Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Those Are Jelly Beans In Your Tanks

I see from the journey log that the airplane got back late last night. It would have been outside my duty day. There's still enough time left on the airframe for my flight. I do all my preflight things, including splitting the last litre of oil between the engines, and we go out and once again do what we do. Thanks to my groceries, I have a new strategy for tracking time and fuel, because once the power is set, fuel is time. I have a baggie of gourmet jelly beans (told you everything looked good at the grocery store) tucked into a pocket of my flight bag, and every twenty minutes I get to eat one. While it's tucked into the pocket, I can't see into the bag, so I make a game of what colour the next one will be. The mission specialist plays too, but he gets fed up because there are too many weird colour ones. It's pretty hard to predict "yellow with green spots." I can't even figure out what some of them taste like. I wanted normal-style jelly beans, but they were among the things at that grocery store that didn't look so good.

I land with five jelly beans to spare, and offer the specialist his choice, or all of them if he wants. He pretends he's going to take a black one. During the flight I mentioned that the black ones were my favourite, so he's actually just saying that to tease me. He takes some other colour and I eat the rest while waiting for the computers to shut down.

Off to my right a pilot reports on final, "Landing two four on the grass."

Peace River radio instructs him to, "Report off runway." This amuses me, because he's not landing on the runway, so he'll never be on it. He lands on the grass beside the runway. The airplane is a taildragger on tundra tires, so pavement would reduce his directional control and put unnecessary wear on the soft tires.

Someone else calls, "Landing two four on the water," but I can't remember if he was asked to report off runway.

I pull up to the fuel pumps and shut down my engines. I swipe the fuel card. The stupid pump, I might have mentioned earlier, wants me to enter my "tail number" so it can print it on the receipt. That may be okay for the Americans who can just tap it in on the number pad, but I'm not into hitting the arrow keys enough times to spell out all the letters of a Canadian ident. I just bang on one number a few times and hit enter. I think today I'm 1-1-1.

I don't know why they ask for that. I suppose there are various reasons. Some people who get reimbursed for fuel have to prove they bought it and didn't just pick up a left-behind receipt, so they'd have to put their whole tail number in. I assume the information is available to the FBO, and they might track how much fuel was purchased by which customers so they could advertise to them or give them loyalty bonuses. If you crashed later I'm sure the TSB could use it check to see if you bought fuel there for an estimate of how much was on board, in case there was a possibility that your fuel status played a role in the accident. And if the fuel from that tank turned out to be contaminated, they could contact all the pilots who had recently fuelled there to help prevent accidents. But most days I assume it's just there to annoy me. Tomorrow I'll be 2-2-2 or 5-5-5.

After I confirm that the airplane is grounded and specify avgas, the next on-screen prompt asks how many gallons I want. I know my fuel needs in both litres and gallons, because I work in Canada and the US. but the button says litres. Which does it really want? I guess that the prompt should be in litres too, and that the hardware has been localized but not the software. I enter the number of litres I want and it displays a total price that makes sense for litres, so I press the confirm button. After an irritatingly long pause it verifies the credit card and sends power to the pump so I can open the valve.

My fellow pilot arrives. He's taking the airplane to Edmonton again, this time for scheduled maintenance. This time we knew about the flight in advance, so I left him my hotel card key and he put some of his gear in my room before checking out. We finish up fuelling and I clean the windshield for him.

I like clean windshields. I once gave a student a major penalty for presenting me with an airplane as fit to fly when the windshield was almost opaque with bugs. Then he was surprised when I asked him to go and clean it before the flight. I found out that his regular instructor regularly complained about dirty windshields, but had never waited and made him actually clean it. The student didn't even know where the cleaning supplies were kept. The instructor, in an attempt to keep to his schedule, had inadvertently taught the student that clean windshields were nice, but not worth doing anything to achieve.

I wish him a good flight and head back to the hotel, knowing I'll have a day off tomorrow while the airplane is at the spa.


Unknown said...

I'd make a game of entering the "tail" numbers.

Enter N29000 or N28000 and let them try to figure out how Air Force One got onto the field without anyone noticing.

Or use ZE395 which is "HRH Queen Alexander", one of "The Queen's Flight".

Or... Earhart's NR16020

Victoria said...

Haha! I love Tommy's approach and entering famous tail numbers, way to confuse (or excite) the FBO! I think I may give your jellybean game a try, too! I'd sneak some Harry Potter jellybeans and surprise your co-pilot with "pepper" or "booger" flavored jellybeans! :)

D.B. said...

N707JT (John Travolta's Boeing 707 in Qantas colo[u]rs).

N747PA (the first B747 in service with Pan Am)

G-BOAC (a BA Concorde, but hard to enter)

BTW, Air force 1 doesn't use "N"; they are just 29000 and 28000

Corey said...

Yuck... the black ones!! I much rather the red ones or the "barbe a papa" (sorry I don't know how to say that in english) ones... I think they're usually pink. Also in the gourmet pack I believe there's a type of cheese one which is good. But black... c'mon!

Unknown said...

@D.B. correct. My error. Thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

The "famous tail number" strategy sounds like what I do on some websites that demand a "zip code": enter "90210." I wouldn't try 29000 on such a pump in the US, though; it might get you arrested as a terrorist.

What do aircraft on floats do after landing? Is there a canal all the way to the ramp? Or are there ramps (in the amphibian aerodrome sense) at each end of the water runway to let you roll the the aircraft out?

Aviatrix said...

Curt Sampson: As a Canadian on the web, I've used 90210 many a time to satisfy nosy websites. Maybe that will be my new tail number. I can't quite imagine anyone monitoring FBO databases to see if I'm impersonating the president.

Someone asked about float plane egress in a previous comment thread. I'm afraid I didn't look very carefully. When I was taking off or landing I was paying attention to that, and once on the ground it wasn't really visible form the wheels side of the airport. Airports are big. I think there was a dock off to the side where they could tie up and get fuel, and presumably if there was an emergency there was somewhere that an airplane could be hauled or lifted out, but I think in general they land, fuel, maybe overnight and then fly away without removing the airplane from the water.

Anonymous said...

I too doubt that anybody's "monitoring" in any sort of official way the tail numbers that people put into gas pumps. But all it takes is for someone somewhere to notice a "suspicious" tail number. Remember, "If you see something, say something."

As you can see, the terrorists have done a pretty good job of getting the Americans to install fear in me. :-/

On a Wing and a Whim said...

Asking for your tail number actually has to do with taxes - that is, avgas is legally excempt from a lot of road gas taxes (because you're not using the highways) and subject to the airport improvement fund taxes (because, presumably, you're using airports).

However, avgas makes a fine poor man's drag race fuel for high compression engines, as well as a guaranteed ethanol-free fuel for boats and lawnmowers and things, so when the IRS starts getting suspicious that people are avoiding "Their Proper Taxes" and engaging in "Unauthorized Use of Fuel" and other over-capitalized bureaucratic crimes, the FBO's first and main line of defense at self-serve pumps is to brandish the list of tail numbers and say "See? Only bought by airplanes! Don't fine us!"