll see how that goes.

Now the new GFA is out and the weather is not looking as good as before. It's looking pretty brutal, actually, especially for the second leg. We don't want to get stuck in Kenora, because it's not served by an airline with an Air Canada agreement, so we can't use her flight passes to escape. She agonizes for a while , but has to call it off. We'll wait around and see if things improve.

Lots of other people are waiting with us. Thunder Bay is a nexus of Canadian aviation. Honestly there is no sort of airplane that could land here and look out of place. It's not a big city, it's just a place that has to be here, because there's such a long gap before the next place. I sent a postcard to a friend's children from here and she asked them "do you know where Thunder Bay is?"

"Of course," said the little girl. "It's where Terry Fox had to stop." Damn here am I whining about the long stretch of rocks and trees around the north of the lake, and this Canadian hero ran it on one leg and a 20th century prosthetic. Thunder Bay is almost exactly halfway across Canada. It's also on the agonal line, where the north pole lines up with magnetic north so there is no variation between compass north and true north. Because of the lakes it's often on a boundary line in weather systems, or in a little island of good or bad weather all its own. Everyone ends up here sooner or later.

We meet a young pilot who has just spent seven months working in Resolute. That's north of Baffin Island in Nunavut. We go to lunch together and he's walking around town going, "Wow, look a Subway! I'm going to get a sandwich!" and "Look, a Canadian Tire. I'm going to go there!" It's funny the things you can miss when you're in a remote place. He just wants to walk through the aisles and have the opportunity to look at things that had been unavailable for the last seven months. A B737 lands and comes to the same FBO for fuel. They were scheduled to land in Winnipeg, but they couldn't get in because the weather was too bad. That's when my companion relaxes and realizes that she made the right decision not to attempt Winnipeg today. We'll try again tomorrow.

Friday, June 18, 2010

North of Lake Superior

I wrote this blog entry in detail and then attempted to publish it on a day that Blogger had some major problem, and the text was eaten, so this is the reconstructed version.

Before we left Gore Bay, we double checked our next fuel stop. It would have to be Wawa, as the wind was too strong to make Marathon, and there isn't anywhere else a wheel plane can stop for fuel along the north shore of Lake Superior. There were no fuel NOTAMs for Wawa, but a careful reading of the CFS entry reveals that winter hours are still in effect, and the fuel service is scheduled to be closed by the time we arrive. The PIC makes a quick call to verify that fuel will be available for us tonight, and then we start up and taxi back to the runway.

The four cylinders of the little engine directly drive the propeller and with full throttle the pistons are pounding up and down at almost 2700 rpm. We're rolling down the runway and soon airborne again. We cut northeast across the water and level out on a direct track above the wilderness towards Wawa.

My role here is mainly as companion, safety pilot and whip cracker. I'm the one who says, "You fill the tanks and I'll update the weather and file the flight plan," or "Just pee and refill your water bottle: we'll eat in the plane." She is doing the flying. We should be able to get three or four legs a day, assuming we aren't NOTAMed out of our own airport. The weather is good and turbulence is light, but it occurs to me that while I'm used to flying out the last minute of my duty day, she more normally flies for an hour or two and goes home. Plus we're literally flying cross-country and it's likely more stressful for her than me. I want to have two competent pilots in this cockpit six hours from now, so I suggest I fly this leg and she kick back and take it as easy as she can, to conserve her energy for later in the day. I know she's more of a night owl than I am, so I want to use her strengths. She agrees and I take control.

Here I could insert three paragraphs about rocks and trees and lakes, but this is Northern Ontario. You've been here, if not in person, then with me. We can't see the big lake yet from this vantage point, but there are rocks and trees and lakes. Mostly it's trees, mostly some sort of pine, and we pass them at a groundspeed of 70 knots or so.

After a lot of this we approach Wawa. We have the latest winds and altimeter setting, from an autostation or perhaps from a flight service specialist, I don't remember which, and we've tuned the aerodrome frequency. There's someone in the circuit, landing on 03. This is unexpected, because the surface winds are strongly favouring 21. That's consistent with us struggling along trying to maintain seventy knots westward over the terrain. I listen again--we have lots of time before we get there--and the aircraft in the circuit reports touching down on the threshold of 03. I call them on frequency and ask if the winds are not favouring 21. They laugh and explain that they're a helicopter. The winds are definitely favouring 21. They are doing hover practice over the runway and landing westbound on the threshhold of 03. Ohhh, that makes sense. They promise to stay out of our way and I join the circuit. The trees are quite high and 21 has a displaced threshold because you can't make a normal approach over the trees to the actual end of the runway. You almost can in this plane, with 40 degrees of flaps and that headwind. I descend towards the runway and flare slightly high. I realize it, and fix the landing with power; there's lots of room to play around and get a nice soft straight touchdown.

"Whee! You let me land!" I say, "How'd you know I wouldn't pooch it?"

"You never said 'you have control'!"

"You never took control. It's your plane!"

