Monday, July 30, 2012

Geeking on Canola

Flying, flying. This is a flying blog, right?  Nope, it's a blog about what I think about while and as a result of flying. Now I'm thinking it's kinda hazy, but at least I can see the ground because it's so brightly coloured in green and yellow. The green is I don't know, grass or corn or something, and the yellow I know is canola fields. Funny stuff canola. It started out as rapeseed, an industrial crop grown to produce lubricating oil. I decided to do a bit of research and not just tell you what I know off the top of my head about canola, so now we both get to learn stuff. Canadian rapeseed production expanded during World War II, and then they looked for more ways to use it. Health Canada wouldn't approve it as food crop because it was too high in erucic acid and glucosinolates. 

So, wonders Aviatrix, what's erucic acid and why is it bad?  Wikipedia says it's a straight chain of twenty-two carbon atoms with the COOH you'd expect of an organic acid tacked on one end. It's  "monounsaturated" which means it's two hydrogen atoms short of being fully hydrogenated. Which is bad for me again, saturated or unsaturated oils? New diversion ... oh this is complicated, no wonder I didn't remember. Unsaturated fats, that is the ones with double bonds that leave room for more hydrogens, are "good" because they lower bad cholesterol, but apparently they are "even better" if they are monounsaturated, having only one double bond and thus room for only two more hydrogens, because otherwise they might lower good cholesterol, too. The "bad" fats are the saturated ones, all full up with hydrogens, and having no double bonds, because they are solid at room temperature and clog your arteries.
(It's vaguely implied that the solidity is what clogs your arteries, but surely they don't escape the digestive process and make it through the alveolae into the blood with the hydrocarbon chain intact? Maybe I should have taken more biology. If what I eat is really racing around in my blood intact, maybe I should eat fewer Girl Scout cookies. They have kinda scary ingredients.) Finally, we have the "really bad" fats, the trans fats. I think there was even a Family Guy episode about how bad trans fats are. They are produced by hydrogenation, but wait a moment. I know what trans means in a chemical context. It means that the two hydrogens either side of a double bond are on opposite sides of the chain. So trans fats have to be unsaturated. So the "really bad" fats are necessarily members of the "good" or "even better" camps? The depiction of erucic acid structure on Wikipedia shows a cis structure (the opposite of trans). So we're safe.

But wait, why was erucic acid bad for me again? It's present in kale, mustard, brussels sprouts and broccoli, all of which are supposed to be good for me. It tastes bad. It might be bad for rats, because they can't metabolize fats well at all. There's some evidence it causes heart problems, and other evidence it cures them, as well as curing some weird rare disease. I give up on erucic acid.

Maybe the glucosinolates are really the evil part. Glucosinolates occur in almost all plants and react with a plant enzyme to protect the plant from insect attacks. Like everything else that does anything, a little is good, apparently protecting against cancer but a lot is bad, suppressing thyroid function and changing animal behaviour. So okay, too much is bad.

Anyway both compounds are bitter-tasting so they bred them out and then rebranded the result as canola. According to the canola marketing association website they did this, to differentiate the superior low-erucic acid and low-glucosinolate varieties and their products from the older rapeseed varieties, but yeah, right. I'm sure the person doing family grocery shopping in 1978 was far lass likely to balk at an association with glucosinolates than at the word rape. The can is for Canada and ola for oil, or oil low acid, but I've heard the homophony with love, peace and health food granola wasn't entirely coincidental.

Now most of the crop is GM and Roundup Ready and hey look it's pretty and yellow. So, uh, now I have more to think about when I see the bright yellow fields of canola sliding away beneath my wings.

My descent checklist is also colour-coded yellow. Fuel selectors on fullest tanks, anti-ice not required, altimeter set, oxygen off through 10,000', radios set, there's no ATIS so call flight services for the aerodrome advisory.  Hmm, here one normally taxies off via the cross runway, but today the cross runway is closed, so everyone has to backtrack to the apron. It's a busy airport, so we all have to space ourselves out and hustle back to the beginning of the runway to give the following aircraft their turn.

