Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Almost Win A Car

I almost won a car today. Really. Here's how you almost win a car. You get up in the morning, do your daily exercises, and check the weather. Then you go and discuss the day's flying with the client and they decide to postpone take-off for a while, so you use the time to do paperwork and personal stuff. I called the PRM regarding getting an extension instead of getting a mechanic to come up here, or flying south to Edmonton for the next inspection. Then I mended the torn journey log cover with packing tape. While doing that I noticed that the most recent weight and balance update (about half a pound difference because of an autopilot repair) wasn't entered in the front of the journey log. I don't think it's legally required to be there. We carry all the official W&B docs already, but I updated it. There are lots of lines for updates.

The a tech comes by to ask if I need anything from the store. I say no, then think about it. There are still a couple of hours before we go flying so I should go out for a walk, and get some groceries. That reminds me that I have a phone message to cal my home grocery store, something I can do now because it is during business hours and I'm not in an airplane. And that's when I found out I almost won a car.

Last time I was home and bought a load of groceries, they came with coupons and things, including entry forms for a draw. I took the forms home, filled them all out, and then actually made a special trip to walk back to the store and put them all the barrel before the draw date. I remember folding them in my secret winning way, putting each form in and then turning the barrel before the next one, because you don't want them all in the same place. And it turns out that my name was drawn. (No I won't reveal my secret winning folding technique). Now I'm eligible for the draw-off between the winners from different stores, but I can't win the car because I have to be there in person for the final drawing. I asked if I could send a proxy in my place, but no, it has to be me.

My life is so exciting. This really describes the last five years, doesn't it? The end result is exactly the same as if I had stayed in one spot, but I've had the up and down of the roller coaster the whole way. You know what? I guess I still like roller coasters. As long as the ups and downs aren't so violent I am left bruised. I already have a car that I like and it's only five years old, so I probably would have sold the new one and given half the proceeds to charity, anyway.

Back when I was a kid I entered a contest and resolved that if I won I would give half of my winnings to charity. I won. It was a trip for two, and as I was a kid I had to take a parent, and that was a kind of lame way of giving away half, but the prize included spending money so I did gave half of that away. I think it was to the War Amps, because they helped kids that were missing arms or legs and I really liked having arms and legs, so it seemed like a good idea to help such kids out. I still remember my parents receiving the donation receipt addressed to "Mr. <MyLastName>" and asking each other puzzledly if they had sent a donation. They were calling it a "tax receipt" and I knew bad things happened if you didn't do your taxes properly so I 'fessed up to being the one who had made the donation. I'm not sure how a kid managed to send a donation. Perhaps I had received my spending money in traveller's cheques, or maybe I had a bank account that came with a chequebook. Anyway, giving away half of winnings or found money became my tradition, and I like to think that the ensuing karma makes me win a little more often than most.

Then I'm called to fly, before the rescheduled time that I was planning to have bought groceries before. I ask to eat first. The customer understands about fuelling both the airplane and the pilot, so agrees and I say I'll be back as soon as possible. I run down the block to Tim Horton's and inhale a sandwich on the way back, wiping the mayonnaise off my face before presenting myself with my flight bag ready to go. The client is surprised, "I thought I had longer."

"Take your time," I assure him. "I'm at your service, not vice versa." I am literally paid to wait for the client. Five minutes is nothing. A couple of hours isn't really either. Days is not unknown. Waiting for the client consumes a greater portion of my time than flying the plane for the client. I try to instill this in FOs when I fly charter. "If the customer is an hour late, the customer is on time. If we are one minute late, we are late." This applies more if the customer has chartered the airplane for the day, rather than for one flight in a day of flights for different people.

At the airplane I add oil to both engines, then give a quick passenger briefing. I know this guy has heard this a hundred times, so I make it amusing, advising him, for example, of the location of "onboard amenities for your pleasure" while pointing out the fire extinguisher and first aid kit. I show him the operation of the emergency exits, and then add "In case of emergency egress of bodily fluids we have pee bags, sick bags and kleenex." Saves clean-up if your pax know where to find that stuff.