This sounds like a CRM disaster movie, but of course if I had any doubt I could safely land it, I would have given her control, and if she had any doubts she would have taken it. I probably have more time flying Cessna 150s than she has total time, but mine isn't recent time and I've watched a lot of pilots more experienced than me embarrass themselves in small airplanes that they used to know how to fly. We both laugh and taxi in. One of us parks in front of the fuel pumps. I think it was her, because I remember pointing them out. Pumps inside a locked cabinet are easily identifiable to me, but it was the first time she had seen them and didn't instantly recognize that shape as meaning fuel, or the red stripe as being the one that says 100LL as opposed to the black one for Jet-A. We shut down and go inside to find out who has stayed late to provide us with fuel. No one has, but there's a local there from another business who calls the appropriate person and says they'll be right here.

He is, and he fuels us quickly, but the $75 callout fee is more than the fuel bill. There was no avoiding it, as we had to get fuel here, and its not less trouble for someone to come out for a little plane than a big one, it's just more painful when it's a higher proportion of the fuel bill. I pay callout fees a lot at work, fuelling on weekends and early morning or late at night, but the callout fee is typically less than 5% of the fuel cost, so it never feels like an issue. She pays for her fuel and we start up and taxi back to the runway.

We're still not going to fly direct to Thunder Bay, because this is a big lake. If we cut straight across it we would be out of sight of land, and we'd still only be in the northwestern corner of the lake. We'll remain within gliding distance of the shore, or at least the shore of islands, following a big offshore arc. For the first part we're over land still because although Wawa is close to shore, it's at the eastern end of a big cape that juts out southward into the lake. It would be longer here to go over the water than to cut across the cape. Insert another forty-five minutes of trees.

Finally the expanse of Lake Superior comes into view. This is a huge, huge lake. We can see the shore beside us to the north, but we can't see the western shore and the whole south east to south west is just water. There must be people in the world who cannot conceive of this much water. I'm not sure I can. We pass offshore of Marathon, and of a floatplane base. I imagine some pilot inattentive pilot planning to fuel there and then discovering too late that there is no runway. It's close enough to Marathon they could probably make that and not have to ditch, though.

There are big islands and peninsulas down the west side of the lake, so we're flying over them as Thunder Bay comes close enough to tune the ATIS. We call the tower and follow their instructions for a downwind to the long runway. The sky is just beginning to pinken as we touch down. She follows the taxi instructions and chooses the Maintair Shell as our parking spot. We need fuel and oil. The FBO agrees to sell us both, but then are surprised to discover they are out of our grade of oil. We try the other FBO, but they don't have it either. That's unexpected. The CFS lists our grade of oil available at Kenora and Fort Francis, but it's too late in the day to call and confirm that. We'll call in the morning, and call this a day.

We leave the airplane fuelled, chocked, locked and tented and take the FBO recommendation for a hotel. It's much better than the last hotel I stayed in in YQT. This one has polite service, clean rooms, and a pool with a giant waterslide. Damn me and my superlight packing. Let this be a lesson: there is always room in your flight bag for a Speedo.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A First Time for Everything

Next morning the weather looks passable on my iPod Touch, but there is such a paucity of reporting stations, or civilization of any description, around the north shore of Lake Superior that we can't be certain. And I know the GFA is based on the same kind of interpolation I have to do. I know what the weather was like half an hour ago at three five mile circles scattered around the north of the lake, so from that I try to interpolate the suitability for flight between them. While the PIC is in the shower, I pick up the phone and call an expert for a briefing. He starts describing the moisture content, stability and direction of travel of air masses, then interrupts himself. "Did you say Brampton?"

"Yes. I'm in Brampton now; it's clear skies."

"Someone just yelled a NOTAM for Brampton across the room, 'All runways closed."

He isn't able to elucidate the reason for a sudden airport closure, or suggest when they may reopen. In my experience, airports have closed for resurfacing, drag racing, severe weather, special security events, or major accidents. I'm guessing the last, and we decide to drive out to the airport anyway, hoping that everyone is okay and the wreckage is cleared before we want to depart.

As we pull into the parking lot we can see police cars and police officers on the airfield. This is weird, but hey, they are allowed to be there, and the NOTAM says the runways are closed, not the apron. My new guess is that there is some kind of drug bust going on. I live in a country where one is not obliged to cower in terror at the mere presence of law enforcement officials, so while the other pilot makes a few last minute decisions about what to take and what to lock in the trunk, I walk through the unlocked front gate from the car parking lot and into the aircraft parking area.

I'm immediately approached by a young man in a reflective vest. "Where are you going?" he asks.

"Thunder Bay," I reply.

I love to watch the moment of adjustment a person goes through when you give a valid answer to a question, but it is not the same order of magnitude as they were expecting. He asks if I am renting a flying school plane and I tell him, no, a private aircraft, and give the call sign.

