Thursday, September 30, 2010

Runway Ten

And it's time to go back to work. can't find any flights into my destination, but I've flown there before and I know the airline that goes there still serves it. They must have had a fight with the Expedia people. I book the connecting flight separately and then work on the leg into the boondocks. I was going to say disdainful things about the little airline, but one of my friends works there, so I'll just bitch about their website. The customer service staff are wonderful, obviously the pilots are terrific (you'd better appreciate this if you're reading, girl), but the website really sucks. It's hard to find flights that go where you're going unless you're familiar with the route structure, and then when you buy a ticket there's a blank box that says "Enter Terms and Conditions here." It's the same level of not- caring demonstrated by spammers who begin their missives with "Dear %name%." Do they never look at the hideousness of their own website? I enter a constructive comment on the feedback form and it responds with an error message instructing me to use the latin alphabet. I did. No accented characters at all. I try again, gradually eliminating top row symbols, numerals, and all punctuation, but the box keeps urging me to restrict myself to the latin alphabet. I call up an online English to Latin translation site and copy from it the Latin translation result of "This is the worst air ship site ever." When I paste that into the comment form, the website stops responding to inputs all together.

I reload it in a new tab, and now the flight I found earlier is listed as unavailable. I pick up the phone and speak to one of the ever -helpful customer service agents, who completes the transaction. And then the next day--yes that's the sort of notice I get of where I'm going--I get on a plane.

At the connecting airport I have to go all the way down to the end of a terminal and go outside to board the airplane. It's a tight connection--maybe that's why Expedia wouldn't approve it--and I run all the way down the concourse and show my boarding pass through the gate onto the ramp. There are two airplanes parked there: one is a Dash-8, like it says on my ticket, but is not the right airline. The other is the same airline as it says on my ticket, but is not the right type. I walk towards the one that is the right airline and the captain puts his head out the window to ask where I'm going, then directs me back to the Dash-8. I guess they are subcontractors.

This Dash-8 is familiar. This is the same Dash-8 that skirt woman was so vigourously defending in Dawson Creek. And guess where we are landing enroute to refuel: Dawson Creek! I don't disembark there, but I crane my neck looking for skirt woman. I don't see her but I want to run to the doorway and yell, "I'm SECURE! I'm coming from VANCOUVER!"

I'm a good little passenger and stay in my seat. There's an interesting passenger announcement while we are there, directing all passengers to remain seated and unfasten our seatbelts during fuelling. It's obviously to facilitate emergency evacuation in the case of a fulling accident, but I've never encountered this before. The CARs forbid fuelling with passengers on board unless it is in compliance with the company operations manual, which means that a company needs individual approval from Transport Canada and a set of procedures in their company manual regarding how it is to be done. Evidentally this company has included seatbelts unfastened in their manual.

As we depart I can see that there is a big white X on the grass in front of the water landing area. An X is the 'closed' symbol for airport maneuvering areas, and sure enough when I get a chance to check the NOTAMs for the airport I see that it is closed until the 6th of October.

1007060600 TIL APRX 1010061800

No explanation is included. The water looked full of algae, but it probably always does. There was plenty of water, it's nowhere near freeze-up. I suppose there could have been some kind of construction going on, but nothing I noticed that would justify closing one of the few fuel stops for float planes on the Alaska Highway route.

We have a quick hop to destination, then it turns out there's another airplane that beat us to the airport and it's on the IFR approach, so we hold. You really don't know the difference between turning and straight in a properly coordinated airplane with no visual reference. We get our approach clearance and land. I think the airplane that we had to wait for was the same one that I didn't gt on in Vancouver.

I collect my bags, which somehow made it, and call the hotel shuttle. The guy at the hotel asks my to clarify which part of the airport I'm at. Aha! They know it's not all about the passenger terminal. The shuttle picks me up and then stops again at an ATCO trailer to pick up three people who arrived in a C172. They are VFR and the weather to the south is too iffy for them. It looks nice here now. I mean it's raining, but a decent ceiling. Yet I know how nasty it can get around here. Also it's July and I'm wearing a heavy jacket, the one I wear in January. Love the north.

I check into the hotel. My room not ready, but at least they have a booking for me this time. The airplane is not here yet. Another pilot is bringing it. I sit down in the lobby and make some local calls, phoning around to find hangar space for scheduled maintenance. Someone has a hangar, but isn't sure that the airplane will fit inside. I know my dimensions, and they say yes, they've had this type in the hangar before, some fit, some don't. Does it have a high beacon on top of the tail? I have a photo of the airplane that will be coming here on my iPod and I zoom in to look. Yes, it has a beacon on the top of the vertical stabilizer. We'll see, maybe we can maneuver it in.

I go for a meal (perogies) and then get into my room and e-mail the other pilot about what I've learned about hangar space. He says nope, the airplane doesn't have that beacon anymore. It stopped working and instead of repairing it they took it off, capped off the hole, and replaced it with a multi LED belly beacon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Them's the Brakes

Back home from what was salvageable from my vacation break, I'm now packing to go back to work. I'm always either living out of a suitcase or packing or unpacking one. There's an empty brake pad box in the bottom of my suitcase with writing on the inside. I must have thought it was terribly important to record for posterity. "Walkaround. AME inflating nosewheel, inspecting work done yesterday, brake disk, brake pads, fuel, break in, three airlines arriving one behind the other, us, exit, cooling period, test, happy, depart."

I remember that. The nosewheel tire pressure was low and the AME was inflating it while we did the walkaround. I'm often trying to start a walkaround inspection while my airplane is still being put back together, or even end up putting the airplane back together as part of my walkaround. Gotta love it when you find a part on the wing or lying in the cabin and have to ask, "Does this need to go back somewhere?" I should keep a spare spark plug in my flight bag for the purpose of frightening AMEs.

We use the metallic brake pads, described in the right hand column in the picture. Typically the brake pads are changed as part of a scheduled inspection so an engine run up is required too. In such a case I will run up the engines then do the brake conditioning on the runway and then taxi back and shut down, using the break for leak checking as the cooling period, then checking the brakes again before departure.

It occurs to me that people who can't spell well enough to know the difference between taking a break, braking to a stop and breaking in the brakes may be confused by this post. Spelling is important, folks.

You've probably noticed a lot of typos and mismatched sentences lately. I've been blogging offline due to terrible internet and using Notepad, which has no spellchecking capability so it doesn't catch my frequent letter transpositions, and sometimes scrolling goes amok, so the insertion point for editing is not where it appears to be. Sorry about that. I know spelling is important for good communications.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wreck Vacation, Not Airplane

Flight test day dawns. I drive out to the airport early, preflight the airplane, and use their computers to get the weather and NOTAM for the flight. I use their printer, because on an exam you need to show the examiner where you have obtained your data, and be able to explain the bases for your decisions.

Abbotsford is riddled with NOTAMs, the ILS is out of service, most of the taxiways are closed, all the TODA/TORA/ASDA/LDA runway distances are amended, the PAPI is out, the fire response service is downgraded, and there's probably an unlighted tower somewhere, there always is. I also look at the NOTAM for the airport where I'll be doing my ILS approach and at my alternate. They both have some closures considerably more significant than unlighted towers. In fact one is so significant that I lead the flight test with it.

I meet the examiner, and introductions out of the way, I present him my problem and proposed solution. The radar is out at Victoria. The NOTAM warns that FLT WITHIN 80 NM RADIUS MAY BE DENIED ROUTING AND/OR ALT REQUESTS. A flight test has a reasonable amount of priority, so we can go there, but all the arrivals require either RNAV or radar vectors, and I haven't spent any time learning or using the installed GPS. I suggest to the examiner that we file RNAV so that we can legally do the approach, but that I use conventional nav aids and he give me the minimum help required to close the STAR (that is get through the portion of the flight that requires either radar or RNAV), so we don't have to cancel. examiners rarely want to cancel tests, especially once they are already there and it's not Friday afternoon, so he agrees.

We start with the oral portion of the exam. It appears that I have somewhat forgotten how to play the game of taking an exam. I'm answering the questions the way I would to another pilot who was just asking me about the decisions I made, as opposed to demonstrating that I know the rules and the full reasons for each stage. For example I have planned one leg at 4000'. The examiner asks why. I grin sheepishly and say, "Because I'm a bush pilot." It's the lowest legal altitude for that leg, and when you're constantly doing short legs it's not efficient to climb to altitudes that make sense on longer legs. This isn't a very long leg, but perhaps it would have been more elegant to do it at 6000', the next legal altitude up.

The examiner says, "Wrong answer," and suddenly I realize that the question isn't asked with the assumption that I know that my choices are four, six or eight. I re-answer the question explaining that the minimum enroute altitude to guarantee obstacle clearance and nav aid reception is 3500' and that for the westward direction of flight an even thousand is required, and that I have chosen four thousand, because it is a relatively short leg and not worth the time to climb higher. That's the right answer.

He asks me the expected question about the weather requirements for my alternate, Vancouver International, and I lead with an interesting situation presented by the NOTAM there. Vancouver has three runways with five ILSes among them. But three ILSes are NOTAMed unserviceable and one is NOTAMed unauthorized, leaving only one operational ILS approach. The rules allow for different alternate minima depending on whether the airport in question has one or more than one usable ILS approaches. I say I am going to use the minima applicable to two usable approaches, and here is my reasoning. The purpose of the rule is to hedge against something going wrong with the one usable instrument approach in bad weather. The reason the runway 12 approach is not authorized is that it converges with the approved approach in use, and presumably some issue of equipment, personal or regulations doesn't permit them to have airplanes on approach to converging runways at the same time. But if the 26L approach went belly up, the runway 12 approach would no longer be converging. It presumably works fine, just isn't approved, but they could approve it and assuming the winds are as light as forecast, it would be perfectly usable. The examiner follows and agrees with my logic so then I demonstrate the arithmetic required to determine the minimum weather to file this as an alternate.

