Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wind, Fuel and Tie-Downs

Before breakfast in the hotel, I get the desk clerk to fax my photo flight plan to the IFR data people and my OFP to company, then grab breakfast. They have oatmeal, my favourite breakfast food, but they only have the maple flavour. Basically, they've taken perfectly good oatmeal and put it in a paper bag with way too much salt and sugar. I can't remember whether I ate it or turned straight to the muffins, but I did try to get a muffin out of a plexiglass case. You can't really see or reach the muffins without opening the drawer, but when I pull it out it somehow locks at a negative angle and muffins start ricocheting all over the room. Someone comes to my rescue and we figure out how to disarm the muffin booby trap. Girl can operate a complex airplane but she's helpless against breakfast.

Despite it all I'm right on the dot for my filed take-off time. Airborne, I tune departure and before I can contact them, the first thing I hear on frequency is, "Are you really an F-18? That's a pretty good rate of climb."

"Yeah, we're light today. It's pretty fun," replies the pilot. 'Cause you know, ordinarily it's so boring flying an F-18.

We check in with the cheerful controller and are cleared higher. We get a rate of climb nothing like that of an empty F-18, but still fine for us and we're soon in the flight levels flying back and forth in straight lines. And dammit, I need to pee already. There's a sound from the back like a clipboard being dropped. I ask the operator if he dropped his clipboard. No, he didn't. It's that stupid heater malfunctioning again. I turn it off. So now I need to pee and I'm going to be cold in a few minutes.

I put on my gloves and coat, zip it up to my chin and continue working. I can pee in a bag if I get too desperate, but they say if you're in a cold survival situation you should hold it because it's warm. The idea is that you're losing heat if you evacuate it. I'm not quite sure I follow that idea, but I follow the straight lines, dot after dot. We use up those photo blocks and ask for more, which the cheerful controller gives us.

With an hour of fuel remaining, I start descent. I planned for thirty minutes to get down and land and I take an odd pride in the fact that landing too is right on the filed minute. We taxi to the pumps and I run and pee while waiting for the fueller. The operator makes a routine check of the camera and discovers that there is fuel on the lens. The air at altitude doesn't have enough oxygen to burn fuel at the rate the regulator supplies it to the heater, and despite the fact that this airplane is certified to almost ten thousand feet higher than we were flying, it has not been equipped with any means of controlling the mixture. You'd think there would be an automatic pressure-controlled leaning operation, but there isn't. So our theory is that the unburned fuel gets barfed overboard through the exhaust, and some of it has ended up on the camera lens. Some of it ignites in the exhaust, causing the clipboard-dropping sound, and the soot around the exhaust that I have to clean off again. But we just had both the heater fuel regulator and the entire heater replaced, so it shouldn't be doing this. Airplanes never know what they aren't supposed to do.

Or maybe that theory is bogus and the heater is working okay, but there's some fuel leak somewhere else. I do the math on the fuel burn, as I've recorded how much went into each tank during refuelling. The fuel burn is right on the money for my planning, and the difference between tanks is negligible. We talk to our AMO ("Approved Maintenance Organization" i.e. home base aircraft maintainers) and they have us check for leaks while running the fuel pumps, switching tanks, and everything else they can think of. We decide to delay departure to make sure there isn't another source of fuel leaking that could wreck our data. We open some inspection ports and eventually conclude that the fuel must have come out of the heater, and we're okay to fly again.

As we're parking the airplane at the end of the day, a November-registered Cessna 180 arrives. It's windy, and of course the wind has a greater effect on the little airplane, but the pilot taxies carefully and shuts down nearby. They've come up to Canada for hunting, fishing and visiting family here. The pilot comments on the absence of tie-downs here, and at most Canadian airports. It's true, in comparison, there are hardly any tiedown spaces for transient aircraft in Canada. It's routine in the states that there are metal cables running across the parking area, and often chains with hooks attached, making it easy for you to secure your airplane. I remember now an American friend who asserted that all airports provided tie-down chains. His experience was limited, but it certainly is common. In Canada there aren't usually even tiedown rings in the pavement outside the paid long-term area. Canadians travelling with a small airplane need to bring ropes and stakes, park on the grass and drive the stakes into the turf to secure their airplanes. Everywhere is different, but what has driven this difference? It's not about snowploughs, as the travelling couple is from Montana and they have just as much snow as here.


nec Timide said...