Then it's his turn to watch someone react to the unexpected, "Make sure you do a very thorough preflight." He doesn't know if our little one-fifty was one of the victims, but there was extensive vandalism on the field last night, and a number of aircraft were damaged. As I walk further I can see a flying school light twin with all the windows bashed in and a fire extinguisher lying beside it on the apron. Detritus such as engine plugs, aircraft covers and seat cushions are strewn on the grass. A Katana has been pushed up against a hangar. There are footprints on the horizontal stabilizer of an older Skyhawk. The perpetrators have also left broken beer bottles and what looks like a corsage. Evidence suggests that some high school students have chosen to celebrate their putative entry into adulthood by getting drunk and committing a federal crime against thousands of dollars worth of other people's property.

The airplane tied tail-to-tail with ours has been hit, but ours looks good. It's tied down, the doors are still locked, and the only exterior damage is what looks like a long-ago mend to a rear window, probably broken by an unsecured object in turbulence. Not the first one I've seen like that. There are tiedown rings inside and I secure all our cargo as I calculated it should go, with the light objects like our jackets and the engine cover at the back and the snacks and water on top right behind the seats.

I've never seen this kind of vandalism at an airfield before. I call back flight services to update them on the situation. The briefer says he's never seen it before either. I ask if they have an UNTIL time on that NOTAM. It's midnight zulu, which is eight pm here, but "midnight zulu" is a default kind of time, not something with a real reason behind it. The weather forecast suggests we can get at least to Thunder Bay today, so only this NOTAM is stopping us. After a bit of waiting around I decide I don't like this NOTAM.

A police officer in blue latex gloves is dusting the rear window of the airplane behind us for fingerprints. I ask whether it is the police or airport management who has imposed or has power to change the NOTAM. Reflective-vest guy is there, and says that it's his responsibility, and that he will change it right now. He picks up his phone and does so. In the time it takes me to call Flight Services to file our flight plan, they have received and propagated the cancelling NOTAM. Excellent. This, right here, is an example of why pilots are so infuriated by incompetent security. Aviation has a lot of rules, a lot of procedures, a lot of things forbidden from time to time. But they are for a reason and in the vast majority of cases when you have a reason that is more reasonable than their reason, you find the right person, you explain your reason, and you go do what you have to do. You may have to prove it is safe, and it may cost money, but it's easier than getting thirty millilitres of shampoo through security in a 110 mL bottle.

We fuel, taxi out and she starts the take-off roll. My flight instructor instinct kicks in and I advise, "Rotate normally and wait. The airplane will take off slowly." I know she's been bombing around solo in this airplane, but we're now close to max weight, and it's worth being tagged as a back seat driver not to be in the plane during a departure stall. She follows my advice, and the airplane rolls along the runway on its rear wheels for a bit before it lifts off and slowly climbs. If a pilot isn't used to this behaviour in a loaded airplane, she may pull back harder on the control column, trying to get it to fly. It may become airborne in ground effect and then stall, crashing back down on the runway.

I have the local airspace on the VTA and displayed on a handheld GPS receiver so I navigate while she flies. We call Toronto Terminal for flight following and they laugh right on the radio as they radar identify us "grounding fifty knots." A voice in the background of the transmission says "... only has four hours of fuel." I have a picture of a crowd of people gathered around a radar scope laughing at our slow-moving blip. Freaking headwinds.

We gain a little speed as we level out at 4500' so we're mostly keeping ahead of traffic on the highway. Mostly. Metropolitan Toronto thins out behind us and Wiarton, where Canada's most famous groundhog lives, slowly comes up ahead. We pass it and continue up the peninsula and then across the water to Manitoulin Island. It's a short over-water stretch, but the briefer said that many pilots choose to go the long way around to avoid it. We're not even out of gliding distance of land, and the beach that we would end up on in the case of engine failure looks more hospitable to me than something we might find between North Bay and Sudbury. But everyone has different risk tolerances.

Manitoulin Island is pretty, with lots of little inlets. I wonder if someday there will be a bridge, making this shortcut available to car drivers, too. Our first stop will be Gore Bay. It's easy to find, and we land and taxi in, parking next to the fuel pumps. There is a white building on uphill next to the apron and I walk up there in search of a phone and washroom. They have both, and sell us the fuel we need.

I'm writing this blog entry tired, and while that's not dangerous like flying tired, it's in danger of being boring, so I'll leave off here and continue the story after we depart, with full tanks and empty bladders.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Change is as Good as a Rest

Pretty much the minute I get home from work, I'm asked for help ferrying an airplane. (That's because I check my e-mail the minute I get home from work, but don't you?) This one isn't a job, it's a freebie for the woman who brought me to Oshkosh a couple of years ago on flight passes. She has the use of a tiny little airplane, a Cessna 150, and her employer has suddenly transferred her across the country, so she wants to move the airplane from an airport near Toronto to one near Vancouver. She has a commercial licence, but not a lot of experience, and wants a companion for the trip. As soon as I've done my laundry and repacked I'm back on the road.

