Thursday, June 02, 2011

And Here I Am

So, here's a bit of review. I had a job I liked, which was actually contract work, for a few years and then the company ceased operations, so I looked for a new job. I didn't find exactly find one, but I kind of found two: two companies that wish to contract me for flying: Eagle and Seagull. Eagle starts right away, and Seagull will pick up in a month or so. It's not the two-pilot IFR operations I had sought, but it's work I can do, with the familiar dynamic of one pilot and one non-pilot crewmember.

My first assignment at Eagle is to fly to Slave Lake. (Yes, that Slave Lake. Who knew that events in Slave Lake would try to interfere with me telling a leisurely story? Canadians, please don't spoil the ending just yet.) Is it becoming a tradition for me that each new job takes me to familiar territory, or have I just spent so much time in so many places by now that it would be more of a coincidence had the job taken me to somewhere I had never been? The community of Slave Lake is where I remember it, the threshold of runway 10 almost against the eastern shore of Lesser Slave Lake and the two-eight end hidden behind little hills until I am almost upon it, helicopter traffic on the radio alerting me to the activity before I enter the zone. Winds favour 28, so I select approach flaps and join a left base. Flaps half, gear speed, gear down, turn final, call final, landing flaps. Three green, one in the mirror, mixtures and props forward. Land (maybe I should work on that) and roll out to the taxiway.

Stop and take my time to confirm after landing checks with a not-yet-instinctive checklist, then taxi to the pumps. It's after six p.m. I still have the phone number for fuel callout here in my iPod, so I call without even getting out of my seat. The after-hours callout fee is $25, very reasonable for the north, and the fueller is friendly. He wasn't here last time I was here, so he doesn't know it's "me again." I'm just another transient aircraft.

I get out of the airplane and it's absolutely gorgeous. It's about twenty degrees here, with a light breeze, almost cloudless sky, and clean fresh air. It's a beautiful place that gets overlooked because of its ugly name. People assume it's going to be like Fort McMurray just because it's in Northern Alberta. But Slave is a friendly little town, with paths and treed greenways all through town so that although it has grown, everyone can still walk to the cool forest in only a few blocks.

Fuelling complete, I taxi to parking and chock the aircraft. The other crew member asks me for the baggage door key and I give it to him. The owner gave it to me on a neck lanyard, stressing that it was the only copy they had at the moment, they hadn't been able to get another cut. "No, not this key, the rear one."

"Isn't it the same key?" I say, but I should have known. I can even recall now the owner complaining that thanks to the front baggage door AD, they now have to lock it with a key. That should have twigged in my mind that the front key was a new key and therefore most likely different from the old ones. Expediency in effecting the AD would probably have hindered someone going to the trouble to find the same sort of lock and tumble it to match the others, even if that lock type was available to satisfy the AD. One of the things you get when you hire an experienced pilot is someone familiar with weather patterns and able to cope with different conditions, but the package also includes someone who knows about the craziness of airplane keys. "I should have asked," I apologize, but he doesn't see how I could have known, and takes full responsibility. There are actually three separate keys, and without the missing one we can't properly secure the aircraft.

I know Slave Lake to be a pretty good area. He warily eyes the gaps in the airport fence. It's not that reassuring to tell people that it's really easy to break into one of these, so the key isn't that important. See that's why I need a blog delay, so you don't know where there are unlocked airplanes sitting in front of the terminal.

Coworkers are already here so we call them instead of a cab for a pickup. I smile at the familiar streets and businesses of downtown Slave Lake. We go by the school, and the new mall. It wasn't quite finished when I was here before. We arrive at a brand new Holiday Inn. I don't even think it was a foundation when I was here last. It's where they are staying, but the Inn is out of non-smoking rooms, so we go across the street to the Super-8. Ahh, the Slave Lake Super-8. Some things never change. Well except the staff here, who seem to change weekly. So what hasn't changed is the quirkiness of the check-in clerk. I ask her, the others waiting in the car, if she has two non-smoking rooms. She's not a multi-tasker, and she has clearly set a rule for herself to help one customer at a time, in order of arrival. So I wait through the slow, careful check in process of another customer before she can tell me that yes, she does have the rooms. And the guy who lost a twoonie in the vending machine has to wait until both of us are checked in before she can help him. "I don't have a twoonie," I hear her say in the end. But she solves the problem herself after only a moment, by giving him two loonies.

It's fun being the one on the team who knows the town, because it completely erases the inequality of being the new one on the team. I can recommend a nearby restaurant, and find the Wal-Mart, Shoppers Drug Mart and Canadian Tire for us to get supplies. I have a delicious Bison burger--hey if you're going to eat large animals, do it in the Alberta plains. I notice that although it's still bright daylight, it's gone nine o' clock and ask the waitress if she knows how late the Wal-Mart is open here. She thinks at least ten, so we're good. The waitress is, by her accent, from the east coast and she says that while at first she was daunted by the short winter days that she adores the long summer ones so much that it's all worth it. She's going camping on the weekend, up in the park, and there will be time after work Friday for her to drive up and set up camp in the daylight. We go and buy batteries, then it's bedtime.


cockney steve said...

Here in UK, it seems to be common practise to leave keys in hangared light aircraft.
Regarding locks, anything diesel-powered was operated by a standard, extremely crude key for which a screwdriver,nail-file or any gash key could be substituted.

From a combine-harvester to a mobile crane,tipper-truck to a bulldozer, the standard key worked.
At least , with an aeroplane, Darwin usually takes care of the "teach yourself to fly" sector of the populace.

I'm sure we've all read of the (usually alcohol fuelled) thefts of building-site machines, double-decker buses, electric milk-floats and the like.
What would worry me more with an aircraft, is vandalism that's not immediately visible.
Glad you're back where you belong,-the "fill-in" post can only look good on your CV.

Cedarglen said...

The woman is FLYING! That sure works for me. Congratulations.

Cirrocumulus said...

Steve, have you seen a modern double-decker where you swipe your card and type in a passcode then it sets the seat and steering wheel positions for you? Joyriders: make sure you pinch the card of a driver your size!

DataPilot said...

Flying into idyllic small towns - the best part of flying. Imho.

Iffy locks seem to be standard equipment on so many small planes. And it's way too easy for a thief to break the cheesy little door locks that manufacturers use as standard equipment. Most of the planes with mis-matched locks that I've encountered were prior victims of a poorly-execute burglary.

On the topic of getting the door open without breaking the locks...

The FBO I worked for some 30 years ago had a single gas pump and a narrow access ramp to one line of T-hangars. You wouldn't believe how many boneheads would park their plane right smack in front of the gas pump (or T-hangar ramp), set the parking brake, lock the door, and go tooling off to heaven-knows-where - sometimes for days. Of course, it never even occurred to them that they might be preventing other people from fueling up or getting their planes out of the hangar. In the back of the FBO, we had several enormous rings of keys, from every major manufacturer. Don't ask me where they came from - I don't know - but we used them many times to open doors on Bonehead Pilots' planes, in order to unset the parking brake and tow them out of the way.

The key collection never failed us. :)

Anoynmous said...

The same key worked to unlock every single Coleman pop-up camping trailer I ever tried it on. That's only actually about a half dozen of them, but the pattern is obvious. It came in handy one day when I temporarily misplaced my own key, and successfully borrowed one from another family camping in the same area.

Anonymous said...

Did the waitress start it? At least tell us she is, so we can all have a moment. Glad your safe....