Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Square Meal

The work we did in two flights on our first full day here is judged complete and correct and we're all getting out of here today: me in our airplane and the customers on the airlines. Some of them are going home and some are stopping in Anchorage before taking different flights to the next job, wherever that may be. We seem to always finish any given job on a Sunday or a long weekend and have to wait around for marching orders to the next one.

There is a big weighing scale in a tent outside the lodge. It's for people chartering floatplanes to weigh their loads, but I hop on it just for fun. I weigh the same as I did at last medical two months ago, except that in the doctor's office I wasn't wearing boots and carrying my handbag and headset. Either I've lost a lot of weight in the last couple of months or the people chartering Beavers are getting a deal.

I file a VFR flight plan over the phone, yelling to be understood, then I'm dropped off at the airport, where I call the air traffic controller and ask them to please call the fuel truck for me. (That's a weird way to do it, but there doesn't seem to be a public phone here and my cellphone doesn't work. The tower offers to do it and does it cheerfully when asked, so I assume it's normal for here).While I wait I finish securing my load. That takes a while, but there's still no sign of the fuel truck. I clean the windows, preflight the whole airplane, do my nails, play a couple of games of iPod mahjong and then call the tower back to ask if they know what happened to the fueller. A reader who has been here has been teasing me all week about how lucky I've been with fuel and now I discover the joys of trying to get fuel before noon here. There are a lot of places where fuel before noon on a Sunday is a problem, but here it seems pretty consistent. I laugh every time at his description. I'm laughing right now as I proofread what I've pasted below.

They were consistently unable to have both a fueler and a fuel truck with at least 800 gallons of fuel ready to go at 0630, despite the fact that we (their biggest avgas customer) needed 800 gallons of avgas at 0630, 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, like clockwork. They always seemed a bit surprised that they were there at such an unexpected time, expecting such a large amount of fuel.

I only need a quarter of that amount, but I do need it today, so I call back the tower. The controller says she has already called them back on my behalf to see what the delay is and relays that they are "doing their morning routine." Which apparently doesn't include selling fuel. She says I can get fuel more quickly if I taxi over there, so I tell her I'll start up and call her back for taxi clearance.

I remove and stow the chocks then jump in and start up. She tells me to taxi via November, cross runway 30 and look for the fuel truck on the other side. I look at my official and up-to-date FAA airport diagram. I turn it around a couple of times. I read the footnotes. I sheepishly call back and confess, "I'm sorry, taxiway November doesn't seem to be depicted on the airport diagram."

"Oh," she says cheerfully. "That's just nomenclature. November is what we call foxtrot south of three zero."

Alrighty then. I look at the chart some more and realize that it doesn't depict a taxiway south of three zero foxtrot. It doesn't even depict the part of the apron on which I'm parked. The pavement isn't brand new. I guess they expanded the airport without telling anyone in Oklahoma City. I find taxiway N. It's even labelled as such. I intended to find the proper e-mail address to report this discrepancy to, but I forgot until now and the current airport diagram now depicts the apron and taxiway accurately. That controller seemed pretty sharp. Perhaps she reported the problem after I pointed it out. Or the change was in the works and it just takes a year for the FAA to update publications that come out every 56 days. But I like to think I had some small role in the update. It gives me a sense of control and participation in the universe. If the apron had been expanded in the last year or so it would also explain the sign I mentioned last week, requiring advanced parking permits. Without that new part of the apron, parking might be a problem for transient aircraft.

Once I'm at the fuel station I get fuel fairly quickly. I asked about the 'morning routine' but didn't get a clear answer, so I think it might consist of sleeping in and having a cigarette and a couple of cups of coffee. I sign the credit card receipt for a ridiculous amount of money. There's a maximum single purchase limit on the card, but fortunately it's set for two full loads of fuel at medium-high prices, so the card doesn't explode.

I call for taxi and am cleared down to the main apron during morning rush hour. I'm number three for take off and as I join the queue I see that number five has an awesome paint job. I almost want to delay my departure to pull around and get a better picture than this.

There's a bit of low cloud, on the way out but I avoid it and the traffic and climb up above a scattered to broken layer. It rains steadily for a couple of hundred miles, with about five miles vis, and I file a PIREP because there aren't a lot of reporting stations out here, and it might be relevant to someone. Plus it's an easy way to get my control and participation fix. As I get closer to the final range separating me from Anchorage I gradually climb to 11,500' and sneak over the top of the rocks. It's better weather on the other side and I descend into the pass as soon as I clear the ridge, coming out over Chackachamna Lake. There are dirty glaciers hanging from the rocks right off my wingtips. Spectacular. I give a position report with reference to "the big lake with a really long name beginning with C," and it is accepted and understood.

