Saturday, April 25, 2020

Small Town Cab

I found this partly-written post from 2015.

I'm in a small town not too far from a big city, at a hotel early in the morning, and need to get back to the airport for another day of making lines in the sky. The cab is on time, but it turns out that it's the driver's first day, and I'm her first ever customer.  I had to give her instructions on how to close the door. It's one of those new ones where you can't slam it, you have to kind of indicate that you want the door to close, and then wait patiently for it to close itself. Not a Type A person's door. It took me a while.

There's an odd sound from the motor. I ask if the vehicle is an electric hybrid. "I dunno," the cab driver admits, "They just told me to pick a car."

I have to give the driver directions to the airport. People in small towns near big cities often aren't aware that they have their own airport. "The airport" means the big city airport.  Sometimes it takes a lot of convincing, especially if English is not the driver's first language. This driver is fluent in English and she is willing to believe there is an airport in this direction. We go there.  I landed here once in an airplane with a GPS that didn't have the airport in the database, and the poor thing went into panic mode, thinking I was crashing instead of landing. It is one of those almost-deserted airports with a waist-high chain link fence, a little gate where you just lift the latch to swing it open, and engineless airplanes sitting in the long grass beside the pavement.

My notes say she charged me double, but not how I dealt with that. I probably just told her she was wrong and let her go through the credit card machine procedure again. While she was searching for the receipt book, I noticed that her fleece vest bears the logo of a transit company in the big city.  I asked about it and said she usually drives a school bus.

And then I suppose I went flying.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Lampposts and Overpasses

Apparently this happened today.

One of the useful things about small planes is that they do land at about the speed of traffic, typically touching down at 75-120 km/h. It is cool that no one saw the airplane and freaked out.  I know someone who was making a similar emergency landing and the driver of the car he was following saw the airplane in the rear view mirror and slammed on the brakes. Fortunately my friend had enough momentum to bobble up and land in front of the car, but better that everyone just keep their chill. I think there's a telescoping effect that makes everything look closer together in this picture.  From the angle we see it, it looks like a Ford Probe could barely merge into that space, but there's no honking or swerving as the Piper slots in.

This may be as much about Québec drivers as this pilot. I suppose every city's drivers look maniacal to every other city's drivers, but this is the only province in Canada with signs advising you to "attendez le feu vert" -- wait for the green light.  Maybe it's to prevent people from making right turns on red, allowed in, I think, all other provinces, but it seems to me that Québec drivers need the reminder that traffic lights aren't optional. If you've been to Toronto and to Paris, you will understand when I tell you that being a pedestrian in Montréal is much more like the Paris than the Toronto experience. In my opinion, the anything-can-happen-next experience of driving in la belle province has prepared these drivers for traffic that casually merges from above and then takes up three lanes.

The thing that freaks me out is the non-motorized obstacles.  Look at all the wires, the signs, the overpass and the lamp standards. If you're in control of your airplane you can put it on a runway point of your choosing, but damn, I like my approach corridors uncluttered.

Thursday, April 16, 2020


It's eerily quiet out there. I was on the ramp at an airport that usually makes the top ten or fifteen list for the most aircraft movements in the country, and during the pre-flight briefing I could hear frogs croaking in a distant ditch.

In the air I'm having the sort of chats with air traffic controllers that usually happen at three a.m. I can ask for direct just about anywhere from anywhere and get it instantly. I've a few times called up and had the controller reply "is that [airplane that's not me] calling for [something irrelevant to me]?"  That seems to mean that there's only one airplane in that controller's airspace, and the controller wasn't expecting it to want anything in the near future, so kind of zoned out. Maybe conducting a conversation with another bored controller, at a desk two metres away.

I asked a military controller whose airspace I was working in if he had other traffic on other frequencies, but he said it was just me.

Even in the sky we're isolated. Many thanks to all the people staying home, and staying away from people and places they'd love to visit, so that when some of us get this disease despite everyone's efforts, the hospitals are not overwhelmed and we have our best chance to recover.