The parameters of the trip are that we don't take off unless we're assured of being able to land at an airport in the Air Canada system, including Air Canada Jazz, so we can get home, and we don't fly in snow or heavy rain. She's PIC because the insurance is in her name, and she's not happy flying in those conditions. Of course the weather has to be VFR, because it's a Cessna 150 with no navigation instruments. Not even an ADF. I caution her that we might not get the weather, but as airfare is not an issue, it's worth the trip even if we only get to Thunder Bay, so we go.

Toronto is on the north shore of Lake Ontario, on a peninsula between Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron. If you look at a map, Huron looks like a big lake with a smaller lake riding piggyback on it; Huron is almost divided in two by the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island. Just to the west of Huron is Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. The Great Lakes seem even bigger when you're in a tiny airplane. The northern shores of Huron and Superior are sparsely populated, and the airplane cruises at about 90 knots and only carries about 3.5 hours of fuel, so we have to plan the trip carefully. I'm not sure yet whether we're going to take the shortcut across Manitoulin Island or if we'll go the long way around by Sudbury. I need to get more information about weather conditions on the peninsula tomorrow.

The night before the trip we're in a hotel room in Brampton, Ontario. I deliberately brought absolutely minimal gear, not even my computer, because I thought after fuel our payload might be as little as 40 pounds. I still have to have clothes suitable for surviving overnight in the bush in Northern Ontario and clothing suitable for boarding Air Canada as a non-rev passenger. People riding for free have to pay their fare by looking good for the rest of you. I go through the aircraft documents and make sure they are all present. The weight and balance calculation is a pleasant surprise: with the two of us on board and full fuel we can still carry 91 pounds of gear. Skinny girls for the win! (I'm fairly certain I got my first flight instruction job through being a skinny girl, but I'm less sure whether that was for weight and balance or aesthetic reasons). Including our headsets, survival equipment, snacks and water and personal effects, plus the gear like spare oil, towbar, and tiedowns already in the airplane, I estimate that we'll be carrying more than eighty pounds. Things like that add up quickly. The weight and balance document is dated back in the 1970s, so I kind of suspect it isn't perfectly matched to the airplane we'll be flying, but if when you change out vacuum tubes for transistors the weight tends to go down not up, so I'm comfortable.

We sort out our baggage and a rough flight plan, hoping to get an early start. If all goes well we can reach Winnipeg in a day.

Here's a new blog I found recently, Airline Pilot Chatter, it's airline pilot day in the life stories, infrequently updated but worth checking now and again. It gives the same sort of details that I do. I liked the story of ferrying an airplane to the graveyard.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Aviation Abbreviations

I try to make each blog entry understandable in itself, even to people who aren't familiar with aviation abbreviations, but some unexplained jargon creeps in. Sometimes I think that I've explained something recently enough, or I'm in a hurry, or I forget altogether that something is an abbreviation. These things become words unto themselves after a while.

Some of the expanded abbreviations don't match the letters in the abbreviation. That's just the way life is. If I haven't expanded a particular abbreviation in the list below then either it doesn't stand for anything worth expanding, or I forget what it stands for. Definitions given are not official, complete or completely accurate, just enough to allow you to understand them in context. Some of the terms only apply in Canada and/or may mean different things in other countries. If there's no pronunciation, either I forgot to put one or I only use the abbreviation in writing and don't say it out loud.

See (or add to) the comments for variation in usage or pronunciation and pedantic expansions on the definitions.

A&P (eh 'n' pee) - American equivalent of AME

ADF (eh-dee-eff) - Automatic Direction Finder - cockpit navigation instrument that uses ground-based radio beacons. It can also be used to listen to AM radio.

AME (eh-em-ee) - person certified to supervise and sign for repairs and modifications done to aircraft

AMO (eh-em-oh) - licenced airplane repair shop

ATIS (eh-tiss) - a recorded message broadcast at some airports describing the weather conditions and the runway in use

CAME - Civil Aviation Medical Examiner - a doctor who is licenced to certify pilots fit or unfit for duty

CARs (cars) - Canadian Aviation Regulations - the rules of the air for Canadian pilots

CFS (see-eff-ess) - book listing facilities (runway, frequencies, services) information for Canadian aerodromes

ETA (ee-tee-eh) - Estimated Time of Arrival - when I think I will get there

ETE (ee-tee-ee) - Estimated Time Enroute - how much longer I think it will take to get there

FA (eff-eh) - Flight Attendant - a person other than a pilot who is responsible for passenger safety during a flight

FAF (faff) - Final Approach Fix - a point lined up with the runway a few miles back

FBO (eff-bee-oh) - Fixed Base Operator - an airplane service station at an airport

FO (eff-oh) - First Officer - a pilot who is second-in-command of an aircraft

FSS (eff-ess-ess) - 1. Flight Service Station 2. Flight Service Specialist - Source of aviation information such as weather

GFA (gee-eff-eh) - Graphical Area Forecast- A regional forecast in the form of a weather map

GPS (gee-pee-ess) - Global Positioning System - Usually refers to the GPS receiver, an instrument that provides navigation information