I can't see anything wrong with the cross runway. It turns out they're just mowing the grass beside it. Sometimes there are crops grown on the infield at the airport, but I'm pretty sure this is just ordinary grass. Definitely not canola.

Friday, July 27, 2012

This Might Be The Story of My Life

I'm VFR approaching a busy airport with published VFR arrivals. The controller tells me to "expect direct H (other airport) then direct another landmark." Other airport is approximately a 90 degree turn away from my destination, but okay, I'm expecting that now. I put it in the GPS, even.

And at this point I need a clearance into the airspace ahead of me, but I haven't been given one. I ask, "Did you want me to fly direct airport H now?"

I think he said, "Yes, please," which is even less standard radio language than using the past tense to form a polite question. So I turned direct airport H and descended as instructed.

Another controller than told me to expect the SomethingOrOther Arrival, which I'd already looked up. That arrival requires me to fly direct Landmark A, then on reaching it turn direct Landmark B, and at B tune the next frequency and fly direct Landmark C. It allows the controllers to create a conga line of arriving aircraft without clogging the frequency with explicit instructions to each. But when I'm told to expect something, shouldn't I wait to be given it?

In this case I don't wait. I turn direct Landmark A, with the feeling that I'm going to get yelled at, but I don't, and when told to call the next frequency, I tell them I'm direct Landmark A at altitude. That controller clears me the SomethingOrOther Arrival. Which I was expecting.

But I mean really, shouldn't there be a difference between "Fly direct A, expect direct B" and "Expect direct A then direct B"? Is this a new rule I missed? An old rule I never knew? Am I supposed to automatically behave as though I have already received what I expect? Is that why I have a blog instead of a career?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aliens Replaced

I picked up an airplane from maintenance. It was there for a 100 hour inspection (that's an inspection performed after the airplane has been flown for a hundred hours, not an inspection that takes a hundred hours). It usually takes two to three days, and can go to more, depending on what they find on the inspection and how much work those those items take to repair, or whether they have to order parts. I'm not sure how many hours get billed to it. I suppose if it's three guys working on it for a few days, and especially if we work them hard enough that overtime comes into the picture, it might sometimes be that kind of hundred hour, too.

Thankfully dealing with airplane maintenance bills is not my job. My job includes inspecting the airplane after it's been inspected and put back together again to ensure that nothing is obviously wrong, in advance of actually needing to fly the airplane. You'd be surprised what you can find. I've reached through the front cowling and discovered a spark plug set in its engine port and not tightened at all. I've opened the access door to check the oil and discovered an electronic testing device sitting on top of the engine. I've found inspection ports left open, lots of missing cowling screws, disconnected cowl flaps, and stuff that was on the work order but that just didn't get done. This reflects years of experience with many different maintainers at many different companies, not a reflection on my current or any particular company.

On this occasion, a hydraulic puddle appears under the airplane after I let down the flaps. It's happened before. I think they're just overenthusiastic about filling the reservoir. Everything else checks out. I also inspect the paperwork to make sure that we have the required documented proof that the inspection has been done. I see that a hydraulic fitting was adjusted, but that was to correct a small leak in the vicinity of the left main, and my puddle came out of the vent line.

The best part of reviewing the documents is AME spelling. It's can get downright cryptic if the AME is from Qu├ębec, and not working in his (usually his) native tongue. Today the person doing the paperwork is a native speaker of English, but was likely tired and in a hurry. The left propeller lever has been "realiened." I didn't even know that it had aliens in it in the first place, let alone that the aliens were required for smooth functioning and that they apparently need periodic replacement.