I descend a few thousand feet so I won't be diving into Anchorage airspace and then get clearance into the class B. They ask me to stay over the west shore and report at a point that is easy to find on the chart, so I comply. I finally spot a beluga, but sadly it is not a whale, just an aerodrome and presumably a town named beluga. The air traffic controller tells me to fly direct Ship Creek. I'm about to give him the "unfamiliar local landmarks" line when suddenly I remember that I know where Ship Creek is. That's where the ulu knife factory was. I look over at downtown Anchorage and pick out the bridge we crossed to get to the industrial area. The creek is obvious. And you thought shopping for souvenirs was a frivolous activity.

I follow Ship Creek into a close right downwind, during which I am cautioned in a friendly, 'just for next time' way that my left wing is in the airspace for Elmendorf Air Force Base and in future I must stay right of Ship Creek. Perhaps I should have picked that up from the chart. I tighten my downwind further and then make a tight turn to final, being too close in to level my wings for any kind of base, and land at Merrill Field. I exit and ask for taxi instructions to transient parking. It's a little parking area, pretty busy, but there's a space I can fit into in the middle row, which is good because I can drive straight in, then straight out when I leave. But this airport not only looks like a shopping mall, but parking here is like one too. I have never had someone take the space I had my eye on while parking an airplane before, but no sooner have I turned into the parking area when I realize that little Taylorcraft has nabbed the space I was planning on. Now the only open space for me is against the fence, so I'll have to push the airplane back manually to get away. But my other option is to shut down right here in the aisle in order to get out of here at all, so I take the fence spot. There's a tiny airplane on one side and a high wing on the other, so I can fit in there without hitting wingtips. I shut down and open the back door while call the customers to let them know I arrived safely with their gear. They know I departed, because their airline flight was only a few airplanes behind me in the departure queue. I was too busy looking at the shark to see. That and I don't have a rear view mirror, anyway. I give them driving directions to come here and get their stuff. I notice as I fill out the journey log that I'm close to the minute on my ETA. Good girl. I start unloading everything into a big pile beside the airplane.

They arrive with a minivan and I dart over to cue the gate to open so they can drive in and load. It won't all fit in one truckload, so they sort it into categories that depend on how they're going to ship it out of here. One of the guys bangs his head on the horizontal stabilizer and I feel guilty because I should have realized that possibility when I stacked gear underneath it. They go off with the first load and I go and see about paying for parking.

It's on the honour system and you just fill out your information and put it in a slot in a desk either a credit card slip or cash, five dollars a night. I pay for two nights, expecting it will take that long to get word from company where to go next. One of the guys comes back for the rest of the load and I go with him to get a few more items from a local storage locker. The locker is pretty much exactly like the warehouse in which the US Government keeps the Ark of the Covenant, in the Indiana Jones movies, so we crack jokes and imaginary whips and adjust our fedoras while we haul stuff out to the van. Some of the storage locker items belong to my company: we left a bunch of gear we didn't need here to make room for the trans-Alaska load, so we stop off at the airplane again.

I ask the client to just leave me here with the airplane, because earlier I made another call I didn't tell you about, to a regular reader and commenter on the blog. He's someone I've never met in person but have known online for years, since even before I started this blog. In fact he knew me under a different alias on in aviation chatroom, and recognized me here by my narrative voice, which to me is extraordinary. I wouldn't have thought I even told stories the same way in a chatroom as on a blog, but there you have it. Perhaps out of the thousands of Canadian women who fly commercially I'm the only one who regularly says both 'yup' and 'whom.' You can probably guess who he is from the fact that he's a knowledgeable Alaskan, the kind that answers my questions like "Who was Sparrevohn?"

He's the one who was in Papua New Guinea when I first contacted him, and when he told me when he would return I automatically knew that would be the date I left Anchorage. Turns out I was off by one day, so I have the privilege of his slightly jetlagged company this afternoon. We start by visiting his airplane, a Cessna 180 still on wheelskis in June, showing how much he's been around to enjoy it since the snow melted. It's a clever design with a little arm putting the ski either under or in front of the wheel so the pilot can choose the landing configuration.

We drive to Earthquake Park, along Cook Inlet, no prizes for guessing the explorer who first anchored here. We park near PANC, departures from runway 32 whistling over our heads, and go down a trail to the beach. I want to touch the sea. I can't remember if it was warmer or colder than i expected, but it was stinkier than seawater typically is. "So, where's your civic sewage discharge, and what sort of processing do you do?" Somewhere in me is a latent civil engineer, because this is actually a question I've asked people at less relevant moments. I'm terribly interested in the development of cities, where and how they grow and the bottlenecks common to different cities around the world.

