Saturday, August 11, 2012

Over the Airwaves

I know I haven't updated in a while, but I'm very busy working, among other things. Here's today's flight.

Breakfast and paperwork all on top of one another in the hotel, to file two flight plans covering nine hours of flying over the day. They are somewhat specialized plans, so have to be faxed in to the IFR data centre at least an hour before take-off, so they can process them. We can do a turn in thirty minutes--we measure that touchdown to wheels up, so we taxi clear of the runway, cool the turbos, fuel, pee, refill water bottles, clean the windshield, restart, taxi out and roll again all in less than half an hour, our record is twenty-seven minutes, so the second plan has to be filed before we land the first flight.

Airport shuttle, fuel in the morning, to get cool fuel and fuller fuel tanks, then start up and call for clearance. I'm at an airport served by a Flight Service Station, so I call them, identifying my aircraft by callsign, type and position on the field plus the fact that I'm "looking for IFR to Moose Eddy." He gives me active runway, winds and altimeter setting, and then says nothing else. I call back and ask if I get my clearance from Centre, but he doesn't reply. I take this as a sign he's on the phone to Centre and figure he'll come back with my clearance in a bit. He does. It's a long one, with a crossing restriction and a "not valid if not airborne by" time, details usually absent from northern clearances. I read it back and punch in the transponder code.

I go on with my checklists. Airplane is running great lately. Apparently the magnetos are due for overhaul in under 25 hours, they're on extension already, but they all seem to be running well. The engines start well, run smoothly and the magneto drops are well within the acceptable range. We had a problem with the right engine fuel injectors a while ago: they kept clogging, so we replaced the fuel servo (turned out it had some corrosion that could have been a source of the clogging matter) and also upgraded the injectors. I believe we replaced the left fuel servo too. When everything checks out and the engine temperatures are nice and warm I taxi out and take off, with three minutes to spare on my clearance valid time. Given that my clearance valid time was my filed departure time, they didn't give me a big margin.

The FSS guy says to contact Centre through 5000', which is my crossing restriction altitude, cross 20 DME on course not above 5000'. The trick here is to get in touch with Centre and then they'll lift the restriction, so I climb quickly to 5000' and sure enough the crossing restriction is lifted and I'm cleared to my requested altitude en route. The controller says, "Contact me reaching," and then stops. I pause, waiting to see if he'll add reaching what, but he doesn't, so I read it back as "reaching one three thousand." I heard someone else get a similar fill-in-the-blank clearance here a few days ago. Must be the local dialect. It's amusing how something as aggressively standardized as ATC develops dialects. It demonstrates how easily Latin disintegrated into all the separate Romance languages as soon as it no longer had an army to back it up.

A good tailwind gets us where we're going in an hour, but conditions are not conducive to the work we're here to do, so we turn around and go home. I tell ATC why, referring to "the required quality" of our data. There's another company out doing the same work and my words may have shamed them, as I hear them quit ting too, shortly after we turn tail. We have a headwind going home, so it takes an hour and a half to get back even though our speed is aided by a 15,000' descent (don't worry, no underground stuff: we climbed higher than that initial clearance as we approached the work area). I pass the time listening to my iPod. But not music: Italian lessons. Oh yes, that earlier reference to European linguistic diversity was apropos of something. The differences from Spanish and French are so cool. Verb endings... how the hell to verb endings evolve in a language? It makes me understand how people can deny species evolution. The ability of time and tiny changes to effect big changes is hard to wrap ones mind around. I'm learning Italian because I'm going to Italy, and I you know I can't survive long without the ability to talk to people. Se parleresti italiano, scrivimi! Se potresti Skype posso cercare parlare.

My boss is planning to do a PPC in this airplane this month, so I test the autopilot on the VOR/DME approach. It works okay, but the descent rate it selects is proportionate to the altitude change, so when I ask it to go from 6500' to the 25 nm safe distance it plunges so rapidly that it sets off the terrain warning. It takes its time aligning properly with the runway, and level eight miles final at the no procedure turn altitude the GPS is going crazy with "terrain" and "too low" (I don't even remember seeing that last one before). I take control from the autopilot when I want to put approach flaps down, because the manual says not to operate it with any flaps extended. That seems kinda dumb: what's the point of having an autopilot that can capture a glideslope if it can't do it with flaps? I wouldn't want to have to reconfigure this airplane from clean to landing configuration at decision height. A previous autopilot I used required me to disengage it while extending flaps, which made more sense. (Hand flying makes it easier to immediately recognize asymmetric or runaway flap conditions).

Land and roll out. On the backtrack the FSS guy asks me if I was IFR for the last part. Wha? I specifically told him I had cancelled IFR and that I was going to fly a simulated approach to test the autopilot. I didn't have to tell him that, but I apparently I care enough about what controllers think about me that I wanted him to not consider me an idiot if the autopilot wandered off somewhere and I waited to see if it would figure it out. There was quite a strong crosswind. I can track a radial better than it can. Yes! I'm superior to a thirty-something year old machine! We take our joy where we can.

I taxi clear of the runway and call off with no acknowledgement.  A helicopter pilot starting up on the ground makes two attempts to raise the FSS guy and then calls me to check his radio. I tell him FSS guy is probably on the phone. FSS guy comes back and apologizes, "There was a kerfuffle at Squirrel Inlet."  He's looking after traffic at a different airport as well. The helicopter guy hopes everyone is alright and the FSS guy says yes, just a lot of traffic at once.

And then we shut down and got a cab. Too early to check into the hotel, so I'm blogging in the lobby.

Oh and don't worry, I remembered to cancel the second flight plan.


simmo said...

you have a very adventurous life! good blog i hope to read more..

OGS said...

I've just found your blog and I like it a lot. FAA PPL here, living in the Bay area but coming... guess what, from Italy. Naturalmente, possiamo parlare o scrivere in italiano quando vuoi!