He asks me what other alternates I could choose and I point out that if the weather permitted, a better alternate might be Victoria, because being a company destination there would be facilities there for our passengers and airplane, and we wouldn't be hit with exorbitant landing and ramp fees. He says Vancouver isn't too bad that way, but where else could we land? There's Bellingham. I tell him I was just there last week, and they have an ILS. There would be a lot of customs and homeland security hassles, but provided you keep your hands visible and don't make any sudden movements, that's not going to kill you the way running out of usable airports will. "And where else could you land?" I'm scouring the chart now. The airplane carries quite a bit of fuel, so I start looking at airports in a wider and wider radius, trying to find ILS approaches. If everything here on the coast were fogged in we could go inland. I put aside the terminal chart and look for something to the east. I'm not sure what he's getting at here. He asks about Nanaimo. It's a long enough runway, served by an NDB approach that has a bend in it. He wants to know the minima for filing that as an alternate.

I look at the plate. It has one non- precision approach with a straight in minimum of 880 feet asl (798 agl) and an advisory visibility of 2 1/2 miles. To file it as an alternate aerodrome, assuming the weather allows a straight in approach, the forecast weather needs to be "600 and 2 or 300 and 1" above the MDA and advisory visibility, whichever is greater. That is a forecast ceiling of 798 + 300 = 1098 at least 1100' and a forecast visibility of at least three miles. (Two and a half plus one is three and a half, but the rules max out at a three mile visibility requirement). He accepts my answer and asks, "what else is that called?" I get the frowny face of concentration. It's not standard alternate minima. He supplies the answer, "It's called VFR." He's just underscoring the fact that Nanaimo is a pretty horrible alternate. Heck, I knew that. He was the one who suggested it.

The ground work is actually very fair and pretty easy. Thanks, Oak. Thanks, years of experience. Thanks, remembering to study.

We talk about the actual flight and what I will be required to do. He says that any options or questions put forward by ATC are mine to choose or answer. As long as I demonstrate what has to be demonstrated I can choose full procedure or vectors and any approaches I want. As this is a renewal I do not need to demonstrate a circling approach, so I can fly straight in if I like. I like.

I go to file the flight plan and the radar is back on line, so I can fly into Victoria without cheating. It's time to go to make the filed departure time.

I ask the examiner what he wants me to do about the fact that the VORs are impossible to identify on the ground. He asks me if they worked last time I flew. "That was a week ago, but you did a flight test yesterday, did they work then?" They did and that turns out to be good enough for both of us.

I start up and successfully do all the required checks and get my clearance. Take off, climb, remember to advance throttles to maintain manifold pressure on no-turbocharged airplane, accept vectors, intercept airway, get ATIS, accept assigned arrival, switch VORs at the noted point on the airway, fly outbound on the published radial, accept vectors to the localizer, reduce power for the 110 kt ILS approach speed, intercept localizer, intercept glideslope, gear down, adjust power, enrich mixtures, make tiny changes to maintain glideslope. This is going well.

We're about seven miles back on the glideslope (yes, they vector you into next week here) and the examiner asks me when I expect to be switched from terminal to tower. Any time now, I guess. He tells me to ask and I do. They tell me to switch now. Later he tells me that they asked me to switch earlier but that it was a poor call on their part, faint and badly worded. He only heard it because he expected it there, and they didn't ensure I received it. It may also have something to do with the fact that the brand new batteries for my noise cancelling headset are in my purse in the back seat of the airplane and not in my headset. The noise cancelling cut out all together on the approach. I can change them in flight, but now is not a good time. I pass the beacon but don't switch over to the missed approach frequency. Oak recommended against it here, as a distraction. There are enough distractions. Tower gives me a bunch of verbiage on short final, about where the traffic is, and not to descend below minima because there is a B737 positioning on the runway, something like that. I respond, as I am required to, distracting me just enough that I deviate from the ideal flight path. I get it back on before decision height but it's enough to makes the ILS approach score a 3 instead of a perfect 4. The examiner later says that the tower always does that, making it a slight rant to the effect that they have no idea how busy we are right then. He's one of the examiners who is on the candidate's side, cheering for them to pass.

I've already been briefed that I won't see the runway at decision height, so I call "minima no contact" and shove everything up without looking out at the runway, presumably right in front of me and adorned with a shiny Boeing. This is a nice easy missed approach, straight ahead with five miles in which to clean up the airplane and switch to and identify the NDB to which I have to turn next. Only I can't identify it. It's a steady barrage of static. I really cannot honestly say I hear any Morse code in there. I stab at the certified GPS receiver in the airplane and find the beacon only a few entries down the nearest column and turn direct using that. Then I second guess myself and wonder if that's cheating, seeing as I am claiming to be doing this without RNAV. Here is the one thing I know I have learned about IFR in the last ten years: ATC is your friend. I tell them them I am "unable to identify" the NDB and ask for a vector. They give me one right to where I'm going, making life easier. I can't quite reach the bag on the back seat. Maybe it fell on the floor. In real life, either the bag with batteries etcetera would be on the right seat where I could reach it, or I could ask the person in the right seat to "find me the batteries in that bag on the back." But it's a flight test, so he is not allowed to help me.

I get the ATIS for Abbotsford, five knots on the tail for 07, sounds like a straight in for me. I copy a hold clearance for the Whatcom beacon. It's an easy direct entry to the published hold, and I double check the radial so I don't screw up like last time. except I do. I manage to track inbound on my expect further clearance time. It's only about fifteen degrees off the assigned one, but seriously! It takes a special talent to screw up like Aviatrix. I think the appropriate three letter abbreviation here is FML. And that's not on the aviation abbreviations list linked at right. It's probably on Urban Dictionary though. The examiner has me check the track again and after I fix it allows me to get through with a barely passing two for my idiocy.

I accept ATC's offer of vectors for the straight in NDB 07 approach, and chop and drop for the beacon crossing. Of course that's where I get the engine failure: control, power drag identify, verify, feather and secure, while plummeting out of the sky to make the MDA before the timer tells me I should see the runway. I start to advance my one remaining throttle two hundred feet above MDA, because you can always go down more, but you can't go up more after a bust. He tells me I have runway in sight before I have completed the level off, so I reduce the throttle again and put down gear and approach flap. I can't remember if I used the final stage of flaps, but that's optional on a single engine landing, anyway. It's on the runway, it's straight, and the only thing I really screwed up was the hold, which he has already implied did not flunk me.

I exit on D, one of the two available taxiways on the whole airport, and call for taxi clearance. It's granted, and as I pull forward something catches my eye. The artificial horizon, hub of my pathetic little instrument scan has just rolled over and died. These things happen. This one could have happened in a turn while I was intercepting the inbound track on the NDB approach, or as the engine failed. I don't know that I would have caught it, disregarded it and re-established a scan in time to stay inside all the lines. It could have happened in hard IMC with a real engine failure and no one beside me, too. When the instrument that has at least sixty percent of a pilot's attention, and which the pilot follows almost without conscious thought, rolls over and dies, you can guess what a lot of pilots do. It's remarkable that after all these years my bag of luck still has some left. I'm not confident I would have passed that flight test partial panel.

The examiner leaves the plane telling me "no suspense, you passed," and I secure it then go inside for the debrief. He criticises my descent rate and choice of a straight in landing, saying that if I had looked at the windsock I would have seen more like ten knots than the five that was on the ATIS, but he admits that with the long runway I had leeway and that I landed it safely. "You would have done better to circle," he says. I don't admit to him that I doubt that. But I should have considered that five knots on the tail is a bigger chunk for the training aircraft than the one I work in.

My other score of two was a full on boneheaded move, again not playing the game of the flight test and completely not getting into the role. When asked what I would do in the event of an alternator failure I discussed landing ASAP and reducing electrical load. IN this airplane you do not cycle the alternator, and I knew that, but instead of pulling out or even mentioning the freaking emergency checklist, I spent a couple of minutes musing over the relative power draw of the old time analog radios and the big screen and sleek modern electronics of the GPS navcom. If he had said "simulated: you have an alternator failure" or I witnessed the alternator fail, I would have gone through the checklist item by item. But I treated it like a conversation and ignored the obvious stuff, just skipping to the interesting question of what had the greatest electrical draw. I was just out to lunch. I promise that in real emergencies I DO use my freaking checklist, memory items first then the piece of laminated paper, right to the end. Moron.

The rest was threes and fours, any minor error loses you the four: a little altitude loss here, a few degrees of track there. If anyone can hand fly perfectly for two hours at a time, then feel free to feel superior to me. You are. All fours on the ground, though. I know things. I just have to do them.

Finish the paperwork, get the licence signed (there's a space in the new booklet for him to sign, and he says Transport will send me a sticker), and back to the lake. Now I can relax and vacation. If you were ever wondering, being on vacation at a fabulous place does make an instrument renewal better, but not nearly to the same degree as renewing your instrument rating takes the sweetness out of being on vacation. I do not recommend it. But it's done. Until the company gets its act in gear and we have to do real PPC renewals, or RNAV rides or who knows we get a new type and I have to PPC on that. Probably in November right before I go to Cambodia, or something else crazy just to distract you from thinking, "Damn, this chick can't fly at all!"

