Saturday, September 27, 2014

Child Prodigy Inspiration

You know the kind. The kid who built a nuclear power plant in his parents' garage. The seventeen year old wunderkind who is flying an airplane she built herself across the continent. The teenager who is not yet old enough to vote, but who has successfully lobbied for a change in foreign policy and raised $300,000 to help enslaved kids in the third world. They used to make me kind of depressed and irritated that I had so much lower an accomplishment to lifespan ratio. But recently I started to look at them in a new way.

If a kid has accomplished so much in ten years, the first few of which he or she was mainly focused on learning to talk and control bodily elimination functions, then any of us can take the next ten years and do whatever we want without having a lifetime of that behind us. Whatever we know about the subject is going to be greater than what the kid started with. All the kid has on us is that he or she didn't know it couldn't be done.

I haven't decided what to do with my newfound inspiration, except maybe use it as a procrastination excuse, but I thought I'd share it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cold, Hypoxia and Spiders

From time to time a person stows away in the wheel well of an airliner. There's a big space up there, with room for all the hydraulics, a retracted wheel, and a person. Doors close over the opening to provide streamlining, but I don't know that they close tightly enough to prevent draughts. Mine certainly don't. My gear doors don't even cover the whole opening. There is no pressurization and no heating in that space. At altitude the proportion of oxygen in the air is the same as at sea level, but the total air pressure is less, so the partial pressure of oxygen is also less. This pressure is important. A person can't get sufficient oxygen just by breathing faster. The pressure of the oxygen is what allows oxygen to enter the bloodstream. If the pressure isn't high enough, there is insufficient oxygen for the brain to function. A person loses the ability to make decisions, passes out and if the deprivation is severe enough, eventually dies.

The air temperature decreases by two or three degrees for every thousand feet of altitude, down to about -56C. I've never seen one of these where the stowaway had sufficient knowledge--or resources--to wear a parka. I've been outdoors in temperatures down to about -40. Wearing a parka, and gloves, and a toque underneath my parka hood, and giant Sorel boots, and mittens, while physically active. If I had stopped and curled up for a few hours I know I would have become very very cold.

Most of the time the cold, lack of oxygen and sometimes falling out of the wheelwell kills the stowaway. But sometimes they make it, like this kid from California. Humans can be freaking tough. I find it hilarious, but not that surprising that an unhappy teenager successfully breached airfield security. There is trust involved in aviation. Many places we pay for fuel on the honour system. It takes no genius and rarely requires tools to breech an airport gate. There is also a trade off, mutual assistance among aviators is a tradition much older than airfield security. It's hard to stop people from helping one another. And absolutely any tool someone might need on an airport can literally fly over the fence.

I'm amused that the commenters on that CBC piece include someone who insists a wheelwell monitoring camera and pre-departure check thereof should be standard, someone who doesn't believe the incident happened at all, and someone who sees a conspiracy theory at work.

My airplane often carries little stowaways that seem to suffer no ill effect. Spiders crawl up in my wheel wells. I landed the other day, taxied a short distance off the runway, shut down and got out to clean the windshield. In that time, maybe five minutes since the propellers had stopped spinning, a spider had already strung silk from the propeller across to the fuselage, such that I had to break the web to access my forward cargo area, where the windshield cleaner is. I don't know that it was one of the spiders I carry with me, but I like to think the conditions are producing super spiders. I wonder if insects are attracted to the heat coming off the nacelles, making that a prime spot for web building.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Who Knew September Was Such a Busy Month

I haven't dropped off the face of the Earth. I've been flying, amassing comments on the iPad, assessing the proposed new duty time regulations for pilots and how they will affect my company's operations, and mostly stuck in hotels with terrible Internet. That makes company paperwork take twice as long and leaves no room for blogging. Oh good grief, "An error occurred while trying to save or publish your post," and this is one of the better hotels this week. Okay, this is what I've got got for you today: an aviation headset has two plugs, one that connects the earphones to the system so the crewmember can hear, and one that connects the microphone to the system so the crewmember can speak on the intercom or radio. Each seat in the airplane has two receptacles to hold these two plugs. The intercom in this plane has three settings: ISO, CREW, and ALL. The ISO setting allows the left seat pilot to hear and transmit on the radio and talk to herself, while everyone else plugged into the intercom can talk amongst themselves but not hear or disturb the pilot or the radios. The CREW setting allows the two front seat occupants to speak without being heard by the person in the back, and ALL puts everyone in the loop. Generally the intercom is on ALL for normal operations. I will use the ISO settings if the crewmember in the right seat is training the crewmember in the back (or vice versa) and they are talking over ATC or want to talk during sterile cockpit times. I use CREW if I'm training a pilot in the front and want to give feedback in private. Or if the crewmember in the right seat is training the one in the back and we want to make snide remarks about them. I'll also use the ISO setting if I notice the crewmember in the back has fallen asleep (this is permitted, and indeed encouraged when they have no duties) but hasn't pulled out his or her headset jack, so that radio transmissions don't wake them up. I encourage them to pull their headset plugs if they want to sleep, because that way they don't have to throw crumpled up wads of paper at me to get me to turn the intercom back on when they wake up and want my attention. And then there's today: howling headwinds had us slowed to a crawl, done our work but proceeding to another aerodrome where they want us to start tomorrow. And the pilot starts singing, "The propellers on the plane go 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round ..." Usually I swing my microphone away from my mouth before I sing, but sometimes my fellow crewmembers must suffer. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I teach you how to pull out your headset plugs.