The engines start beautifully and I call up Flight Services as I'm taxiing out. Just as I enter the single mid-runway taxiway, a Cherokee (small single-engine airplane) calls three minutes out. Eh. There's probably plenty of time for me to backtrack, turn around and take off, but I don't see him, and he might be closer than he thinks. I don't want to cut him off. I skootch over to the side of the taxiway so he can get by me as he comes off the runway, and announce that I'm holding short. Then the Cherokee makes another call, "I'm going to join downwind, or base, if that's okay?" Aargh. If he's still deciding how he's going to join the circuit, he's more than three minutes from landing. I should have gone. I could probably still go, but I wait. The FSS guy declines to advise Cherokee dude on circuit joining and Cherokee dude works it out for himself.

He lands, rolls out and just as I am considering keying the mike to ask him if he will have any trouble getting by me on the taxiway, the FSS guy asks him the same question. Nice situational awareness for someone who is talking to airplanes at three different airports, only one of which he can see. The Cherokee pilot says there is lots of room and goes by. I taxi out and as I'm backtracking I hear him asking, "where can I park?" The FSS guy tells him he can pull in anywhere around the edge of the apron. Next question, "I need fuel, is there a truck?" The FSS guy patiently explains the self-serve pumps. "Can I park here?" asks the pilot.

Finally the FSS guy points out, "I'm in Peace River. I can't actually see you, so it looks good to me." I'm at the numbers with pre-takeoff checks complete so I call rolling and add, "and we look good too." I check the clock and it took barely over a minute to enter the runway, backtrack, turn around and complete pretakeoff checks.

Not that I'm never that guy. But I try to read my publications closely enough in advance that I'm not that guy. Anyway I should have known how long it takes to backtrack a runway that size. I should know exactly how long things like that take me. Why don't I? I should time them all.

It's windy today at altitude, so tough to maintain proper groundspeed and engine temps too. And it's a bit bumpy. I eat almonds and sesame snacks. You know those Sezme things from Poland with four flat sticky wafers in one package? If you don't, you should, unless you're allergic to nuts or something. I love them. They are tasty, unsquishable, not damaged by melting or freezing and last forever in my flight bag. Well until I eat them.

The customer is talkative and friendly, which makes the day go well. He can live with the bumps. We talk to Ft. St. John radio for a bit and then come back to Peace River. They really have the picture over there. After six hours of flying in and out of the Dawson Creek area the person on the radio still knows who we are and what we are doing.

We circle above the airport for a bit. (Don't ask, it's one of the mysterious things we do). Just as I am ready to land, a medevac--might be the same crew as yesterday--calls nine minutes out. I start my timer to keep track of him and call, "Be down in five." I fly away from the airport in order to drop down and circle back. Big circle, because I have strict constraints on my bank angle today so can't crank it around like I'm flying an airplane. Nothing over twelve degrees. (Again, don't ask).

The five minute mark passes while I'm on final and I note that my wheels actually touch at 6:20 elapsed. I exit the runway and call clear, noting that that medivac was down at eleven something. I'm thinking everyone underestimates their time to the field. I'll bet those Peace River guys know that and can handicap us for it, too.

I approach the fuel pump just as a Cessna 180 pulls up. I offer to let him go first, but he demurs. I fuel the airplane. The fuel comes out the nozzle at a reasonable rate, but I need rather a lot of it. Hundreds of litres later, I shut off the fuel pump, and take my receipt. Instead of coiling the hose all up, I just move the unreeled part out of the way and lay the nozzle on the ground, because Cessna guy is still waiting, and this will be quicker and easier for both of us. I start up and pull away to park. I walk back by the pumps to apologize for taking so long and just then he is picking up the nozzle to fuel. It is somehow jammed on, and he gets fuel all over himself before he can shut it off. He says the nozzle was locked open, which is weird, because unlike car gas station nozzles, avgas nozzles don't have the lock-open tab. Plus I know I didn't lock it open, and I definitely turned off the fuel, because that's what triggers receipt printing. He doesn't blame me, which is good because I can't see any way that it is my fault. I commiserate and note that at least it's not Jet A. That stuff is nasty.

After pumping all that fuel I have to pee, but the terminal is locked, so I get in the truck and go back to the hotel. I had dinner with my co-worker at Boston Pizza, and told him about how I almost won a car.


Robert said...

I like reading your blog, thanks.

Unknown said...

Where I fly (Maine) everyone always announces in terms of distance from the airport, but in many cases minutes out would be more useful to know since the speed of the aircraft in question isn't always apparent. On the other hand, for situational awareness purposes knowing distance and a heading is also useful. Is that just a difference in local practice? Is there a way to communicate both time to arrival and current location succinctly? (Just a student so maybe I'm overlooking something obvious.)