Meanwhile, on the topic of wrecking airplanes, I'm unfamiliar with the landing gear extension system in the Piper Saratoga. Does anyone have information or theories as to why this one was landed with the gear retracted after an engine failure? Is gear extension totally dependent on engine-driven hydraulics, with no manual back up? Is the gear susceptible to not locking down properly if electrical power is removed before the squat switch registers weight on wheels? My first guess was that in the excitement of the forced approach the pilot neglected to extend the gear, but there's a brief interview with the pilot in which he expresses satisfaction with the landing as an outcome of his training. He also doesn't act the way I expect someone would if he executed a beautiful forced approach and then emergency responders collapsed the landing gear by pushing in the wrong place. The fire chief is quoted saying, "He did a good job landing that plane," and most of the headlines call it a smooth landing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nitpicking for Success

The day before the flight test, I call to find out what route I must plan, the examiner's weight, form and amount of payment for the examiner, and similar details

The route is Abbotsford to Victoria to Abbotsford, as the flight instructor expected it would be. I fill out the flight plan form and as much as I can of the nav log as I can in advance. I wish I'd brought a copy of my own company OFP sheet instead of having to use the school's unfamiliar nav log. It has some irritating little inconsistencies in it that make it difficult to complete with logical consistency. For example, the nav log has a column for "fuel" and there for each leg of the flight I enter the expected fuel consumption, in gallons. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but over in the Fuel Analysis box, a different section of the form, I'm asked for "climb" and "flight" fuel separately. Does that mean I should have divided each box in the nav log to show climb fuel as a separate amount? Should the nav log have started at the first enroute nav aid after the initial climb? Or should I have filled out the nav log as though no climbing was required and then added the climb fuel separately in the Fuel Analysis box? I choose to put the actual expected burn in the nav log and then just approximate how much of that was climb and cruise to separate the numbers in Fuel Analysis. The fuel analysis also asks for Taxi/Runup fuel, Reserve fuel. Under those is a box for Total Req'd. You just add Taxi/Runup, Climb, Flight and Reserve to get that. Underneath Total Req'd is a box for Additional fuel on board, and underneath all that is a box labelled T/O Fuel. This implies that you add Additional to Total Req'd to get Take-Off, but that's wrong, because Total Req'd includes Taxi/Runup, which is burned before take-off. You have to add Climb, Flight, Reserve and Additional. or add Additional to Req'd and then subtract Taxi/Run up. Then you can multiply the take-off fuel by six pounds per gallon and complete the weight and balance portion, which then allows you to calculate the take-off and landing distances and other performance numbers. Geez, it's a lot more work when you don't use block fuel. And the numbers are so small, given that it's in gallons not pounds, and it's a little training airplane. I don't use fractional gallons, just round everything up to the nearest full gallon.

I have all my charts and checklists in order, and am ready to go for tomorrow.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Depending on Technology

Studying up on my procedures in AIM 3.16, I'm boggled by how much has happened in the last ten years. When I started flying, RNAV means either inertial nav or maybe the system where a direct route was calculated from the relative position of multiple VORs. Selective availability was still a factor, so the idea of doing precision instrument approaches using GNSS was ludicrous. It's a little difficult for me to take the level of sophistication of current RNAV instrument procedures seriously.

Technological change is part of the package of being a pilot, and I berate myself for goggling at the GNSS advances when pilots retiring today went from purely mechanical fuel control units and cables and pushrods to fly by wire electronic airplanes. And then I argue back that no matter how many computers are packed on board, maxing out the already upgraded electrical system, I'm still flying mid-20th century technology, and should I get off my butt and activate favours and hard work to get into an actual airliner someday, I will have to make the same jump in technology as did the Beaver pilots Air Canada hired in the 1970s.

It's getting easier, not harder to fly an airplane safely. I have genuine admiration for the pilots who flew in the far north by dead reckoning, the sun and stars, and the occasional assistance from their compasses, near useless at those latitudes. They probably groused when they had to learn how to tune the ADF and fly instrument approaches, and I can imagine complaining at the dizzying complexity of the VOR, even though a VOR approach is much more precise than an NDB approach.

On the topic of dizzying, how about Laval St. Germain, the director of flight operations for Canadian North (fantastic airline), who recently made the first Canadian ascent of Mount Everest without oxygen. That link is worth reading, a good interview not just who/where/when. I kind of suspect that St. Germain is the kind of guy who, when flying a non-pressurized aircraft without an oxygen mask doesn't hit a timer the moment he climbs through 10,000' to make sure he's back below it within the regulation thirty minutes. I think he might laugh at me when he saw me do that. I was once asked the time of useful consciousness at some altitude, in an airline interview. I didn't know the answer, but I'd love to see them ask Laval St. Germain that. It seems that such things are quite variable.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Going for the Goldilocks

The first time I ever renewed my instrument rating I did poorly on the ground portion. I think because I had just aced all the airline transport pilot exams and the instrument rating exam itself didn't seem that long in the past, I felt I knew the material and that it was easy. But while being grilled by the examiner I wasn't properly prepared to apply the concepts. It's a terrible feeling, and I think it was the look of horror on my face as I realized that I was not able to rattle off the answers I should know that made the examiner pass me on the ground. He debriefed me with words to the effect of "I know you'll learn that better now." I believe I have scored perfect marks on the ground on every instrument ride and PPC since, so he was correct. I never take it for granted that I know the material anymore.

This flight test will be an instrument renewal, not a PPC, which is subtly different and I haven't done an instrument renewal for quite a few years, because a PPC counts as a renewal if you ask the examiner to check that box, and there are few circumstances when you wouldn't want him to. So I'm nervous about what I might be asked that I haven't been asked on PPCs, which usually focus more on the airplane itself than on the general instrument questions. I leaf through the CAP GEN and other publications, looking for the killer questions. What has been updated that I haven't paid attention to? I know I can refer to this booklet during the the exam, just as I can in real life, but I don't know what I don't know. I book a briefing with Oak and ask him to quiz me hard to find what I don't know.

He asks me questions and tunes up some of my answers, suggesting much better, thorough answers. He asks me some GPS questions, even though I've opted not to use an unfamiliar GPS on the flight test. We go through the CAP [instrument apporach plate booklet] looking for tricky procedures. I've been to lots of places and keep getting off track telling him stories.

He also examines my calculations and chides me for estimating. I'm used to doing everything in block fuel and rounding in the safest direction, only resorting to exact amounts if the generous block fuel allowances are very close to not being enough fuel. I promise to do it properly for the exam. He thinks he has found an error in my chase chart landing distance calculation, but I suggest that he may have used the take-off weight and winds for the landing calculation, and he did. The nav log should make it clearer what values you are using to calculate. It's an easy slip to make, and a scared candidate on an exam might not realize that the examiner used the wrong starting values, and would accept an error. Or more importantly for real life, a crewmember should be able to check another crewmember's work.

After half an hour Oak says he thinks I'm good. I haven't felt challenged yet, and demand more, "Come on, ask me the stuff you would ask me if I were an overconfident jerk student and you needed to slap me down." He insists that he has given me his hard questions and I've done fine, pointing out a couple that are supposed to be trick questions but for which I overleapt the trick and dug into territory beyond that he wasn't even asking for. I know what ccw means on the description of a departure procedure. I know that twenty/twenty -one feet is the crossover between rounding up and rounding down forecast ceilings. I know how to do cold temperature corrections. I can slide alternate minima. I let him off the hook.

He tells the dispatcher to bill for 40 minutes briefing. I correct that to an hour. "But we weren't really briefing the whole time," he protests.

I explain, "If you waste time telling silly stories, then I don't have to pay for it, but if I waste time telling stories then I have to pay for it." I've been a flight instructor. The weather is good now, but he needs those extra few bucks to make sure he eats in November.

We go flying again and I misread my own writing on the hold clearance, holding on the wrong inbound track until he points it out. I also do a poor circling approach. I momentarily bust the circling minimum on the approach, because I had the straight in one in my head, then after I rescue that quickly enough to score a weak but passing two, I overcompensate for yesterday's too steep approach and descend too low, as I circle through base and final for the runway.

We discuss having another flight but I decide not to. My rating is not long enough expired to require his recommendation for the test: legally I could have taken it with no practice at all. It won't reflect badly on him if I don't pass, and I explain that these are my faults, this is me. I'm not the Top Gun and if ten years and thousands of hours of flying haven't cured me of bonehead moves, then one or two or ten more practice flights won't either. I'll go for the goldilocks circling approach (not too high, not too low) on the exam and try to keep my wits about me.

I thank him for all his help and then go back to the lake to study and fret for a few days, because the flight test is booked for next week.

And here's a guy in China who built his own airplane out of what appears from the photo caption to have been scraps of reclaimed material.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cows Get Bigger Too Fast

I arrive early to sign out the airplane and do the walkaround, then Oak comes out to show me the idiosyncrasies of the particular type. Most of it is pretty much what you'd expect of any airplane, but the craziest part is the procedure for checking fuel for contamination. The wingtip tanks are checked in what would I would call the normal way for this type of airplane. You take a fuel tester cup--that's like a drinking tumbler with a spike sticking straight up in the middle and jam the spike into a release valve on the underside of the tank. Fuel spews out into the cup and then you can examine it for impurities. The other tanks work differently. Inside the cabin between and slightly behind the control seats, there are some knobs and if you trace the way the lines go from them you can figure out which connects towards the left and which towards the right. Outside the airplane, on the belly just where your hand right hand would be if you extended it after jamming your left shoulder under the flap are two plastic tubes. (Yeah, surgical tubing sticking out of the belly of the airplane. If it were a dog it would have to wear a plastic cone around its neck so it didn't chew on them). In order to check the fuel in the wing tanks, one person holds a fuel testing cup underneath the tubing while another person inside the airplane selects the tanks and pulls the knobs one at a time to let the fuel drain out. Usually when I test fuel at the bottom of my tanks I drain 25-50 mL. If there's no water or sediment, I move to the next tank. If there is some contamination I take another sample. Here Oak wants me to sample one cup of fuel from each tank, and an additional half cup from the crossfeed line.

I call stop after about 250 mL is in the tester and hold it up. "No, the whole cup," he says. Ah, not "one cup" as in the 250 mL kitchen measure but as in the whole, perhaps 600 mL tester. It has a strainer cap on it, so after examining it I can pour the fuel back into the tanks from the top without risking reintroducing contaminants. This is, don't forget, a little single pilot airplane. And it takes two people to check the fuel. Oh this is done before every flight, too, not just after fuelling or for the first flight of the day.

