Saturday, June 11, 2011

Trial by Ground

We find someone to look at the engine, and he sees nothing visibly wrong with the number two cylinder. They checked the mags, replaced the spark plugs, cleaned the injectors and swapped the #2 and #4 probes. That way they've addressed the most likely issues and if it is the probe or the gauge it will now be a different cylinder complaining. Smart. I'm happy with the work and we fuel and go for the Vancouver mission.

Vancouver International is one of the larger airports I've worked out of for a while, so I have all my charts lines up to find my way around. I listen to the ATIS and call clearance delivery for a departure. He offers me a choice between two departures, They are both in the wrong direction, because the work area is to the east and they are using westbound runways at the moment, so I pick one without much consideration. I'll work out exactly how do get there once they are done vectoring me through the departure. He then asks for more detail on the actual work area and chews me out because I have selected the wrong departure for the most efficient route to that area. He advises me to study a VTA next time. I say "<callsign> checks," contritely. The VTA is an astonishing forest of VFR reporting points, many of which are over the water. Do you get your bearings by identifying particular fish?

Once Clearance is done berating me, I call Ground for taxi. I know I'm on apron two. He asks me pleasantly which pad I will be departing today. Pad? Insert moment of radio silence while Aviatrix processes this question, and then my response, almost student pilotlike in its careful deadpan earnestness. "<callsign> is an aeroplane," pronouncing all three syllables of the last word. "Pad" refers to helipad. This apron is home to some helicopters. There must be a local helicopter with a similar callsign.

"Oh so you'd prefer to depart from a runway today?" he asks. Don't they have a strip on me? Has he been listening to Clearance Delivery telling me where to go and decided to take his turn? Is it a friendly joke like the briefer who pretended he thought I was a B747 on floats for my first student cross-country? I assume it's the last.

"If that would be convenient for you, sir." Sir is routine in the US, but in Canada "sir," like "niner," is often jocular or hypercorrect.

He gives me a taxi clearance I can manage, and I find my way to the correctly lettered piece of pavement and then to the hold short line, monitoring tower. They clear me to position and then for takeoff, and I switch to departure through 1000', as specified on the VFR departure instructions. They quickly vector me around to where I need to go.

It's very beautiful here. The mountains, which still have snow on them, wrap almost all the way around. There are mountains on Vancouver Island to the west, mountains stretching up the coast to the northwest, mountains forming a huge barricade to the north, blocking Vancouver into a valley, and more mountains to the southeast, as the coastal chain continues into Washington state. There's even a ten-thousand foot volcanic peak just south of the US border, with a ski hill on it. I don't get to look at all that much.

I get to look at nearby traffic and a screen with lines and dots on it. Sometimes I talk to the dots. When they talk back, I figure it's time for a snack. I'm improving, but it's easy to lose concentration for a moment, to be distracted by engine management and bank just a little at the wrong moment. "You know," I venture, "This could be made into the world's most boring video came for the iPod." The thing would be, you're not allowed to stop for six hours. So whether you have to make dinner, eat dinner, or attend to other physiological needs, the dots keep coming, and you keep having to follow the line. I also lament that I should get points. The dots should sparkle, like in the game Bejeweled. There should be points for my getting them spot in the middle with the crosshairs centred, and points lost for any red flashes. There should be combos available, and maybe a voiceover telling me to "Get Ready!" for each new line. The game should track high scores, per pilot, and maybe have spaceships. I'm not sure how you'd incorporate spaceships, maybe in the advanced levels I haven't reached yet. If I had an iPod developers' kit, I would try to make this game.

The engines behave perfectly, and lean right back to the fuel flow the operator expects, with normal EGTs. I hypothesize the flaky cylinder had a fuel injector issue or a bad spark plug. Too much fuel or too little ignition might cause combustion to continue too late in the cycle, raising the EGT, and too little of either could cause the intermittent rough running. Whatever it is is fixed now. The video game has to have a screen for fuel management, which you must periodically monitor without losing track of your dots.

Eventually I run out of dots, or spare fuel, I can't remember which, and head back to Vancouver for landing. I've been talking to Vancouver Terminal all this time, so they point me towards a runway and tell me to contact tower. I call them "<callsign>, 3500', with Xray" and tower is already mad at me. They want to know why I'm not with Terminal. I mentally review the last instruction from Terminal. It wasn't "Contact Tower crossing the river," or "Contact Tower through 2500'." It was "Contact Vancouver tower now, <frequency>." Tower has for some reason assumed that I have just appeared in their airspace without deigning to contact the agency that controls ALL the airspace surrounding it. The only way I could reach Vancouver Tower's airspace without passing through Terminal would be to take off from Vancouver. And I've already been through that trial by Ground. Is there such a major problem here with small airplanes bulling their way into class C airspace without a clearance that that is the first assumption on what I must assume is a botched terminal-tower handoff? I'm still cleared straight in, which is a little freaky, because it's a busy time at a busy airport, but I see they are aiming me for the departure runway, so they keep taking off jets in front of me, and landing them on the parallel beside me, and I don't interfere with either set.

I land, can't see a sign on the nearest taxiway, so maybe it's an entry-only taxiway and I roll to the next one, clearing the runway quickly with an Air Canada positioning behind me.

The operator knows I've worked hard today, and asks me if I can do another flight. Yeah, my duty day is good to seven p.m., that's with the time change. And I'm strangely energized after capturing all those dots. The next flight will be just an hour. After fuelling I call clearance again, this time requesting the departure that I think will do me the most good, and he assigns it to me with my squawk code. Ground clears me out and then warns someone else to watch for me. Yeah, watch out for her. He can't see me, but I can see him. He won't run over me. I guess apron II goes all the way to the the east end of the runway, and Ground doesn't know which bit I'm on. Is there a chance I've misnamed my apron location? The chart seems pretty clear.

We take off and go take pictures of a movie set. Cool, eh? I'm high-powered paparazzi now. I'll have to find out what movie. I didn't see the set, just the dots.

Landing back afterwards they clear me for a tight downwind and then clear me to land "keep your base in close." I turn base immediately and plummet to the runway with full flaps and gear down, clearing on that first taxiway, which is labelled, just further back than I looked. I may not know all the VFR departures, but I can keep my base in close.


david said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david said...

Nice display of professionalism (from you) not trying to argue with the controlers or explain over the radio.

Sarah said...

Yeah... no doubt after your long video game session in approach's airspace there was a shift change and the tower guy thought you just showed up. Once again VFR operating in a busy IFR airspace gets unfairly chewed on.

Pity you couldn't enjoy the view, but kudos to you for your patience, with the Pac-men and with ATC.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, some of the controllers I've worked with over the past 28 years are like your ground controller unfortunately. I find it much easier to learn what the pilots need first then offer suggestion that a pilot can choose from. Everyone has bad days, maybe the controller just got served divorce papers from a spouse, maybe the rent check bounced, maybe the teen daughter just left town with a motorcycle "club". Not excuses for being grumpy, but I think we can all understand. Hang in there and kill them with kindness!