Aviatrix said...

Miles is useful if you're both airborne in the same area, or giving a position to radar-equipped ATC, but consider that at the point I called six minutes out I was zero miles from the airport, directly overhead the centre of the runway. Someone three miles away on final might be two minutes from touchdown, while someone a mile away on downwind might be four minutes from landing. Minutes is what you're looking for when you're trying to efficiently schedule use of the runway.

Heading is generally useless to the point of hilarity, but bearing from a landmark, like the airport is useful, again if you're airborne and concerned about collision.

Minutes tells me if I have time to take off, how long I have to land before I'm forcing someone to slow up, or whether I'm risking wake turbulence.

And sure you can include more information, a typical call might be something like "CXYZ, King Air, eight miles west, planning right base to land one two in five minutes."

Aviatrix said...

Different places have different customs, too: distance, time, landmark ... In Yellowknife everyone reports their inbound radial. I hate it when everyone uses local landmarks.

Jim said...

ref. Local Landmarks:

On the first flight with my wife after getting my PPL we went on a local sightseeing tour. Nothing over about 25-30 miles from the airport. More of a great circle tour. It was January, so everything was frozen and snow covered.

Approaching Arnprior I hear someone is some miles north of the airport over the old golf course for landing. I'm northbound 5 miles south of the airport, 2000' AGL to pass overhead. Things should work out since he'll pass over the airport at 1000' AGL.

I have no idea where he is, since there are a dozen golf courses in the immediate area, I don't know which one is the old golf course, and they are all under snow anyway.

I do what I can - maintain altitude, veer away from the airport (since I was changing direction anyway I just turned earlier), and give a position call with a really good landmark (over the one railway bridge that crosses the river).

I'm waiting to hear a position report "Over the old Rogers farmhouse south of the airfield".

D.B. said...

I think the best answer is probably both distance and quadrant, as well as time. I like to know the distance, because it tells me where to look for the traffic.

So probably the best call is something like "Small Town Muni, NxxxA 10 miles south, planning left downwind runway 27 in 6 minutes." I'll start including ETE from now on, starting tomorrow as I fly home from where I am now.

gmc said...

Even ATC towers often use very localized landmarks: "Report over the silver church..." "Keep your base leg outside the power lines..."

When I'm new to an airport and don't identify these immediately, I just say so.

Dafydd said...

Since I recently piqued your ire regarding-the "Mixed Fuel" consignment - Two grades/One truck -Tractor/Trailer - Front/Back - Left/Right - whatever - I have been biting my tongue . But "There is no Avgas marking on the left tank" ? (earlier post). This is sloppy . I was surprised you were not surprised .

And in this post you meticulously -(as usual)- detail every action taken in refuelling - including the spillage incident - except - bonding the fuselage to an earthing point . Did you forget to mention it ? Do you not do that usually? Are your refuelling points not routinely equipped with earth bonding cables ? I am curious - I am actually startled - and I speak from a basis of thirty plus years experience in UK supply side airfield operations .

Not criticising - just asking .

Aviatrix said...

Daffyd: No ire, sorry if it seemed that way. I know different places have different rules. I recall I didn't understand the question at first, because they were using separate tanks. I know they use the same pipelines to transport all different grades.

Regarding the stickers, I was surprised, and I e-mailed the airport manager to report it, thinking that a sticker had worn off. He e-mailed back that there was no specific legal requirement for the tank to be marked, but that he would look into it. I guess there are some things I do in a day of interest to blog readers that don't always find their way into the posts.

While I was checking to see if I blogged about the e-mail exchange, I noticed that tomorrow I do mention the grounding wire. Yes, all avgas pumps have a grounding strap and the self-serve pumps require the pilot to press a key to confirm she has grounded the airplane before activating the pump.

Don't bite your tongue. Your contributions are appreciated, and if I'm grouchy it's because I'm tired and hungry, not because I didn't like your comment.

Dafydd said...

Gracious as ever - I love you again!

And I am very relieved about the ground wire procedure .

Chris said...

Thanks for the tip re Sezme. I'm tired of squished muffins. Muesli bars are more my go.

Michael5000 said...

How can one almost win a car if one doesn't have clients to talk to about the day's flying, though? Your how-to is cluttered with assumptions!

Aviatrix said...

Michael5000, you're right. I should shorten the post to simply: "Be me."