Our first flight is not IFR, just a flight for me to practice handling engine failures and flying this airplane. Fair enough. He briefs where we will go and what the procedures are, and asks if I have any questions. "Yes, how do we get to and from the runways?" Most of the taxiways seem to be NOTAMed closed. It turns out that everything, from Cessna 152s up to WestJet has to get on and off the runways through taxiway A. That's a lot of backtracking. I don't know how long it's been this way, but the NOTAMs suggest it will continue for at least another month.

I run through all the checks for practice, even though it's a VFR flight. There's no VOT here and I can't ID either of the likely VORs in the area. The CDI comes alive while the NAV flag quivers back and forth but never completely falls out of view, and the Morse code is not audible. The ADF works beautifully, though.

I read the departure briefing as though I am going to depart on an IFR flight and then as I'm taxiing for the runway picturing that in my head, realize that I have read the Abbotsford Seven departure for runway 07 as opposed to the one for runway 19. That's disturbing. I've never done that before. I later figure out what happened. Many airports don't have named departure procedures, and for those that do I've never had them match the runway number. In this case I treated the runway number as redundant information because I already had a seven. When I tell Oak what caused me to do that he says it's common. I caught it because I visualized what I was going to do on departure, and it didn't make sense. It goes to show how important test data is for a program or a technique. I wonder how many departures there are in Canada right now that have the same name as the airport and match a runway number. I wouldn't be surprised if this were the only one.

The rotation speed is given for this airplane as "70-78 kts," with no indication whether this depends on take-off weight, runway surface or what. Turns out that the ideal rotation speed would be 70, but Vmc is 78, and they don't want people flying below Vmc (that's the speed below which the airplane is designated unflyable with an engine failure as maximum power), but they don't want people holding an airplane on the runway when it's ready to fly, because that can also result in loss of control. Sounds like a design problem to me. They should have given the thing a slightly bigger rudder or more rudder travel or whatever it takes to bring Vmc down to match Vr. I'm instructed to make up for this by rotating very slowly beginning at 70 and then keeping the airplane in ground effect until it has passed 78. I try this on my first takeoff and am told to hold it in ground effect a little longer next time.

I have him put me under the hood and we try some simulated engine failures and I do the procedure. I was very slow to simulate feathering on one, not sure why. I'm constantly punching the ceiling or dashboard in the wrong place for controls that aren't where they "should be." The airplane is not too hard to handle on one engine. You can hold altitude with the gear up with the power at 25" x 2500 rpm, but if you let the speed decay below 85 knots you've crawled up the backside of the power curve and it loses altitude rapidly. I should be able to fly this airplane. We go back to the airport to land.

Oak seems surprised that I land it adequately. It's not the greatest: I landed straight and on the mains without undue force, but my nosewheel control should have been better. I felt I set it down too rapidly. It's not brutal though. My mind goes back to the private and commercial flight tests, both of which had poor marks for the final full stop landing. The "oh no, now all I have to do is not screw up the landing" feeling was apparently too much pressure for me back then. Here if I get as far as short final without failing anything, I'll be fine. Oak says the approach was too high. Hmm, I got all the way down to the runway and landed in the designated touchdown zone. I'll try to put it underground next time? (He didn't like my high descent rate).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Not All Malfunctions in a Simulator are Simulated

I'm on vacation at a lake in British Columbia, just as I threatened. The lake is lovely, as is the town, the accommodations and the company, But I'm not saying who that was nor blogging about my vacation. I'm blogging about the fact that I have to leave this lovely lake and drive an hour or so to the airport, and renew my IFR. I find the school and check in with dispatch, where I do some paperwork. They tell me my instructor's name. I've never met anyone with this name before. It's the same as the name of a plant, and it doesn't tell me anything about them, except that perhaps my instructor is the child of late-blooming hippies.

Oak (not the real name, but I'll use that to avoid excessive circumlocution) arrives and he is a he. He doesn't look like a hippy, is familiar with the information I gave the school on my experience and needs, and seems to know what he's doing. He proposes we sim today, then fly tomorrow. He's concerned that the fact that I've never flown this airplane before might be a problem. I'm concerned that I have to take a flight test, and AAAAAHHHH! FLIGHT TEST! I'm not worried about flying a new airplane compared to that. Every time I have flown a new airplane, it's turned out to work like all the other ones I have flown. The only tricky bit is usually landing nicely. On an instrument ride if you get to the flare without screwing up too badly, you've passed. I know someone who had to have the instructor land the airplane for him on his initial IFR, because the instructor had arrived late and postponed the flight test later into the dark, for a candidate who did not yet possess a night rating or any night landing experience. (And if he's reading this, please get in touch: both paper and e-mail is bouncing).

We go into the simulator room and start one up. It's a typical flying school simulator with a yoke and pedals and movable controls on a dashboard, into which is set a simulated instrument panel on a computer monitor, connected to a console running some flavour of flight simulator, possibly even the Microsoft one. Once upon a time school simulators had real gauges all the way across with little motors running everything, but those are more expensive to construct and maintain. Real airplanes are going towards glass now, so the simulated ones do too. The pilot seat is on rails bolted to the floor, and after it has been adjusted to the comfort of the pilot, it does not move in any way related to the simulated movement of the airplane. The whole things has been certified by Transport Canada as conforming sufficiently to the characteristics of whatever it simulates to be used for certain types of flight training. As this training is just to acclimatize me to the local navaids and procedures and to assure the poor flight instructor it's okay to fly with me, its certification doesn't currently matter anyway.

I start running through the instrument checks. This is partly a simulation of how I will test all the instruments on the flight test to show that I am a good little pilot, partly a test to make sure the simulator is working properly, and partly a chance for me to familiarize myself with the location and operation of all the instruments. You know how in your car you can put your finger on any control pretty much without looking, but in a rental you have to wait for a stoplight and hunt around for it? Well same in an airplane. In a simulator of this type some of the switches tend to be rinky-dink little things and not located in logical places, either. "Where are the cowl flaps again?" All the installed instruments are familiar ones to me, and I know how to use them, but figuring out how to adjust the rightmost digit of the ADF frequency can be like trying to turn off the windshield wipers on the rental car. Just when you think you have killed them, they turn out to be set on intermittent.

Above is a literal museum example of the oldest kind of ADF I have used. I think anything older would require separate manual tuning of the sense antenna.

I think I may have ranted thusly about ADFs before. Those of you who know or don't care about the various ways one might set the frequency on an ADF receiver can safely skip the following two paragraphs with no loss to the narrative. If you want to know what it's actually for and what it does, not just how to tune it, go here.

An ADF can be set to either a three or four digit frequency, that is between approximately 190 and 1750 kHz: the AM radio band. I believe all the NDBs that the ADF has to receive are in the three digit range, from 190 to 600 kHz, but I speculate that ADF was designed to also receive higher AM radio frequencies, so as to use commercial radio stations for navigation. Radio towers are published with their frequencies on old charts and still better than nothing in the middle of nowhere. The oldest sort of ADF I have used has one big knob that moves an indicator along a scale which you carefully examine to see which frequency you have selected, and then you listen really carefully to the Morse identifier, because you could easily be a few off. That sort is a museum piece now, and pretty much was then, but I doubt I was the last person in the world to use one of those in IFR conditions. The next oldest kind has three frequency adjustment knobs, the way an analogue transponder has four knobs to change the squawk code. The leftmost knob changes its corresponding "digit" through the range one to seventeen (or maybe fourteen, I don't remember) and the other two change their digits through the zero to nine range. The more modern kind (although "modern" and "ADF" don't go together well) has a digital display and the knobs are more compact. Typically there is one big knob with a smaller knob in the centre. They correspond to the three knobs on the older unit like this: the big outside knob does the job of the leftmost knob; the smaller inside knob does the job of the middle one, and then you can pull out the middle one and then when you turn it, it does the job of the rightmost knob on the old unit. You could be stuck for a long time if you didn't know the pulling out trick.

In simulators like this one, for some weird reason, you don't get to pull out the inside knob to set the frequency. I guess someone was shown how it was supposed to work, didn't realize that the person showing him had pulled out the knob, so made up his own way, and pilots are so used to ADFs working different ways that they shrugged and considered it a limitation of the device. So in the sim you turn the outside or first knob to set the first one or two digits, the 1-17 thing, then you turn the second knob to set the second two digits, from 00 to 99. Like that's not a pain. You have to do this sometimes during a missed approach, where one beacon is the missed approach point and the missed approach required you to track to a subsequent NDB, so you have to scroll through up to 50 frequencies while cleaning up the airplane in a simulated go around.

I dial in the frequency of the NDB nearest my simulated airport so I can test the device. It identifies and points, so I then try to tune the first NDB I'll need during the flight. It's at this point that I notice that as I adjust the third digit, I'm only getting even numbers. "How do I get odd numbers on this?" I ask Oak, who is sufficiently confused by the question to clue us into the fact that it's broken. We switch to the other simulator and go through testing everything again before flying.

The simulated ATIS unexpectedly (to me) works, and I copy it, then address Oak as "ground" for my clearance. He gives me the Abbotsford Seven departure off runway 07, The first seven means that there have been six revisions to the procedure since it was first published and the second seven means that the runway is oriented such that the airplane will be on a heading of 070 degrees magnetic as I take off. The departure procedure is a number of instructions, such as the fact that I'm supposed to climb on runway heading to six hundred feet then hang a right to 202 degrees and wait for ATC to give me vectors on course.

The procedures are not a problem, but I do get caught up in getting every detail right, and my altitude control is abysmal. That's not abnormal for the sim. The trim is in the wrong place and doesn't have the same feedback as in an airplane. I make a few dumb mistakes but demonstrate a basic knowledge of how to fly an airplane, so tomorrow we are scheduled to fly one.