GPU (gee-pee-you) - Ground Power Unit - A cart with its own power that can be connected to an airplane on the ground to provide power to electrical systems or an extra boost for starting engines

IFR (eye-eff-are) - Instrument Flight Rules - 1. flying with reference to instruments alone, 2. IMC 3. capable (pilot, aircraft, etc) of #1

IMC (eye-em-see) - Instrument Meteorological Conditions - weather that requires IFR #1

LNAV (el-nav) - Lateral Navigation - A type of GPS approach

MDA (em-dee-eh) - Minimum Descent Altitude - Lowest altitude a pilot may legally descend to before seeing the runway

METAR (may-tar or meh-tar) - an hourly report on weather at an aerodrome

NDB (en-dee-bee) - Non-Directional Beacon - ground-based navigational beacon. Occasionally misused to mean ADF

NOTAM (no-tam or no-t'm) - an advisory of a change in procedure or a non-weather hazard to aviation

PIC (pee-eye-see) - Pilot in Command - 1. the crewmember on an airplane who has ultimate responsibility for the flight, regardless of who is actually manipulating the controls 2. time logged by a pilot while acting in that capacity

PPC (pee-pee-see) - Pilot Proficiency Check - 1. A recurring flight test to establish and maintain commercial qualifications on a particular type of airplane 2. the qualification thereby obtained 3. (verb) to arrange and pay for such qualifications

PRM (pee-are-em) - Person Responsible for Maintenance - the company official who is legally liable if the aircraft is not properly maintained

RNAV (are-nav) - navigation not dependent on ground facilities, nowadays usually GPS

TAC (tack) - Terminal Aerodrome Chart - a 1:25,000 chart for VFR navigation in the United States near a major aerodrome

TAF (taff) - a forecast for weather in the immediate area of an aerodrome over the next 12 to 36 hours

TC - Transport Canada - the regulatory authority that governs aviation in Canada

TSB - Transportation Safety Bureau - the Canadian body that investigates aviation accidents and makes safety recommendations

TT - Total Time - the total number of hours logged by a pilot in all aircraft

UTC (you-tee-see) - Coordinated Universal Time - a time that is the same all over the world, regardless of time zone or Daylight Savings status

VFR (vee-eff-are) - Visual Flight Rules - 1. flying by looking out the window, 2. weather that allows #1, 3. only capable (pilot, aircraft, airport, etc.) of #1 (as opposed to IFR)

VMC (vee-em-see) - Visual Meteorological Conditions - Weather that allows VFR #1

VNC (vee-en-see) - 1:50,000 scale VFR Canadian aviation navigation chart

VOR (vee-oh-are) - 1. a type of navigational beacon 2. aircraft navigational instrument that receives its information from 1

VTA (vee-tee-eh) - 1:25,000 scale VFR navigation chart for Canada

YQT (why-queue-tee) - if it's three letters and starts with Y or Z it's probably a Canadian airport identifier. It doesn't stand for anything, just represents that airport, which usually I will have already named before using this form. YQT is Thunder Bay. These aren't usually spoken in conversation unless the name of the airport is longer or harder to pronounce than the identifier.

Z or Zulu (pronounced "zoo-loo" in either form) - UTC

I'll update this as I use more abbreviations. If any explanations are missing, wrong or unclear, please leave a comment on this blog entry, and I'll add, fix or explain it. Unless you're just being pedantic, in which case I'll leave your comment for people who like that sort of thing.

If the jargon you don't understand isn't an abbreviation, try this Aviation Dictionary website.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Just landed in Anchorage, Alaska. I may have time to meet up with people here in the next few days. Please e-mail me if you're interested.

Cleaning Up

I'm going to get some time now, that's time out as in time off, down south, not as in sitting in the corner because I didn't share my toys. So I'm starting to gather up my scattered belongings, repacking everything that I won't be using for sure in the next day or so, finishing up my food, and organizing my stuff into "carry-on" versus "checked" instead of "flight bag" versus "hotel room." I'm also half listening to the TV.

There's a comedy piece delivered by a guy in a an airline captain's uniform. He's riffing on Captain Sullenberger's Hudson River Airbus landing. "You know what a great pilot would have done? Not hit the birds! That's what I do every day. Where's my ticket to the Grammies?" This makes me laugh because I had a boss once who flew with one of my students and during the flight they ran out of gas. The subsequent forced landing in a field was uneventful and the student impressed by that said boss had demonstrated a great feat of airmanship. The airmanship involved in my not ever running out of gas wasn't nearly as impressive. Plus it's funny to imagine making evasive maneuvres against birds in an Airbus.

The next shift of pilots arrive and we all go out for dinner to catch each other up on our lives and the idiosyncrasies of the airplane. And to put things in our stomachs that our bodies will convert into energy. And of course to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Between periods of the hockey game, the topic came up of who should be the next Governor-General. Although we're all working on the same project, the only thing our whole group has in common is that we are Canadians. Together we're from all different regions of the country, have probably voted for almost every party large enough to get its deposit back, and have different educational levels and religious backgrounds. We must have gone through fifty potential candidates, some joking, some serious. We need someone with public speaking ability and a statesmanlike presence, a strong pride in and knowledge of Canada, a love of people and an ability to relate to them, and enough backbone not to let the Prime Minister push him or her around.