Tiedowns are a bit of a hit-and-miss proposition in Canada. I've been at two airports with the cables accross the apron. Some with out any, and one without any but a staff who would happily come out with lengths of rebar and a sledge hammer to put them in for you.

My own home base has many on the grass for summer visitors, and a few sets of tires with concrete centres for winter visitors.

In my recent experience (Mostly Ontario) if an airport is listed as GA friendly in COPA's Places to Fly you will find some form of tiedown for visitors. Maybe airport managers that read your blog would like to update their respective pages there to indicate if they provide tiedowns or not. You usually need to bring your own ropes.

DataPilot said...

I remember now an American friend who asserted that all airports provided tie-down chains. His experience was limited, but it certainly is common.

My experiences here in the US are similar to your friend's. Pretty much all airports that I can think of supply transient aircraft with tiedown chains or ropes.

Our FBO would supply tiedowns mainly because the city would let us charge a fee for them. There was no tiedown police to enforce payment, but some pilots would come inside and give us the fifteen bucks anyway. Suckers.

The tiedowns really came in handy whenever windstorm was on the way. We'd ensure that everything parked on our apron was tied securely, and sometimes would even get out ropes and do double tiedowns. While it's true that we were genuinely concerned about the strangers' planes getting flipped by 90 mph gusts, we also had a self-serving reason for securing them. Our biggest hangar was located just downwind from transient parking, and we didn't want a wayward airplane to come crashing into it.

rw2 said...

Lack of tie-downs is one of those interesting little tidbits that would have bitten me someday. We plan to fly through your fine country one day and I simply wouldn't have known to ask that question. My experience here in the states is like those already stated. I'm low time (250 hours or so), but have been to a ton of airports in those hours (we like to fly from the midwest to the rockies to camp). I haven't yet seen an airport without tie-downs.

Sue said...

I'm very low-time, but a while ago I bought a set of those metal tie-down anchors and matching ropes, for what reason I no longer remember; I certainly don't carry them with me. Perhaps I read in the AF/D some entry that said "Please provide your own tie-downs." Anyway, I fly mostly in Massachusetts and other New England states and just this minute checked a few randomly-chosen nearby airports on and can't find any that ask transients to bring their own tiedowns.

leisuresuitwally said...

I like that you spelled snowplough the British way, unlike our colourful neighbours to the South. Not because one is more correct than the other, but because of my OCD for consistency in writing. Conveniently, this comment also fits your blog label: US-Canada differences.

I'll let airplanepilot pass for the same reason that I've abandoned all hope of using the metric system in aviation, except for METARs and FDs (see Nerdy Flight Planning Questions & Answers). Long live degrees Celcius, the John Babcock of the metric system!

Aviatrix said...

I spell it Celsius, and curiously it was aeroplane on my pilot licence until the very recent change of format. Now the word doesn't, as far as I can see, appear anywhere in the booklet in either spelling variant.

leisuresuitwally said...

:O I wish I could blame that on a typo, but it was an error ...and bad one too.

A Squared said...

Regarding your heater:

I used to fly, I suspect, the same airplane for the same purpose. I don't know the inner workings of the heater, but I'm pretty sure the heater in my airplane had some sort of fuel reglator. The underside of the fuselage immediately aft of the heater exhaust was always a sort of light choclate brown. If the heater had ben chronically runing rich as you describe, the exhaust stains would have been soot black.

I seem to recall that there were two different heaters which could be installed, perhaps the airplanes I flew had a different heater installed than the one you're flying.

It seems unlilkely to me that liquid gasoline would be coming out of the enhaust of a firing cumbustion heater, no matter how rich. It also seems unlkely that it could be condensing as a liquid from the exhaust.

Have you considered that the fuel may be coming from the heater after you turned it off, ie: what ever is supposed to stop fuel flow when the heater is not on is not working quite right?

A squared said...

Canadians travelling with a small airplane need to bring ropes and stakes, park on the grass and drive the stakes into the turf to secure their airplanes.

How well does that system work in February?