I don't want to spend too much time in the simulator because it doesn't even try to simulate the airplane I will be flying, and you do gain habits to appease the simulator. This article suggests that because much better simulators that are used for airline pilot training do not do a good job of modelling aircraft behaviour as the airplane goes out of control, simulator training may be to blame for pilots responding incorrectly to emergency situations, causing some crashes, such as the Continental runway excursion in Denver and the Colgan Dash-8 stall in Buffalo.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Brightline on the Flight Line

My first flight bag was actually an insulated lunch bag that my flight school sold me with the headset. The insulation served as padding and there was a pocket on the side into which I could cram sunglasses or charts. I later graduated to a laptop bag, which was good for charts, but didn't hold the headset. I tried using a document case like the big airline pilots carry, but my cockpit didn't accommodate it. I now use a messenger bag leather messenger bag I bought at a Danier sale. It has lots of pockets which although not perfectly suited to the things I carry, I now am accustomed to navigating to find my stuff when I need it. It's tough and looks good, and the leather feels nice. Animals definitely are made out of excellent stuff.

When I fly single pilot, I put my bag in the copilot seat and secure it with its own strap, then open all the pockets that contain things I need in flight. An additional pocket contains things that I won't necessarily need in flight but which I could need if I'm stranded somewhere I didn't expect to go on this flight: a change of underwear and socks and my cellphone charger. One tends to use one's cellphone a lot during irregular operations.

You could fly with your stuff in a Spider- Man backpack from Zellers and you would probably be able to dig most of it out when you needed it, but it's nice to have something that looks professional and that both protects your gear and makes it more accessible. There do exist bags designed specifically as flight bags. A reader sent me a link to a YouTube clip featuring the Brightline bag. They've clearly put a lot of thought into it.

The Brightline bag does solve a few common flight bag problems. My headset is the same size as the blue one in the demo so it doesn't fit in the little end pocket on many flight bags. I do like the water bottle pocket and the dedicated spare battery pocket, and having it break in half.

At $US 129.00, it's quite expensive for a bag, but it's not out of the ball park for flight bags. I don't know about the material or how durable it is. Will the pens poke holes in the little pen pocket? Does it stand up to catching on the sharp metal bits at the edge of the fuel selector panel? I like how compact it is, and they may be right that it does the job of bigger bags, becaue my bag is not stuffed full. But an advantage to having a larger bag is that I can stuff my sweatshirt and a couple of books in it, whereas if I wanted to add that much to the Brightline book, it wouldn't fit. If I felt my current bag were worn out, I'd definitely consider this bag, but I'm happy enough with the leather one to keep it until it gets ratty.

When I searched my inbox to find the name of the reader who sent me the link, so I could credit him or her, I found insteada message from the manufacturer, offering me a commission if I were to sell any bags. I had archived that message probably without even reading it, because I don't advertise on the site. But then I thought: as I'm going to post about this bag anyway, if someone was going to buy it anyway, then what's the harm in having them buy it from this site and have some of the money go towards building houses for Cambodians? So if you like this bag enough to buy it, do it by clicking the link below.

BrightLine Bags for Cambodia

I eventually realized that I didn't find the original message because it came to my personal mailbox, not my Cockpit Conversation one, because this reader is also a former student who figured out long ago who I was, and thus knows my real e-mail address. He doesn't have a blog, but I can tell you he once took a little Cessna out and overflew a prison, inside a charted restricted area, but didn't get in trouble, because he asked permission of the proper authority first. It was a ballsy little demonstration that that's how the system works.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Things Starting in Vac- and Ending in -ation

So I got home, did laundry, and had a raft of vaccinations in preparation for going to Cambodia. It was really quite the experience. Some of it was "well, while you're in here, lets update your polio, tetanus, rubella, and everything you haven't had since elementary school." I'm not going to complain about being protected from tetanus when I'm going to a strange country to pound nails. And then there were the specific to Cambodia diseases. It was literally dizzying the speed at which I was told and handed information on the various things that can get into your body and kill you. It's fascinating, too. I've read that parasites and viruses are the primary driver of evolutionary change in humans. We've got ourselves a niche where tigers and lions and bears don't kill us much, and we use tools to fight them if they try, but ickle bickle thingies we can't even see can still kill us by the thousands. After doing the paperwork one person interviewed me on where I was going and what I was doing, giving me information, making recommendations and soliciting my agreement or decisions on which vaccinations to take. Then a second person in the next room pumped the stuff all in.

"This is the tetanus. It might hurt for three days." Ow. She put some in one arm and some in the other. There was some rationale for the one that hurt for three days going in my working arm, but I don't recall exactly what it was. I think I managed to get away without a smallpox vaccination. I got vaccinated for two flavours of hepatitis, plus was given a prescription for anti-malarial drugs and I honestly don't remember everything else. After that I had to wait in the office for twenty minutes to make sure I didn't have a reaction, and then I could go home. I need some booster shots in a month and then I'm ready to go, although with the hepatitis I get a follow-up next year and then it's good for life. Which is good, because hepatitis is pretty bad and you can get it from food, even in Canada.

So then I went home and repacked, this time for a vacation. At a LAKE.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cover Me

Air Canada has an HR management company called Taleo looking after job applications these days. The site only accepts updated resumes for positions they are hiring for, and as everyone in Canadian aviation probably knows, they have just opened the Pilot job for applications. I was on the road for a few days, but today have opportunity to re-apply. I put it number one on the to-do list and bailed out of bed. How hard can this be? I have to re-total my logbook, combine the various columns in the way that Air Canada asks about, and click though a few webpages. Should be done in time for breakfast, eh?

The adding up and entering in isn't too bad. It's the uploading. I hate my résumé. It's a depressing catalogue of jobs that I accepted or left at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons. It represents people and places I miss, opportunities lost, and a sad lack of overall career progress. Is this why I hate filling out job applications? I update the numbers on my resume, make sure no one has edited it to change my job duties to dirty words, save and upload it. Now the cover letter.

The first part is okay. Name. Address. Date. I got that far without messing up, I think. And just to demonstrate that I have a basic grasp of business etiquette, I know that I should not commemorate Talk Like A Pirate Day in a job application letter. I must write terrible cover letters. I've never got a job through a formal job application. Every job I get is through referrals or personal visits. I can bang off five blog entries in an undisturbed afternoon, but I can't lay out my skills and aptitudes in a simple letter. Let me try again.

Dear Nice Air Canada People:

I am a good pilot. I always check to make sure there is enough gas in my aeroplane before I take off, can fly in really straight lines, follow all the rules, and never ever get into fist fights with my coworkers or customers. I have a nice haircut (or at least I will when I go to work) and know how to make my shoes shiny.

Please hire me to help fly your aeroplanes. I will do a good job and even stop blogging about aviation if you wanted me to.

Love and kisses,


Nailed, it, eh?

I honestly don't know why this is so hard for me. I put my heart into applying for jobs, because I don't like to do anything halfway, and I hate being rejected without even being seen. Is it so hard to write because I am trying to psych myself up that this time will be different? I don't find other impossible goals so hard to start. I'm still running and although I don't think I'll make my long term speed targets, I enjoy running and second by second I'm inching closer to those distant goals. Of course it's impossible for me to see the difference between being in the pile of instant rejects and the pile that almost got called for an interview.

While I'm agonizing over what to write procrastinating by doing other things, I read an e-mail from someone who hopes one day to be a pilot, describing a co-worker who used to be an airline pilot. The ex-pilot said that the airliners are all under the company's control, and all the time asking:

 Why are you 2 knots slower?
 Why are you 2 degrees of course?
 What happened on this landing?
 Why did you take the wrong exit?

I ask myself questions like that all the time. I want to be super efficient and accurate. But like someone who stands there and tells you what to do just as you're about to do it, someone who asks why you do everything just as you're thinking about it yourself, doesn't sound fun. I want to believe that I hate applying for jobs because mine is so good that I don't want another job, but I suspect that it's more a case that I hate doing things badly, and I know that I'm bad at this game.

So here's me taking advantage of the resources at my disposal. If you can write a better cover letter than the one above, and can handle a bit of negativity and whining, I wouldn't mind some help.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Longest Domestic Flight

I've probably linked to Karl's Great Circle Mapper before; it's not a serious flight planning application, but it's a fun visualization tool for long flights, or for working out your frequent flier mileage. The site also has regular Featured Maps associated with news events, such as the intended route of a crashed aircraft, or the routes considered in planning for humanitarian missions to Haïti after the earthquake.

It's kind of fun using the chart to plot routes around the globe even if no one is ever going to fly them, and Karl occasionally issues little challenges. One was to find the longest domestic flight, the longest flight between two points in the same country. Try it yourself before you look at the suggestions some people came up with. In the end it doesn't matter whether you count territories as being part of the possessing country, or you require only politically equal regions of the country: the same country came out on top. But longest routes found are not in countries you might guess. Oh and zigzagging across the country through different airplane hubs doesn't count. It's the longest Great Circle route between two points in the same country.

I thought Canada had some pretty long potential routes, but I found it more fun to plot a circle that went all the way around Canada. It's not a flight anyone would ever do. I haven't even done any of the legs. The 2010 Olympic torch 'relay' probably came close.

The Google CEO cited Great Circle Mapper as his favourite website.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Aviatrix MeetsThe Old West Meets the New

My flight isn't until almost noon, so I get up in the morning and go for a run. It's a nice temperature early in the morning. There aren't a lot of sidewalks here, so I run in the street. Fortunately there aren't a lot of cars, either. I don't immediately notice any altitude effect of running. I'm running at a comfortable warm up pace and my breathing is comfortable, but then I start running faster. At first it too seems normal. There's no "oh I can't breathe, the air is too thin," feeling. I just get tired faster. I have a GPS stopwatch (a Garmin Forerunner 305) to tell me how far and fast I'm going, and what should have been an eight minute segment of my workout took eleven minutes. And it was dead flat. I wish I'd run every day I was here. It probably would have been great to improve my cardio.

