Sunday, July 18, 2010

More Evidence Pilots Can't Count to Three

Exactly eight hours after I put my head down on the pillow, the alarm tells me to wake up and go back to work. I get out of bed, switch on the computer, and put on my clothes while it reloads windows. And I see that the weather gods have rewarded me for my scrupulous adherence to duty time laws, as the fog at Regina has not materialized. Why should weather gods care about duty time? I don't know, but I feel virtuous so I accept the reward.

Breakfast will be a meal replacement bar out of my flight bag. A "company note" (flight itinerary) will stand in lieu of a flight plan. I call down to the front desk to let them know I am looking for an airport shuttle. It's on another mission and won't be back for over half an hour. Aargh. I come down to the desk and check out, asking about taxis. It turns out there's one sitting outside. That will do.

I ask the driver to take me to the airport, but not the passenger terminal, the Kelly FBO, "It used to be the Shell," I explain. He asks me which airport. "The big one, the international, Winnipeg International ..." Damnit, it has another name. Which dead politician or war hero is this one named after? "The one Air Canada flies into." Good thing he asked. I'd have hated to end up at a cropdusting strip or one of the flying school fields around here. I put my head down and start texting my flight follower. Then I look up. We're approaching the passenger terminal. "This is the wrong side," I explain. "I need to be on the other side of the runways, where the Esso is." The Esso hasn't changed names lately, I hope.

"You said the big airport," he counters.

And my realization dawns. To non-pilots the airport is not the place with the runways. It's the terminal. To him this is two separate airports, the one with the big airplanes and the one with the charter planes and scruffy pilots like me. He drives back around the runways and I'm at the FBO only a little later than I had planned. I've yet to find the perfect words to explain to cab drivers where I need to go.

I paid for my fuel last night, so I just go through and preflight the airplane. No water in the fuel, lots of oil in the engines (or maybe not and I added some). All the airplaney bits are still attached in the right order. I load my flight bag and overnight bag into the airplane and secure them in place, then open the CFS to get the clearance delivery frequency and check on any special departure procedures. And there is one I hadn't planned on. Aircraft not on a VFR flight plan must call flight services at least 30 minutes prior to departure, in order to obtain a transponder code. Sigh. I shut down. They're doing this everywhere now. I call clearance delivery and see if I can get away without one, but he is unbending. I call flight services on the radio and ask if I really have to wait half an hour. "Try in five minutes," he recommends. I start up again and then a guy comes by in an Esso truck and signals for me to shut down. I do so and he tells me there's something on the ground by the plane. I open the door and look and it's the little bag in which I keep my wallet, licence and passport. It fell out of my flight bag while I was loading. I thank him profusely and check to make sure my head is screwed on.

Restart the engines. Clearance delivery has my transponder code, ground gives me a prompt and easy taxi clearance, and tower clears me for takeoff. Vroom into the sky I go, approved for a left turnout. There's a little bit of mist over the ground, in low spots, but other than that it's a lovely day. I climb out to some bush pilot like low altitude and level off. I hear a call from a flight number "911." I think it may be that company's standard medevac flight number, but they do have a 9-1-1 of sort. They also have just taken off and are requesting a return for landing because of fuel leaking visibly out of the tank caps. Someone else is having one of those mornings. They decline all emergency services, fire trucks and other offers of assistance. I think I would have left off the reason for my return in my request, and just let ATC be curious.

About 50 miles outside of Regina I make a call to traffic on 126.7. It's not strictly necessary, as I'm going to call tower in a few minutes and they will provide traffic information in the vicinity of their control zone, but it's what I'd do in the bush approaching an airport, so I do it here. A voice answers with my real name, recognizing my voice even though it's been a long time. It's a mentor, my very first aviation mentor. The guy who gave me a postcard with an A319 on it on my first cockpit visit. He is so awesome. He gives me his phone number and I promise to call tontight.

I copy the Regina ATIS and call tower. They sequence me and ask me if my destination is apron II. I look at the airport diagram in the CFS and see apron I opposite the terminal, apron IV way down taxiway Charlie, and II and III down that way too. I'm not sure which of II, III or IV is right, but it's down that way, so I answer in the affirmative. I'm cleared to land, do so and then call ground.

Ground gives me taxi instructions that don't gyve with my destination. I look at the CFS diagram now that I'm not flying an airplane, and realize that the area I'm looking at isn't marked II and III, but is marked III in two different places. Apron II is off on the opposite side of the terminal. I call back and admit that I can't count past two and need to taxi the other direction, which he approves. It's twenty to eight as I pull up, but there is no one waiting impatiently for me. I've made it. I shut down and fill out the journey log.


Sarah said...

Very quiet in the comments lately. Everyone must be on vacation.

Really, you call 50 miles out on 126.7? Seems like a long distance call, and in earshot of dozens of airports. But then maybe I'm used to the packing of frequencies & airports in the continental US.

I'm glad you could get together with your mentor... hope we hear more about it.

Really, you counted to 3 just fine, just not to "III". Who ever heard of roman numerals in aviation, anyway? " November IX II Bravo Tango on the 45 to left downwind runway 36 ..."

Aviatrix said...

The fifty miles call was not so much an "I'm coming into Regina" call as an "I'm out here" call. I wanted to clean up my radios before I got there. If Regina had had an MF I would have made the 126.7 call and then the MF call about 30 miles out. Someone who had departed Regina for Winnipeg coming towards me on the opposite track would be set up in cruise, monitoring 126.7, and anyone in the vicinity of all those other airports would know where they were in relation to "fifty miles east of Regina." I want to call Regina tower five minutes or so before entering their zone, and I'll be starting a descent soon.

Because students only go a few miles from their home bases, and don't climb to en route sort of altitudes, they often feel obliged to get the ATIS, call tower, and do their top of descent checks all in the same five miles outside the airspace. I figure being ATC is like playing Tetris and the more pieces you can look ahead, the better you can plan.

Aviatrix said...

And ya, Sarah, everyone must be out of town. Maybe I should take a week off.

Hannah said...

"All the airplaney bits are still attached in the right order."
That made me LOL for real! :)

Also, I agree about trying to get taxi-drivers to go to FBO after months of working on oil-charter operations. Very frustrating.

Rhonda said...

I had to give turn by turn directions to the taxi driver to get to the FBO once. Fortunately I knew the turns!

UnwiseOwl said...

Don't take a week off! We want to hear all about your reunion with your instructor and your adventures in Regina!