Okay, now I'm making fun, of course. To all AMEs, let me assure you that it is far more important to me that you know how to apply proper techniques to fix the parts of my airplane than that you can spell them. As long as I can tell what component has had what done to it, and that it worked, I'm quite happy with the paperwork you produce for me. Let me take my little bit of joy from appreciating the creative ways you spell things therein. I love that everyone uses printed stickers these days so I never have to read your handwriting, as I did ten years ago. And seriously, who would guess that aligned had a g in it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unknown Intentions

I'm flying into a big airport where I haven't been in a while. I'm given a choice of two arrivals. I don't know which will be quicker, but involves flying direct a VFR waypoint that is over a completely featureless area. The IFR fixes are all part of the database, but the VFR ones aren't, even though I'm VFR as often as not. The chart suggests no way to identify it visually, and I do not have time and head down opportunity to look it up and program into the GPS, so I request the other one.

My descent and approach checklist wants the heater off now, but I have the option of leaving it on until any time up to two minutes before shutdown on the ground. The item will recur on later checklists so I just skip it and move onto the next items. "Seat belt on?" I query, reminding myself to check my shoulder belt. I usually leave the shoulder belt on the whole flight unless it starts interfering with the headset, oxygen mask, guidance screen cable, or any of the other lines that define my Borglike existence in the cockpit.

The controllers are busy getting people in and out of here. There's a transient aircraft that appears to be sightseeing, but the pilot hasn't made his request very clear. The controller points him out to traffic by position and "unknown intentions." The pilot doesn't take the hint and the controller has to ask him specifically what he is doing. There is so much to this game of talking on the radio that is subtle and clever. When a new airplane enters the picture, you'll hear a controller pause just long enough to give an alert pilot time to report traffic in sight, or call looking, and spare the controller the obligation of describing the traffic all over again when the pilot who should be looking for it heard them call in. There are rumours about electronic controllers, but robots simply couldn't do what the humans do. The human element helps with sanity as well as safety.

An Air Canada Jazz jet is given a climb clearance and the pilot refuses it. He's flying on a ferry permit with a damaged windshield and is restricted to a maximum altitude of ten thousand feet. There's a story there. Stories everywhere. I'm cleared to land at the big airport and the controller tells me on final which taxiway to exit at. They aren't lettered neatly in order, so he helpfully adds that it's the second left. I remember to turn the heater off on final. I land full flaps and slow down for the second left, but he wants me to go to the next one. Ohhh, at the big airport the first taxiway doesn't count, because who would exit there? Only someone who is used to runways that only have one exit/entrance. I feel so bush as I add a bit of power to expedite to what I still think is the third left.

Tomorrow is an 8:30 take off, so 8:15 engine start, better make it 8:10 with how busy this place will be. Backing up with cab and flight planning and walkaround that means hotel breakfast at 6:50, so I set my alarm for 6:30. Good night.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Now It's Really Broken

The airplane with the broken off wingnut goes into maintenance and comes back out of maintenance still with no wingnut. Damnit. I didn't physically write the defect in the journey log because it was perfectly serviceable. I wasn't going to ground myself in Fort Swamp over a wingnut. I've flown airplanes that required tools to open the fuel caps as standard. But I'm a little teeny bit annoyed. I did tell the PRM the problem and this little tiny thing, the need to pull out a screwdriver to open a fuel cap is going to cost us a tiny bit of time and time and pose a tiny safety risk on every flight. The time is the time it takes for me to get a screwdriver out and put it away again afterwards every time I want to fuel or verify fuel. It's the time I take opening it for a fueller when I could be running to the washroom or filing a flight plan. The safety is the risk that I don't check the fuel level in that tank because it's a pain to get a screwdriver, or that the screwdriver gets dropped somewhere where it ends up in a tire or an aileron. Or just that the time I spend getting the screwdriver, or opening or closing the cap could have been spent spotting something else that was wrong somewhere on the aircraft.