The person who has been designated to take me to the airport asks when I'll be ready to go. I don't have to go super early, seeing as it's such a small airport, and I'd like a chance to walk into town and and see the museum that was closing yesterday as we got there. I calculate on enough time to go and see it and come back, but he seems disappointed. "Couldn't you be ready earlier?" I tell him my museum plans, and it turns out that he wanted to go earlier so he could see the museum, and other things. So we load up my stuff and go together, and I don't have to walk. Isn't communication grand?


The main street of town is deliberately retro. I guess they turned around and realized that it was out of date and froze it that way before anyone could get one of those newfangled electric signs. The museum is there in an old armory--or for all I know there's a current armory in there somewhere too. I have a notebook with sketches and detailed notes on the museum but I filled it up and started a new notebook and forgot to keep the old one in my flight bag, so it's at home and I have to rely on memory. The main floor was mostly ordinary pioneer artifacts, of the sort that older people remember their grandmothers having one: odd kitchen appliances and farm implements and local ephemera like an invitation to the debutante ball and the dress someone wore there. They had some nicely restored horse-drawn vehicles and the town's second fire truck. When it arrived the town's first fire truck had been repurposed as something else, perhaps a municipal water hauling vehicle and then partly remanufactured into another thing. The story was probably more interesting than the first fire truck itself would have been on display. Upstairs was a gunfighter and cowboy display. I wished I knew more about guns and gun history to better appreciate the collection they had. With a better base I would have learned and retained more. I don't think they missed much in the way of types of action and ammunition used in the American West.

They catered to what people wanted to see and reality both. For example they had a set of pearl- handled revolvers and then pointed out that they were manufactured years apart and didn't have the provenance: people didn't carry two matched guns the same. If they were going to carry two guns they'd have two different sorts. They had a lot of guns and saddlery that had actually belonged to and been used by famous gunslingers and some fairly informative text about them. They told the chain of custody stories from the manufacturer through to the museum donor of many of the items, and did so in a way that made the items more interesting.

My second favourite piece was an elaboorately tooled saddle that was custom made for the donor's grandfather. The donor remembered going to the shop with his grandfather and that the saddlemaker had measured him not with a tape, but with string which he knotted to mark the measurements. The saddlemaker was blind, and apparently leatherwork was a standard trade for the blind in those days. The skirt of the saddle was all worked with little leaves and flowers and symetrical designs. I guess you can feel all that with your fingertips, and keep track of it in your mind.

My favourite piece was a painting called, I think, "The Old West Meets the New." It depicted a cowboy, on a horse, driving a few calves as an airplane flies overhead, and the cowboy is reaching up so that his fingers seem to almost touch the image of the airplane. Photography wasn't allowed in the museum, so I sat and sketched the painting, but that's in the notebook I don't have with me. I couldn't reproduce it again now.

In the giftshop, there was a basket labelled "penny postcards." Postcards usually cost 25 cents to a dollar, so I queried what a penny postcard was. They were a penny each. They had found them somewhere in their basement and they just wanted to get rid of them. They are the most boring postcards ever. I bought about a dollar's worth. I love postcards. Yes, Michael5000 , you will in time get a sample of each.

We browsed a few antique stores on the street and concluded that if you had a truck there were some good deals to be had, but there wasn't anything that would fit in my suitcase to go on four different airplanes.

I was dropped off at the airport with plenty of time. It was a little complicated with my multiple airlines and connecting to Canada, but I managed, and I got home, with my luggage. This little stegasaurus was on the floor of one of the airports. You know how I love both dinosaurs and decoration on airport floors.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's 0500Z Somewhere

The next day we finish the work before we have to refill the oxygen again. We land and settle the fuel bill. We're buying our fuel from a spray plane operator, not a first for us, but we think it's funny that these spray planes working at a over a mile high altitude. They're still probably rarely over 500' agl but who knew the altimeters on spray planes went up that high?

They have some pictures up on the wall from when an airliner landed here by accident, instead of at another airport down the road. There are airports every fifteen or twenty miles around here, so I can't really blame them. Okay, I blame them, but I see how it happened. They exited the runway and tried to turn around on a funny little taxiway made for sprayplanes and Cessna 172s and got stuck in the mud. And they still didn't realize they were at the wrong airport. Someone had to drive out in a truck to get the message across. The look on the pilot's face was reported as the very best part of all.

We walked around town just to see it, and to find some souvenirs. I was going to buy a painted, decorated horse until I looked closely and noticed that it was a) broken and mended not very well and b) made in China. Kind of takes the edge of the souvenir quality when it's made by someone who's never been there. When I mentioned the mend to the proprietor she was upset, because it turns out that she hadn't mended it--it had arrived that way. I settled for postcards.

We went out for a meal--it's hard to name them with our schedule--at a Mexican restaurant. It may have been Guatemalan-Mexican or Cuban-Mexican: I remember it had some crossover to it. It had plenty of decor with carved wood panels and gacho saddles and vintage centroamericano political posters and a huge menu. We had margaritas and all kinds of spicy food wrapped in tortillas or smothered in sauce. I'd be more specific about what we ate but you know, margaritas. It was as good as crab in Alaska. Maybe we can go to Nova Scotia next and have some lobster. Or Alberta for a top notch steak. I am so spoiled. It will probably be some camp in Nunavut for six weeks of Campbell's Soup and bannock.

There's a note under my hotel door advising of a fire drill the next day. Hotel guests aren't required to evacuate, it's just for the staff, but they will ring the alarm for ten minutes. Great.

By the end of the day the customers have released the airplane and we're free to go. I'm free to go home, but the other pilot has just started her shift so she'll take the airplane back to Canada and to wherever work takes her next. My options are a) to wait two more nights until the customers are done here and drive to Denver, where I can catch a flight to Canada, or b) to leave tomorrow with the company plane, and then have to get transport from Middle-of-Nowhere, Saskatoba to home. Both a and b will get me home in about the same amount of time, with a providing more comfort. Then we find option c. There's a commercial flight from one of the nearby airports, that gives me a grand tour of US airport hubs and gets me home, on three different airlines, for only $350. It would cost the company that much just to keep me around for another day, so it's a no-brainer. It would cost $350 just to get any flight out of a town this size in Canada. I'll never understand US airline economics, but I'm not complaining.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Good Thing We Weren't in Outer Space

I check the oxygen equipment and set up the oxygen bottle so I can reach the valve from my seat. The oxygen bottle has its own nylon pouch, which protects it from getting scratched or getting dirt in the valve, and the pouch has pockets for the instructions and accessories and straps for carrying it, so it's easy to secure the whole thing so it can't ricochet through the cabin in turbulence. Sometimes you just have a naked oxygen bottle and those are hard to confidently secure. I've also seen pilots just stick the whole thing in a seatback pocket, as if to say, "so long as I have oxygen it doesn't matter if I'm struck in the back of the head by a heavy object."

I run up the airplane. The altitude makes the engines run very rich. Once I am lined up on the runway, I even lean it a little for the take-off, just enough for it to run smoothly. The takeoff now seems to take forever in the thin, high altitude air. The afternoon is going to be hotter and make the air even thinner. That's why the runways are so long out here.

Climbing through 10,000' I try to turn the valve on, but I can't quite get it to work, damnit. I have to get the mission specialist to get it for me. I should have just left it on and controlled it from the little valve on the canula. I adjust that little valve now so the tiny indicator ball lines up with the gradation matching my altitude. I'm sucking oxygen through my nose, but it's hard to tell if it's working, because oxygen is odorless. I check my blood oxygen with a clip on meter.

The heat of the day drives cumulus development again. The same line of thunderstorms probably forms every day. The thunderheads don't seem as high as they do in the Canadian prairies, even though the tropopause is higher, so they are probably higher. I suppose it's because we are higher already, so there isn't as much vertical volume for them to build in. Below us are dry fields. I see something that the mission specialist says is a coal mine. It's an open mine, not the underground kind that they have in West Virginia, hence the lack of tragic news stories associated with midwest mining, the way there are in the east. That was a lazily constructed sentence, but I'm not fixing it, so there.

As I come in to land, I know what is going to happen and I work to compensate, but not quite enough to get it perfect. Although I am flying at the correct indicated airspeed into a very light wind, the countryside is racing by as if I had a horrific tailwind. The air is so thin that I need to go faster over the ground in order to fly through air at the same rate. It's like if you play the same Pac-Man game on a giant monitor, the little yellow guy seems to go twice as fast, even though he's getting the same number of dots. The illusion that I'm going fast makes me think I have more energy than I do. I should have done just a little flare and let the high groundspeed come off on the rollout, but instead I try to land just a touch too slowly and the touchdown is firm. "Sorry," I say, "Getting used to the altitude."

"We were going faster than usual, weren't we," says my critic from the back. Actually, I explain, we were going a touch slower than usual; it just looked faster, which is why I went too slowly and why it wasn't that great. He says he was looking at the GPS and it was faster. I'm not sure he believed my, "Faster groundspeed, yes, but slower airspeed," explanation. Next time how about I just not screw up.

The oxygen gauge is just on the edge of the red. I take the bottle and get in the passenger seat of the other mission specialist's truck to go to get an oxygen fill at the next airport over, while the afternoon pilot fuels and otherwise prepares for the next flight. It's about a twenty minute drive to the bigger airport. It has a couple of different names, because it's a regional airport as well as a local one, but it's well-signed and we find the FBO right away. I've used an FBO of this franchise before in another state. The customer waits outside in the air conditioned car, listening to satellite radio, while I go in with the oxygen bottle. There's another customer at the counter, so I wait and then make my request.

"Oh, sorry," she tells me cheerfully. "The A&P is the only one qualified to use the oxygen equipment and he goes home at one."