Don Cherry? Would instigate fights instead of mediating them. Michael J. Fox? Has to be able to sign his name. David Suzuki? Eugenics. Conrad Black? Is he out of jail yet? Wayne Gretzky? Sam Sullivan? Ralph Klein? Brian Tobin? Reba McEntire? William Shatner has been put forward as a candidate, but while he basks in attention, he's not the kind of guy who's going to sit down and eat raw seal blubber. The guy won't even eat fruit salad. But his speech from the throne would be fun to watch.

We found two perfect candidates. The first, Pierre Berton, is sadly disqualified on account of being dead. He would have made an amazing G-G. The second may be too young, but I'd love to see him in the job and that's Rick Mercer. Failing that, we'd settle for Marg Delahunty.

Non-Canadians may skip all that and just nod their heads sagely in acknowledgment that foreign countries have politics and public figures of whom they know little about.

One of the replacement pilots asks me, "What's your morning routine?"

Weird question, but he doesn't read the blog, so how would he know. "Uh, I turn off the alarm clock, get out of bed, do my morning exercises, get dressed, nuke my oatmeal ..."

"Less detail!"

"Oh! I meet at seven at [client]'s truck."

Good folks, good conversation. I couldn't decide between dessert and a dessert coffee so with very little encouragement from my tablemates bought both. And then one of the other pilots bought the rest of us pilots dinner, in gratitude for agreeing to a schedule revised in his favour. All I'd asked for accepting the revvision was that he listen graciously to my whining if I had to spend six consecutive weeks in Fort Nelson.

Next morning, two of us got in the rental car and drove homewards.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Welcome to My Industry

I don't know how old this box of spark plugs is, but somewhere out there someone in charge of marketing decided that the packaging with which to sell their cylindrical product featured a well-endowed woman in shorts. Who knows, maybe it works.

It could be worse. The young lady does have her knees together.

Oh and I wouldn't apologize either. There is no threat anywhere in that comment card. It's rambling, and it's apparently styled after a Saturday Night Live sketch, and it discusses bad things happening to an airplane, but it's clearly voiced as a nervous passenger vein, not as in "it would be a shame if anything bad happened to your nice shiny airplane, capice?" The comment is simply a ridiculously rambling version of, "OMG what if the plane crashes, I'm so scared!" The commenters on the online article all seem to think the note is threatening. Am I missing a cultural reference? If I had been a pilot and the flight attendant handed me that, I would wonder why they bothered, but in the interest of good CRM ask them to send it on to corporate, and offer the guy some reassurance in case he really was afraid of heights. Why WOULD flight attendants open a sealed customer comment card, anyway? So they can throw it away if it is critical of them?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Made in Sioux Lookout: Part 2

I asked you a few days ago to identify a product made in Sioux Lookout. Thanks to Google, you guys had it solved within minutes of me posting the question: they are airplane skis. They kind of look more like airplane snowboards to me.

By skis I mean a modification to the landing gear to allow an airplane, specifically a Norseman, to land on snow. A little more about the company and a great summary of the history of Ontario bush flying here. I've never flown a skiplane, but my licence allows me to. for some reason the Transport Canada licensing system requires separate training for wheel landings and float landings, but a pilot trained on either wheels or floats can legally operate on skis.

The photos were taken at the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum, behind the Hood River airport in Oregon. It's just across the Columbia River from The Dalles, Washington, where they will let you borrow a truck to drive into town.

Monday, June 07, 2010

I Am the Paperclip

We have another day of not-so-great weather, and another request to run the airplane for software upgrades. I'm typing up the last several entries out all at once, in anticipation of being too busy to blog, so chances are that you've all been asking "why the hell does she run the engines on the ground to do the software upgrades?" Good question.

We can't take the computers out and upgrade the software on a desk, because the airplane is kind of like the Borg from Star Trek, partly what it was born as, partly computerized implants, and the desire to assimilate all life forms it encounters. That's the real reason why it so quickly becomes encrusted with bugs. So the computers have to stay attached to the airplane, and they are wired up to get their power from it. And airplanes produce power with engines. Some FBOs also have GPU carts that we can rent to provide power, but the typical GPU runs on diesel fuel, may require an attendant of its own, and the charge to use it would be as great as the cost of the fuel we'll burn from our own tanks. And with the engines running we have heat, too.

)On this occasion, however, I manage to secure a ground cart that puts out the right voltage to run our airplane systems, and it plugs into the mains. I plug it into the same recepticle in the nose as a full-sized GPU would connect to, and the appropriate lights go on. (The weird thing is that when you use ground power on this aircraft, you leave the electrical master off. It's a little spooky the way someone can turn on my systems by plugging into an unlocked external recepticle).