So I e-mail the PRM and request that it please go on the workorder next time, and I go about my business. Today my business is fuelling this airplane to go to work. I open all the fuel caps, including the one without a wingnut and as I open the flap on the broken one, the screw comes all the way through onto the wing. Hmm. It is supposed to remain attached inside the flap. I look closely and inside the flap, next to the real, sealing fuel cap are a couple of bits. One is the tiny rod that is supposed to hold the fastener in place after I give it a half turn. And the other is the bottom end of the fastener, the bit with the bottom of the hole that the tiny rod runs through.

Now it's really broken. Fortunately I'm at home base now, but of course it's lunchtime. It's a rule in aviation. If the airplane doesn't break on a long weekend and/or away from base, it breaks on the engineers' lunchbreak. Lunchbreak and coffee break is sort of an alien concept to pilots. We get breaks, sometimes, between the first engine start of the day and walking away from the airplane parked and chocked after the last shutdown, but they aren't dictated by the clock. They're dictated by a late fuel truck or company telling me to wait. And I wait for lunchbreak to be over before presenting my broken fastener. They tell me no problem, but when I come out to see the repair, it still doesn't have a wingnut. And this time I can't use my Swiss army knife, because it requires a Phillips screwdriver.

They promise me a proper one at the next scheduled maintenance. I'll believe it when I see it. The coin in the photo is a toonie (or twoonie), the Canadian two-dollar coin. It's just there for scale. For the non-Canadians, it's 28 mm across.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Back in the Sky

It's another day, another part of the sky, this time with two functional mixture cables. We're finishing off a job we've been working on for almost a week, and the mission specialist tells me the next area he wants me to work. "How long will the job take?" I ask. He says, an hour, maybe an hour and a half. "I can get there and back, or I can get there and do the job, but I can't get there, do the job and get back to where we're supposed to be tonight." And there's no fuel at the airport where the job is.

There is, however, an aerodrome almost exactly en route that has fuel. I've been there before, years before. They have a crooked PAPI because there's a ridge preventing the final approach from being straight in. So you fly at the threshold at an angle, then straighten out and land at the last moment. The wind is a little too strong for company policy to approve me to land the other way, but someone else is. I announce joining downwind for the crooked approach. There's another airplane also waiting to use the into-wind runway. He's orbiting on the base leg waiting for the wrong-way airplane to land. It all works out with the airplane landing the wrong way, and exiting the runway, then the guy on base turning to the crooked final and exiting just before I reach the dogleg and land.

We taxi slowly off and then stop with the brakes on. Meanwhile the other aircraft has taxied straight to fuel. I watch them finish on one side and pass the hose across. We remain in position for a few minutes, not to cool the turbochargers (although that happens too) but for a mission requirement. They finish fuelling the other tank and are starting to recoil the hose. We taxi slowly up behind them, and then get the hint, pushing the airplane out of the way so we can park at the pumps. The fueller is laughing that there's been no one for hours and now two at once. While we pay for fuel he points out that the other crew seems to know us. We go back outside, and what do you know, we do know them. I met the pilot the day before I slammed into a Canada goose on takeoff. (Oh the adventures you miss when I'm not blogging). We tell them where we're off to and they say it's beautiful, we're really going to like it.

"It's not like we get to land and go to the beach!" I point out. (Yeah, there's a beach. Rocks and trees, too. So we're probably in Canada. Yet it's not named after an animal or a body of water. I looked it up: it's named after the guy who taught the guy who discovered it how to make maps. I wonder if he taught his students how to name places after people.) We take off. I'm about to make a right turn direct, when the controller asks me to make a left two-seventy for noise abatement. Okay, sure, whatever. I didn't see any houses there.

It is beautiful en route. My co-worker gets a text from the boss. If we can't get the work done, we're to land and wait for an hour and then take off and try again. So I've been ordered to fly to the most scenic spot within fuel range and go to the beach for an hour. My greatest problem is that I didn't bring sunblock. Sometimes I try not to brag about my job. Other times I don't bother. Also there are wild berries to eat. So much better than granola bars.

