Monday, July 31, 2006

More nostalgia from back in the day on AvCanada. These posts all took place during my medevac career with Thunder Airlines on the mighty MU-2. The airplane itself is an amazing machine, and I respect it like no other.

From April 23rd, 2003 - Initial PPC ride on the MU-2 for Thunder Airlines
I got a job flying medevacs in a squirrely but fun turboprop. Just in time for a good dose o'the SARS

Today's random topic is the PPC ride I did last week. I know lots of you have done PPC rides; those of you who have can skip this post Those of you who are still students might find it remotely interesting, so here goes nothing:

It was an initial ride on the airplane, so that meant a more thorough ride than a recurrent ride. With inital rides, you have to do stalls; they aren't required for recurrent rides. There were 2 of us on this groundschool, so I got to commiserate with my fellow victim, and that made things a lot easier. This was a real groundschool too, not like the ones I had previously been to, which typically took less than an hour. I can honestly say I learned a lot, but I can also say that my brain still hurts 2 weeks after the course, and I probably lost 10 pounds during the training because of the stress. Some people drink too much, I simply stop eating. Anyway, after 7 days of books and tests, we were allowed to sit in the airplane. That was fun; then came a few days of training flights, culminating in the PPC ride. I won't go into detail about thr training flights, except to say that there's nothing like aviation to humble a person

Anyway, on to the PPC ride itself...
We started with the ground briefing, mostly typical IFR stuff (the cold temperature altitude correction chart in the CAP GEN section, some lost comm stuff, basic approach plate reading) then went into airplane-specific stuff.
"Could you plug a toaster into the AC electrical system of this aircraft"
"Suppose your INVERTER OUT light starts flashing on and off, what do you do"
"What do you lose when you hit the EMERG. MASTER switch"
Mostly stuff to see if I had cracked open the manual since groundschool started. And I had, lucky me. You see, there's around 8 hours a days that I was apparently wasting by sleeping through it; If I simply used those 8 hours a day to study, I could keep up to the groundschool. We wrote something like 13 exams in 7 days; more exams than I had previously written in my entire commercial career. There's something to be said about a company that does things by the book, and doesn't take shortcuts. Although it was hell to go through, it made me feel good about the company culture. That's another post entirely though

Back to the ground briefing...
I convinced the inspector that I could not get a toaster working on the electrical system (400hz outta the inverters vs 60hz in your house, dontcha know ) and eventually he felt confident enough in my ability to set foot in the airplane with me.

We took off, then went out to the practice area for the upper airwork. First things first, we did a couple of 360 degree turns, to see if I had basic aircraft control figured out. I fooled him enough on that one, and we then went onto the stalls. We did approach to stalls, which isn't quite the same thing as stalls in the trusty C-172. In larger airplanes, you really aren't supposed to stall them fully, so you are to recover at the first sign of the stall, whether that's an audible warning, a stick-shaker, watching the other pilot for beads of sweat on their forehead, or just looking at the airspeed indicator and figuring it's a leetle slow. I went with the last option, and once the speed got below 120 knots, I added full power and recovered. We did another stall in the 'dirty' configuration (which isn't nearly as much fun as you might think --'dirty' means flaps and landing gear are extended) and once the airplane got down to 105 knots, I added power and we flew outta there.
Time for the engine failures on the overshoot, and we set up at 6000', pretending the runway was at 5000', getting the airplane all set up to land.

Once again, I know most of you already know this, I am posting for the newbies, so please keep your yawns and cruel comments to yourselves; I have such a thin skin

Anyway, we got set up on the fake ILS, and at 5200' the inspector called a moose on the simulated runway, and we overshot while the inspector failed an engine. No big deal, this little rocketship can climb just fine on a single fan, and that's just what we did.

After that was done, it was time for the IFR stuff. The inspector gave me a hold on the localizer backcourse, the tricky devil. Holds are kinda funny; it seems every pilot has his own method for screwing them up. I remember studying holds for hours in flight school, sure they were a combination of voodoo and bad luck until I stumbled on the method I use today. I just turn toward the station, so that my beacon or whatever is at the top of the HSI. I then take my outbound track, and superimpose it on the HSI. If it falls on the top left side, that's a parallel entry, if it falls on the top right side, it's offset, and if it falls anywhere else, it's a direct entry. It's so simple even I can use it The winds weren't too bad, so my timings worked out after the first entry. Thinking back on it, maybe I coulda sold my soul to Satan for a higher price than perfect hold entries, but I guess I'll eventually have all eternity to reflect on that