There was a navigational marker for ships on the shore and I made him wait while I framed an airplane departing PANC together with the marker in one shot in my camera. That's not a long wait as they launch departures as fast as they can line them up on the runway. We went for a walk along the embankment, I'm not sure if it was in the park or not, and then met up with his lady friend at a restaurant that was either called the Snow Goose or served Snow Goose beer (these are the perils of blogging from notes taken two months previously) overlooking Ship Creek and the inlet. It's a great view and good food too, well suited to the company. I'm not just saying that because he bought me dinner, either.

After dinner we went for a walk around Hood Lake, the one at the airport with all the floatplanes. Few of them were especially expensive or fancy aircraft, just basic family transportation, most with little huts next to them on the shore for storage of things like lifejackets, cleaning supplies and off-season equipment. Some were decorated with flower boxes and miniature landscaping. The area around the lake is not part of the airport secure area and a lot of people were there jogging, walking dogs and the like. It's a great area and there seems to be some commitment to keeping it multiuse. I think it was on this expedition that I learned about Gull Island, the island separating the taxi lane from the water runway on the lake. It was, as you can guess from its name and its seclusion from people stomping around, a preferred place for seagulls to nest. But birds and airplanes in critical stages of flight are a poor combination, so to control the gull population, they let loose pigs on the island. The pigs were so efficient at eating all the seagull eggs that there are no longer gulls nesting on the island. I suppose eventually some gulls that haven't heard about the pigs will come back and nest there, but pigs are easy to come by, so that can be taken care of again.

I didn't get to meet Dave, of Flight Level 390, but we exchange some good e-mails. I find in general you have two or three near misses before you actually see someone in person in this business. I do hope we intersect at some point. I did warn him that I was going to brag on my blog that I've landed on a PANC runway that he hasn't. Apparently he's never landed on runway 32 of the international. It's reserved for crazily maneuvering Canadians who have just been asked to go around from 07.

After dinner I let my poor jetlagged friend go to sleep and go back to the hotel to do laundry. I'm in the same room as I had before. The clock is still an hour slow. And I still don't adjust it.

You guys are hilarious with respect to the clip from the couple days' ago post. I found it on the floor of the cockpit during preflight inspection after the AME had been under the dash checking connections on a malfunctioning HSI. I asked him about it and he assured me it was garbage, in a tone of voice that made it clear he, like some of you, considered it garbage when it was brand new. He said he had replaced it with a much easier to use clip, likely the kind that is adjusted with a screwdriver. Most of you called it a hose clamp, but this one was holding wiring bundles. I didn't climb under the dashboard to inspect. I was trying to choose a winner from the creative guesses, but they are all so funny I can't decided. I love clip-on antler piercing, aquatic alien mind control implement and dealie for something that has to be opened at a 25 degree angle. And then after I added this, I see there are yet more suggestions from the people back at work after the Labour Day weekend, and there are just too many brilliant suggestions to do anything with but laugh at. Among those who couldn't resist showing off their knowledge, the link with the spoiler warning was the best solution. If someone has a link to a picture of one in situ that would be appreciated, too.


Chris said...

That IS an awesome paintjob! If I ever buy an aeroplane, before they lock me up in an insane asylum for buying an aeroplane I'm getting a shark mouth painted on it :)

D.B. said...

I hope there is some kind of inspection panel right under the nose, and if so, I want to see the picture of someone with their head inside.

Ernie said...

Check Figure 9 at the bottom of this fellows page...


ea757grrl said...

"So, where's your civic sewage discharge, and what sort of processing do you do?"

If you haven't by now, do a web search for "John M. Asplund Wastewater Treatment Facility."

Anonymous said...

You need to say something to your boss about that paint job. Maybe you could start using the call sign "Airshark 1"!!


Aviatrix said...

ea757grrl: I guess if your name is "Asplund" you should just accept it gracefully and let them name a sewage treatment plant after you.

Aviatrix said...

Anonymous: I asked about the callsign thing, but apparently there's a disproportionately large fee for the privilege. And I got permission to repaint the nose last time I saw the boss, before I even saw the shark, but I'm pretty sure he meant repainting it the same colour to cover up the chips and scrapes.

Anonymous said...

Those clips are also used as hose clamps in automobiles here in the US. Actually much easier to put on and off as opposed to the screw kind, Especially if you have a set of pliers with a groove in the jaws that fits the prongs. Piece o cake!

Peter said...

I'm not a pilot, just an enthusiast, but if you're ever passing through Atlanta (or any of our several GA airports) I'd be happy to have lunch with you.

Aviatrix said...

Send me an e-mail so I can file it where I'll look for it if I have spare time in Atlanta someday.