There's a little terminal here, unexpectedly nice for the middle of nowhere. A charter company rep is explaining to some city folk that there is no security here, they can just go out to the airplane. The city folk look confused, maybe a little afraid, as though the airplane will not fly correctly if they don't have their luggage examined first. When the tourists have left the charter company guy tells me that there are no federal employees here at all. They mowed the grass a little while ago and used a helicopter to clear it off the runway. That's right. If you think your neighbour's leaf blower is too ostentatious, try using a helicopter. Presumably the helicopter was taxiing out anyway and they asked them if they could please do a low pass to get the grass off the runway. Presumably.

In our crew of two, my job is to make decisions related to the airplane and the other person makes decisions related to data collection. Obviously these overlap sometimes and, as in my decision to land for fuel, safety trumps all. Normally he (the company doesn't currently have any females in that role) sends most of the communication to company, with my role in that reduced to, "did you tell the flight follower we were up?" and "did you already tell them we're landed?" He is the one who suffers the barrage of contradictory instructions on where to go next and what to make a priority. Except now his phone has run out of battery. I text that fact to company and now I get a slice of his life as the texts suggesting what we do now pile in to my phone. I have an hour and fifteen minutes of holding fuel, that is fuel that is not required to do the mission, get back, or be in reserve. So we take off as soon as we've had enough sun and berries. As it works out we don't need to hold at all. We complete the mission and head back, with me texting an ETE (estimated time enroute) from the driver's seat. After I sent it, I saw that the text wasn't being sent right away, because we were in a poor coverage area. I realized I should have made it an ETA (estimated time of arrival) so that it didn't matter what time it left my phone, it would still be accurate. But as it turned out there was an ATC delay for exactly as long as it took the text to send, so I was exactly on time, as far as the flight follower could tell.

And that's the end of another good day.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Maintenance Day

I left you in a cab on a way to a hotel. I asked the desk clerk if there was some place I could get a good vegetarian meal in town. (I'm not, but that's what I was in the mood for). He asked if sushi was vegetarian, so I didn't hold out high hopes for his next recommendation, but it turned out to be a restaurant that handed me a separate vegetarian menu when I asked. The fare on that menu was mainly "vegetarian meats," you know soy 'chicken' and the like. What I was really in the mood for was a hearty meal in the style of a culture that doesn't find it necessary to base a meal around meat, fake or otherwise, and I convinced them to do me a vegetarian version of a prawn curry dish from the regular menu. It was delicious, and they did artful things with asparagus in lieu of the prawns.

The mechanic told me last night that they start work around here at seven a.m. I left the aircraft keys with him, but planned to be in at seven anyway ... and you know what. I've been trying to tell you things day by day but it's just not working. It's just before six now and my alarm that tells me to get up and check out of the hotel is going off in a few minutes, so I'll cut to the highlights and stop trying to do all-day entries. I just don't have the time anymore.

The cable broke as the mechanic moved the controls to see the problem I was describing, so there was no question on how to proceed. It took all morning to figure out how to and remove the cable. It involved removing the foam sealant from the nosewheel gear door bay and removing almost every cowling on the airplane. I downloaded a maintenance manual and went through it. The only reference I could find to engine control cable installation was with reference to installing the wings, leading me to suspect that if the manufacturer thought about replacing those cables at all, they intended the wing to be taken off for the job. At one point the mechanic was removing a small bolt, blind using two pairs of long pliers. The old cable was out just before noon, which is when I picked up the new one from the express courier office.

It was installed, with no less trouble than the removal. On departure the next morning we had to make a quick return to have the transponder reconnected and later discovered the OAT gauge was similarly inoperative. They had to take that airplane to bits to get that cable in. And there's my alarm. Time to file a flight plan. And screw blogger for killing all my paragraph breaks lately.