You don't realize how much you are doing, just sitting in an airplane chocked on the ground with the engines running for an hour until you are sitting in the same airplane chocked on the ground with the engines not running for an hour. I wasn't really bored when I was monitoring the engines. But now I'm bored. I play with the GPS. I text people. I read manuals. I sort out the things that shouldn't be in here at all (most of them are dead batteries). I clean the cockpit. I had originally planned to clean up oil stains on the outside during this procedure, but there isn't really room for me to get past the people working behind me to get out and do that.

Seeing as there is no engine running noise, I can hear their conversation and I want so much to be helpful. Or just sympathize. If I were on my third marathon computer upgrade attempt in a week, I'd like some sympathy. But it is my curse. I am too eager to be helpful. To these people, and their operation, my input is as wanted as that of Clippy the Paperclip, from Microsoft's very poorly received Office 97. These people don't want suggestions they have already tried or discarded. They don't want commiseration, or another a point of view. They want an airplane that works with a pilot who shows up on time and flies it safely and efficently. I think to myself, "It looks like you're installing BorgTec for Vista 7. Would you like some help?" And then I click on the close button for that thought.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Made in Sioux Lookout

Sioux Lookout is a Northern Ontario community with an airport. The first time I ever heard of it was when I was laid off from a job--the company didn't undergo the expansion they had hired me to support--and among the wisdom I received from the compassionate captain with whom I made my last flight were the words, "At least you're not laid off and stuck in Sioux Lookout." So the Sioux was cemented in my mind as a place that merely being in could compound your troubles. I never asked that captain if his comment stemmed from personal experience.

This history and the location of Sioux Lookout led me away from thinking of the place as an innovation or manufacturing centre. And then not too long ago I found this label on a piece of equipment.

What was the piece of equipment?

In case you're wondering, the word Sioux in Sioux Lookout is pronounced the same way as the word Sault in Sault Ste. Marie or the word Soo in Soo Line Railroad. The last is the phonetic pronunciation.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Rules

The next day, no must be the day after that because the Canadiens are playing again tonight, the weather is better. I ask Dennis about the hangar cat, are there different rules for the two cats: one allowed in the lounge and one not? Yes, he says. Margo makes the rules and she doesn't allow the other cat in the lounge. The cat makes the rules. I didn't see that coming.

It turns out that Dennis (or maybe it was Margo) was able to rearrange our the airplanes yesterday such that ours spent last night indoors, too. Dennis tows it out this morning and I take all the tents and cords off and put them away before the flight. We top up fuel from the long ground run yesterday and depart.

There are high winds aloft, which make everything fun. There is only turbulence in a couple of spots, but I need to hold a big crab angle to go in a straight line, and plan my turns to finish where I want to be. And guess what, I have to pee. I wonder what fraction of my working life I spend having to pee? Add in the time I spend actually peeing, talking about peeing and being grateful that I don't have to pee and I think it outranks sleep in the list of things I do and wish to do.

At the end of the flight, winds are sixteen gusting twenty-six knots varying between 80 and 100 degrees off the runway. That's okay, I've done lots of crosswind landings with my legs crossed. The only hitch is that my operational 15 degree maximum bank restriction applies throughout the flare and touchdown. I aim a little upwind of the centreline so I have room to drift if needed, but it wasn't required.

Taxi in. Wait for everything to be done in the back. Shut down. Pee. Hand over airplane to the p.m. crew. Back to hotel.

I'm weirdly tired. The two pilots per airplane thing we have going for most jobs now means that I only only do a half day of work anymore, about eight hours from report to shutdown, and I've hardly been going flat out this week. I was going to go straight to bed, but I just found out it's the other pilot's birthday, so I go out and get him a card and a token Tim Horton's doughnut. I was going to put it in a box and leave a note on his door to pick it up at hotel reception, but he texts that he's landed early because of unsuitable weather. We all go out and have dinner together, and I get to give him his doughnut in person. He's a fantastic co-worker, and I'd write more about him in the blog, but I would be creeped out to find my story told on someone else's blog, so I leave his story to him.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Float Plane Safety

A British Columbia newspaper wraps up a series on float plane safety today, but I'm writing this after reading the first installment only. According to that article, British Columbia is home to twenty percent of all commercial float plane operators in Canada. It misrepresents the situation a little by saying that BC movements represent 97 per cent of all float plane traffic at Nav Canada staffed facilities, because BC is the only place in Canada where there are floatplanes taking off and landing under the clearance of a control tower. Hundreds of flights a day take place across the country to and from places that don't even have names, let alone control towers or FSSes.

British Columbia is especially vulnerable to float plane accidents, even if they don't really have the lion's share of float plane movements, because BC float planes service remote coastal areas, where in most other provinces float traffic is in and out of remote lakes and rivers. The coastal inlets in BC are in close proximity to mountainous terrain, prone to fog and heavy rain, and often out of range of conventional nav aids. Salt water, even just moist salt air, is exceptionally hard on aircraft, so I wouldn't be surprised of airplanes operating in that environment suffered more equipment failures.