To be perfectly fair, when I called yesterday I asked if they provided oxygen service and then asked immediately what their hours were. I didn't specifically ask whether oxygen service was provided throughout their opening hours. But I think that was implied strongly enough that I have a right to be ticked. Rather than making her defuse an annoyed would-be customer I make her expend the same energy more usefully. Her place of business-- whether it was her or not on the phone last night I can't say--implied that I could get oxygen here yesterday, so she is going to figure out where I can get oxygen. I ask her to where I can get an oxygen fill on a Sunday, to call and confirm that I can really get O2 there, and when she doesn't get an answer at first, to see if she can call out the one guy who knows how to use the oxygen equipment, for a fee. She finds someone at the next airport along the road that is there and can fill the bottle. It's another forty-five minutes drive or so and then we have to come back with it. I thank her and get back in the truck to break the bad news.

It's not a bad drive, really. Air conditioned truck, compatible taste in music, fences, bluffs, cattle, authentic western scenery. Someone I know was going to be driving a motorhome up here, all the way from Indiana this month. If you pretend you came some place for a vacation you can usually make it into a fun adventure, and if it's so bad you couldn't imagine going there on purpose, you can at least thank your lucky stars you're not stupid enough to have gone there without being paid. We eventually get to the proper airport and find the FBO, which appears to be named "FBO." A flight instructor takes the bottle and looks at me strangely when I say that the previous airport said only the A&P could do it. Clearly he doesn't think this is a technical job. He brings it back. The gauge reads full. Presumably it will keep our sats up rather than making us talk in a squeaky voice. I pay for it and then get back in the truck for the long drive back.

There's an air conditioned pilot lounge at the airport, so my colleagues isn't baking out there on the ramp. The mission specialist drops me back at the hotel and then he goes flying.

Some idiot is buzzing the town in the evening while I'm trying to sleep. Over and over again. He's doing circuits, I guess what he as an American would call "staying in the pattern," but he's clearly not climbing out at an optimal rate after each takeoff. If I knew where you slept, bozo, I would buzz it at six tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jean Batten - New Zealand Aviatrix

Here's an old TV movie about Jean Batten, a Golden Age aviatrix who isn't well known--I'd never heard of her before--but has some pioneering achievements to her name. For example, in 1935 she set world records for flying from England to New Zealand and from England to Brazil. She didn't have any money and seems to have financed her flying mainly by being nice to a series of men who hoped to marry her. I should have thought of that, eh? New Zealand On Screen has recently converted the film to a web-viewable format and has been pimping it rather inelegantly to bloggers, so it may have done the rounds of the blogs by now, but I've chosen to hold it until today, which would have been Jean Batten's 101st birthday.

NZ On Screen doesn't seem to be set up to allow me to embed the video, so you'll have to go to their website to view it.

That a pioneer of the technology lived so recently always startles me. Ms. Batten died of infection from a dog bite, of all things. If some Majorcan had a better disciplined canine, she might have been alive today. She was still alive the first time I went up in an airplane. There must be people still living now who were personally acquainted with Orville Wright. What a century that was! If it's any precedent for this one, it's impossible to imagine our society and technology in 2101.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Canada & Intergalactic Spaceport: Two Places We Didn't Land

Now comes the leap across Canada. I've probably flown point to point in the US before while passing through Canadian airspace but not landing, but this is the first time I will have done it between points that I couldn't drive between without clearing customs.

The airplane is ready to go, as we fuelled last night. I'm on the radio and she's flying today. I call for our clearance and they ask us how soon we will be ready. The engines are almost warm enough for takeoff, just a few checks to do. She holds up three fingers. "Three minutes." There's inbound IFR traffic but apparently that's the right number for them. We're give a clearance that expires three minutes hence, and told to taxi and call when ready. I don't know how long the delay would be if we don't make this time, probably not more than ten minutes. Run up complete, taxiing for the hold short line I call ready. Tower has VFR traffic inbound and tells them they have an IFR waiting to go with a tight departure slot. The pilot understands and agrees without being explicitly asked to slow it up--maybe literally reducing speed, extending a downwind or flying a wider base, I'm not sure where the he was--for us. We're cleared for takeoff before his arrival, to roll with seconds to spare in our clearance valid time. I irritate her by specifying the required heading twice, when she already knows where she's turning to. She points out that we're not under two-crew procedures, so she's not obligated to read back or crosscheck the bearing. I apologize, "It was just that you didn't have the heading bug set." We're not using the autopilot for the departure, so it's not essential, but using a heading bug has long been a habit of mine, across many non-autopilot- equipped aircraft. Two crew SOP approval is on our list of things to do, along with certification of our training program on the GNS 430.

We climb to enroute altitude and join the appropriate airway and in a couple of handoffs we're talking to Canadian ATC It's such a welcoming thing, even though I'm not headed home I can now leave the C out of our callsign and they will say "decimal" and other subtle things that I don't so much notice the absence of, as welcome the return to.

Canadian ATC has a reroute for us, if we're willing to accept transit through uncontrolled airspace. I'm ready to copy. It's pretty simple compared to what it could be, just direct a particular waypoint after passing another one, and they spell each five letter combo slowly so I can copy them down and then find them on the chart.

We amuse ourselves for a while with the GPS, finding the worldwide locations of the five letter identifiers corresponding to parts of our names, friends names, etcetera. I think one of mine was in Hawaii.

As we get further south the weather is improving and we get glimpses of the land and water below. We're over the water between Vancouver Island and mainland BC, so seeing ocean, and shoreline and bits of mountains below. Another frequency change and then they have another reroute for us. We filed via the YVR VOR, but we want to be in descent by then for Bellingham and might be in conflict with Vancouver International traffic, so the reroute takes us out to the west over Nanaimo and Victoria. The weather below continues to improve. We could almost cancel IFR and descend VFR to complete the trip more efficiently, except you never know what the weather will be like the rest of the way. I'm about to ask for a more direct routing so we don't have to go all the way to YYJ, when they give us vectors almost direct. ATC does a fantastic job of keeping traffic separated without impairing efficiency. It would be a much more complex process with a much lower capacity for throughput of traffic without them.

The final VOR in our routing is HUH. Huh? It's close to Bellingham airport, but not actually on the field, so it used to be called BLI. But some years ago, I think it may have been partly triggered by the American Airlines flight that flew direct the wrong NDB in South America, they started renamng all the nav aids that shared names with airports but were not physically at the fields. So the one by Bellingham is now called the Whatcom VOR. I think it's on Whatcom Road or in Whatcom county. We wondered at the rename whether the identifier HUH is a joke, because in Canada "What?" and "Comme?" each mean the same thing as "Huh?"

It may be coincidence, but there are definitely jokes in naming nav aids. The Reno VOR was renamed "Mustang" and now there's a "Ranch departure" out of Reno. (The Mustang Ranch is an infamous brothel there).

Our vector has us approaching the mainland USA, the Whatcom VOR and the Bellingham airport on vectors, above a cloud deck that started just before the shore. Approach is trying to pass us onto tower, who are reporting clear skies and have a visual approach posted on the ATIS. I can sense some frustration on the controller's part that I am insisting I am still above cloud. Sometimes I just want to take pity on the controllers and admit that I know where the airport is, but we're above a solid layer, and if I'm not visual I won't say I am. We come over the edge of the cloud deck just in time to spot the airport and descend to land. As the NOTAM's told us, there are lots of taxiway closures here with construction, but it's well in hand. We taxi in and are marshalled to a stop right away. We get directions to the washroom and quick fuelling. There's no pilot's lounge, but they let me use an office computer and phone. If we can get out of here VFR we can get across the country to our next destination. It has to be VFR because the sum of the flights will exceed her eight hour limit for single pilot IFR, and I neither count as a second pilot nor am allowed to log any IFR until I renew my rating. So now we'll be VFR and flying on my licence, but she will still do the flying. This is fine and legal. I can let my cat fly, or the autopilot, as long as I take responsibility for the flight. I go with company flight following rather than a flight plan.

Weather looks good from here, so we depart VFR to the south and turn west when we have the clearance to and the altitude to go over the mountains. A controller calls us "November Charlie blah blah blah blah" for a while and I accept that because although there's no "N" at the beginning of or callsign it's obviously us, and that's just the way some controllers talk. Eventually she asks us, "Are you November Charlie or just Charlie." I tell her there's no November, without pointing out that it's the designation for American aircraft and Charlie is for Canadian, so it would be hard to be both. Possibly the first controller that checked us in for flight following explicitly entered an N on our electronic flight strip. As soon as we cross the first range of rocks eastbound, the ground gets drier, then it continues to get drier and higher as we go east.

Tailwinds are awesome, better than forecast. I never put too much hope in tailwinds and count headwinds as worse than forecast. But we're smoking. A bit of math reveals that we don't need our planned fuel stop after all. I turn on my phone and enter a text message with our new ETA, then wait until we are going over a town and hit send. It finds a cellphone tower and sends it before we pass it by. We squeeze over some higher terrain, doing a few zigzags here and there to avoid having to climb into oxygen territory. We'll need oxygen tomorrow morning and don't want to use it up now.

I call flight services to update the weather and they tell us sternly that VFR is not recommended in Wyoming or Colorado due to an aggressive line of thunderstorms. We listen to the SIGMET and thank the briefer, then look at each other and smile. We respect thunderstorms, but we're not avoiding two entire states for the presence of one line, even widespread air mass thunderstorms. They are a highly visible weather phenomenon. We discuss it and determine that if we have any doubts about the proximity of a thunderhead, or we encounter an area where storms pose an impassable barrier, we'll just land at one of the hundreds of conveniently located airports. There are so many here. It's not like we're in Northern Ontario and will be SOL if we can't make it from Thunder Bay to either Dryden or Kenora. There's an airport behind every bush out here. People have airports just for fun.

As an example, I notice that we will be passing not far from the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. That's a real airport, not in the greatest condition, but we could land there safely. I bring it up on the GPS, plus find the official description of the little airport, to amuse my fellow pilot. Shortly afterwards I realize that she has altered our course to fly direct the spaceport, "We can't be this close and not fly by!"