The introduction to the series criticizes existing regulations governing float planes, including the safety briefing a reported received on a Harbour Air flight, as it did not describe how to operate the exit doors. Last time I flew on a float plane I don't remember if the pilot detailed the operation of the exits, but he did give a demonstration of putting on the life jacket. The briefing card in both cases would have diagrams showing how to open the door.

The idea of passengers routinely wearing lifejackets inside the airplane brings to mind a couple of scenes from Six Days, Seven Nights (which, by the way, I first saw as an in-flight movie). When the engaged couple first travel in Harrison Ford's character's Beaver, they are asked to wear life jackets, and this effectively emphasizes their discomfort with the small aircraft. In later scenes, even ones where the protagonists are flying a bullet-ridden aircraft on a set of makeshift floats, they do not wear life jackets. Life jackets are perceived as a symbol of fear and discomfort.

I'd like to see some testing--not too hard to do in dunk tank egress trainers--on whether wearing lifejackets inside the cabin actually helps passengers escape. A lifejacket, even uninflated, impairs mobility and flexibility, and it could get caught on things. One passenger who became confused and inflated the jacket could impede the exit of others. It may be that these concerns are as silly as the argument people used to make against wearing seatbelts in cars, afraid that they would be trapped in the vehicle by their seatbelt. I'd just like to see it tested, on passengers who have had a standard briefing, including some with simulated injuries.

The safety briefing I give does include step-by-step door opening instructions. I don't fly over water sufficient to trigger a regulatory requirement for lifejackets to be present and briefed.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Situps and Catfights

Another day dawns. There is more snow falling. At least it looks like snow to me. Unlike the robots, I'm willing to call it snow without considering too closely whether it might be snow grains or ice prisms. Most of the looks-like- snow-but-isn't stuff happens when it's much colder than this. Except the frogs and locusts: they happen when it's much warmer, and they don't look this much like snow.

Whether we fly or not, I have to go out to the airport, as the FBO plans to haul all the airplanes out of the hangar in order to get at something in the back. This is called a hangar dump. Once my airplane is out, I want to put the wing covers on and plug in the engine heaters.

I check in with the client to let them know I haven't given up and gone home and that I and my airplane are still awaiting their every command. I also request a ride out to the airport sometime this morning at their convenience to make sure their computer equipment is properly kept warm. The project manager says sure, let him know when I want to go out.

My plan is to have breakfast and do my morning exercises and then call for a ride. I go down to the hotel exercise room but there's a problem with the exercise bike so I go back to my room and work out like a captive. Sarah Connor is my hero.

I'm well into a set of situps when the room phone rings. Stop, get up, answer phone. It's the other pilot. He's up now and wants to know what's going on today. I tell him the plan and he wants to come too: you take your entertainment where you can in Lloydminster. I tell him it will be about an hour and go back to my situps. I've done maybe five more and the phone rings again. This time it's the client willing to take me out to the airport. That translates to meaning that now is a good time and later might not be. So that means I'm ready to go to the airport now. At least that's what I tell the client, and I call the other pilot back while putting my clothes on, and tell him we're leaving in five.

We all go out to the airport and into the hangar. There's a cat sitting on top of a Caravan on floats. It's not Margo, it's a different cat. Apparently there's an FBO cat and a hangar cat. Hangar cats are the lesser of two evils in a way. When they jump up on your airplane, or slide down your windshield, they can't help extending their claws a little, so you get little scratches in your paint and perspex. But hangar cats tend to be very very serious about catching and killing mice before they can nest in your upholstery, insulation, or electrical wiring. So you trade a few scratches for not getting hantovirus infections or electrical fires. And also you get soft, furry cats to pet. Or catfights to watch. It turns out that Margo is in the hangar and she and Caravan cat are now both on the floor, locked into a maelstrom of fur and snarling. If human combat were this dramatic and fluid, I'd be enjoying Lost a lot more. Someone walks up to the cat cyclone and it subsides.

Dennis isn't quite ready to tow the airplane out yet, so we tent up the engines and plug in all the cords, setting them up so they won't drag when it's towed out. Then we wander around and look at the other other airplanes. There's a Chieftain bearing the colours and logo of a local sports team. The registration looks really familiar. I think I've flown that airplane, or perhaps worked around it. Or maybe they all just look the same after a while.

We go back to the hotel and that night we watch the Habs win, saved from elimination.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Wind Missing

By next morning conditions have not changed much:

SPECI CYLL 241225Z AUTO /////KT 1 1/4SM -SN SCT006 BKN011 BKN019 OVC028 M00/M01 A2973 RMK SLP095 WND MISG

That means it's just at freezing, still snowing, with lots of clouds, and the wind went missing overnight. I wonder if the anemometer blew down or froze.

If I start to feel too trapped in my hotel room, I can always signal for help, though. This isn't from this hotel, but I forgot to post it then, and it amuses me. You're supposed to stick it under the door to call for help. Good idea, really.