We see some distant and retreating CBs but nothing interferes with our flight, which passes through airspace of both Wyoming and Colorado. We reach our destination without incidents and descend to land, rolling out at a long, high altitude strip across from a golf course, and somewhere that we suspect we can buy excellent Mexican food.

We check into the hotel and then I make a couple of phone calls to find out where oxygen service is available. There's nothing at the airport where we are parked, but one airport down the highway I find an FBO that says "yes" to providing oxygen and "six am to seven pm" for their hours. Fantastic. We'll probably be in tomorrow. I get driving directions.

And I'm off to bed, because there's more work to do in the morning.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Alaskan Eagles

The missing luggage arrives around mid-morning, after we've discussed and agreed on the flight plan. We must have found some food somewhere, then cabbed out to the airport. I should have parked at PANC: the convenience and not having to pay for cab fare would have made up for the landing and tiedown fee, and just the general inconvenience of being at the little GA airport. We coaxed the cab driver onto the ramp to park right behind the airplane to make it easy for us to load our gear into the airplane. I pull the chocks and together we push back airplane and maneuver it awkwardly around a corner so it can be driven straight out. Of course now there are lots of more convenient open tiedown spots. There's a self serve pump nearby so we taxi over there. She agrees to fuel while I file the flight plan,

I go inside, and call the toll free number for the Kenai FSS. I should have mentioned earlier that 1-800-WXBRIEF often doesn't work here. Not every time, but often. Someone told me that it was being phased out, someone else looked at me like I was crazy when I said it didn't work, and yet another person said it wasn't fully established in Alaska. The Kenai number always works, and other than the number seems to function properly, so I use it. I check for any last minute weather or NOTAM changes, and file the flight plan. It's accepted as is, thanks to the crib notes for filing US flight plans that are imprinted on my clipboard. I was irritated that it was US not Canadian when I was a student but now (yes, I still have the same clipboard and yes, it is battered all to hell, but it still clips) I'm glad to have the US stuff.

I get back to the airplane and my coworker is still pumping gas. It's one of those slow pumps, not only with a low flow rate, but it has to be reset every fifty gallons. There probably was someone who could have come with a truck, but it's done now. We call ground for our IFR clearance and taxi. We had vectors in almost every direction, with "expect climb" or a thousand feet more climb meted out, before they gave us our final climb and a heading to intercept the enroute airway. I can't quite visualize exactly what they did, but we were visual for a while and it looks like we moved north and and east to get around all the heavy airline traffic arriving and departing Ted Stevens International. Only fair considering the care we were given when we flew our grid there.

We're in the clouds, southeast bound, and settle into our altitude. "You are allowed to use the autopilot," the other pilot chides. I'm not using it, because I want to practice for the flight test coming up, in an unfamiliar little airplane without an autopilot. I concentrate on scanning and maintaining altitude, heading and airspeed while managing the deicing boots and doing other minor tasks. I do eventually give in and turn on the autopilot because my concentration is waning and I want to sit back and take pictures.

We're mostly in and out of cloud, but for a while we're on top, and can see mountain peaks across the ocean of cloud. We're not sure if they are in Canada or the US. We try to find them on the chart, but IFR charts aren't much for naming peaks, and we don't have the VFR ones for the panhandle. I have all the deicing on, but a chunk of ice we picked up in cloud comes off the (unheated) windshield wiper and slowly floats up the windscreen. Does anyone have heated windshield wipers?

Our first point of landing today is Sitka. The wind is favouring runway 11. Although we have the Garmin 430 in the airplane, no one has done a ride using it, and the paperwork for the company training program has not yet been approved by Transport Canada, so technically we're not supposed to be using it for RNAV approaches. I choose this approach instead, as my preferred one, should they ask. As I reread what I typed there, I realize that everyone is going to think I really did the RNAV and am just pretending to have done the localizer approach, but remember I'm practicing up for a flight test which will no doubt include such a non-precision approach on standard nav aids. We were radar identified by ATC. I guess they have little remote radar installations down the coast here, wow. I'm expecting to be vectored, or fly direct a waypoint, to intercept the localizer straight in, but perhaps there was someone on the approach, because we end up going all the way to the VOR then coming back to fly the depicted DME arc and trundle through all those step downs. Around five thousand feet I could see lots of sea and islands or coast down there, but seeing as there was another pilot to call runway in sight--and take pictures--I just kept my head down and flew the steps. It was awesome fun.

I'm coming up on MDA and start looking for the runway, but I don't see it. There are a few clouds still slightly in the way, but I've made VFR approaches through much worse crap than this. How can I be tracking a straight in localiser and be so far off the inbound track that the runway isn't in my field of view?

I've mentioned before that pilots develop runway-finding instincts. We just know where we expect to find a runway and what it will look like, so we see it and the non-pilot passenger is still going "where?" until short final. I guess a lot of it is knowing where it's not reasonable to see a runway and not bothering to look those places, with whatever is left to look at being the runway. You don't, for example, look for a 6500' runway on a tiny round island covered in guano. Unless that is, you're looking for Sitka and expect to find it. I have no proof about the guano, but this may be the tiniest island ever to have a mile-long runway on it. They've just used the existing island as the place to build the FBO and stuck the runway out into the sea on fill. Or maybe the whole island is just fill. Hmm, it looks bigger in the picture than it did in the plane. Look at the plate: you can see the runway depicted, but you can't even see an island there. It's that small. I recognize it at some point before I have to go missed, laughing at how it was right in front of my nose, right where it was supposed to be, but I refused to see it because this is a wheelplane, damnit. I put the wheels down and we land. We taxi off and get fuel, washrooms and weather for the next leg.

It's a short one, just to Ketchikan, so that we have the best jumping-off point to go the whole way across Canada to Washington state without stopping for customs. But flight time limitations math comes into play. Despite the fact that there are two of us and I am at the controls, these are legally single pilot IFR flights. And when single pilot IFR is conducted, the CARs limits flight time for that pilot to eight hours of flight time per day. Counting taxiing, as flight time does, the first two legs alone will add up to about five hours. And there's no way we can do the last flight with the headwinds we have in under three hours. So we can only get to Ketchikan tonight. We use the FBO Internet and my credit card number (because I have mine memorized and we'd both left our wallets in the plane) to make a hotel booking in Ketchikan before we depart.

I think this was the departure we were assigned. I remember specifically the shuttle climb at the VOR for which the inbound track was specified. "Wait, that's the inbound track, not the radial? Why would they do that?" We decided it was because it was almost colocated with an NDB, at which the shuttle climb was also approved, and that it might be confusing to have one inbound on the 181 radial and the other inbound on a track of 003. But seeing as they have slightly different tracks anyway, why not do it that way? Or do US shuttles always specify inbound track and not radial at a VOR? We're at altitude before we've gone around enough times to figure it out, and we turn on course.

At Ketchikan I fly an ILS, so the airplane finds the runway all by itself. By the time you look up at decision height on an ILS the runway is all you can see. Either that or fog. There's fortunately no fog here today, because I wouldn't like to be going missed amongst all these mountains. We are marshalled to parking and tell the guy with the sticks that we're here overnight and looking for fuel. He directs us inside. It's the same franchise of FBO as at Sitka. They have a list of rates on the wall. All the standard stuff: avgas per gallon, Jet-A per gallon, towing, fish storage fee. What? Yep, the FBO has enough people asking them to store fish overnight that they have a posted fish storage fee. We're clearly in Alaska. Try asking your Oklahoma City FBO what their fish storage fee it.

We haven't any fish to store, just want to buy fuel, postcards and ask some questions. They're cheerful, take our fuel order, and volunteer to call the hotel shuttle for us. "Make sure you give them a room with a view," she insists. "They'll be on the six-thirty ferry." What? Ferry? Ketchikan airport is on an island, too. We have to take a ferry to get to town. It turns out that this airport (or maybe Ketchikan itself) is the "nowhere" from the "bridge to nowhere" that featured in the US presidential campaign. Governor Palin apparently accepted federal money to build a bridge linking this busy international airport with the town it serves, and then later turned it down. Something like that, what really happened was of course subsumed by the political noise it made. I can tell that the people who live in the town and work at the airport didn't much appreciate being dubbed "nowhere" on the national stage. A bridge across this very narrow channel does not seem to me to be an unreasonable extravagance. In the winter, the five minute ferry ride would probably be more treacherous, and I doubt the five dollar ferry fares paid for the maintenance and operation of the boat. The bridge might pay for itself in a few years, even if they didn't make it a toll bridge. But then I live in the country that built Constitution Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island.

It is quite a small town. It goes back at maximum five or six blocks from the water. That's all there is room for before the coast becomes too steep. The shuttle driver works in the local utilities company in the winter. There is a busy cruise ship dock here, so lots of seasonal work associated with that, and also a fish-packing plant. Our rooms do have a great view. I phone people to tell them, "I'm in Alaska watching eagles fighting over fish out the window of my hotel." There are so many eagles they are like seagulls anywhere else. I've seen this many eagles in trees all at once, but not all sitting on the shore like these guys. There must be excellent fishing here. I suspect the eagles are quite often a problem for the airport, though. They are a heavily protected species in the US, being their national bird and all, so that might limit the bird abatement measures they can employ, too.

We walk to a nearby recommended restaurant. It has Mediterranean decor, and a lot of interesting dishes on the menu, but we decide, laughing at the apparent snobbishness of it, "We'll have Mexican tomorrow in the US West. Tonight we're in Alaska so it should be seafood." I have a crab pasta that had so much crab on it that even after I stopped eating the pasta I had to leave chunks of crab behind on the plate. Seems like a crime, but I can't take it with me.

I didn't mention the roof dogs yet. In more than one place in Alaska we have seen dogs out on the roof. It seems that if you don't have a fenced yard and you want your dog to get some fresh air, you put it on the roof. Or perhaps a reader has a better explanation. Here's one from Ketchikan.

We walk around, take a few pictures of the town and plan our morning to catch the first ferry back to the airport in the morning.