After the hold came the ILS approach, which went aight; we went down to minimums then overshot and did an NDB approach. On the NDB approach the inspector gave me a fake engine fire; no big deal but putting the fire out involves shutting the engine down, so I was pretty busy for a few moments. The Pilot-Not-Flying rebriefed me on the single-engine approach, and we managed to find the runway eventually. We were downwind in the circling approach when ATC called and asked me to keep the approach in tight to accomodate inbound jet traffic. Now normally I do everything I can to be nice to ATC; after all, they do control my life pretty much, but this time I begged them "I'm on my ride, go easy on me" and they let us extend downwind for a few miles and tuck in behind the jet. I wasn't about to fail my ride cause I screw up the circling approach at the last minute. After I made the radio call, I wondered if I had just failed by talking on the radio while being the Pilot Flying. That would have been embarassing, but as you can probably tell, I like the sound of my own voice.
Anyway, we found the runway eventually, taxied in, and shut down, the ramp attendants sticking their fingers in their ears in the oh-so-familiar Garrett salute.
We went back in for the debriefing, he told me to work on my landings, and gave me a shiny new PPC card and type rating on the back o'my licence.

Went back into the office, got a little gold airplane pin from our training Captain, drove to The Keg, ate a baseball sirloin and drank many beers. Mmmmm, baseball sirloin...yeah, I'll be on the Kraft Dinner for a couple of weeks as a result, but I hadn't been able to eat for a day before my ride due to nerves anyway.

Aight, sorry to bore you, but that's the start of my triumphant return. More to post as it happens...

From May 29th, 2003 - email forward - You know you are a medevac/cargo pilot when...
Thanks for this to my friend and competitor, she knows who she is

Your airplane was getting old when you were born.
You have not done a daylight landing in the past six months.
ATC advices you of smoother air at a different altitude, and you don't care.
When you taxi up to an FBO they roll out the red carpet, but quickly take it back when they recognize you.
You call the hotel van to pick you up and they don't understand where you are on the airport.
Your airplane has more than 75,000 cycles.
The lady at the ESSO locks up the popcorn machine because you plan on "making a meal of it".
Your airplane has more than eight faded logos on it.
You wear the same shirt for a week, and no one complains.
Center mispronounces your call sign more than three times in one flight.
Your Dispatch mysteriously changes your max takeoff weight during the holiday season.
Every FBO makes you park out of sight of their building.
You have ever walked barefoot through the FBO because you just woke up.
You mark every ramp with engine oil.
Everything you own is in you flight bag and suitcase.
Your company office is a mobile trailer at the side of the ramp.
You eat dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner.
ATC always asking for pireps because you're the first one through in 3 hrs.
You lost your sunglasses a year ago and haven't bothered to look for them.
You wake up when the rest of the world goes to bed and go to work when the rest goes to sleep.
You smirk at all the Air Canada pilots asking for a ride report.
The cabin is never too cold or warm, always just right.
You never have to explain to anyone why there is a delay.
You're the one with the extremely wrinkled shirt because it doubles as your pyjamas.
Your dog barks at you when you come home.
You've never met your chief pilot.
Your frequent flyer miles exceed your salary each year.
When you walk into the hotel bar wearing just a towel & flip flops you feel over dressed !!!.
You are cleared direct everywhere.
You start to wonder what's wrong with ATC if you haven't got your landing clearance by 50 miles from the FAF.
The first runway condition report of the day is given by... you.
You have never disembarked your aircraft on to a jetway.
When you forget to check in, and ATC doesn't seem to care.
When you wear sunglasses when it's a full moon.
When you get frightened when the sun starts to rise.
When you get annoyed if you're Nr. 2 in traffic.
When you don't leave home without duct tape.
Your Boss say's 'Weather, why check the weather. Your going anyway so why frighten yourself'.
Your Checklist includes tape for the labeling machine incase the 'inop' stickers fall off in flight
When you are sitting at the hotel bar at 5:00 Lt, wearing your high visibility jacket, and having your BBB (the very famous Before Breakfast Beer).
Your'e watching 'Top Gun', and when Maverick and Goose are being chewed out and threatened with "flying cargo planes full of rubber dog **** out of Hong Kong", you think "Hey, great job!
You get picked up as a vagrant on the ramp.
You wish you'd kept the piece of cold pizza.
Your children ask their mum who this strange man who sometimes visits is.
You find yourself watching people going to work through the bar window.
You wonder what a hostie would be like......then remember you married one in a previous life.
You can't work out what they are watching on TV when jump seating in an EFIS flight deck.
You have to wake up the customs & immigration people at the departure/destination airport.
You never get jump seaters from other operators, they are too afraid.
JP4 (jet fuel) is a form of cologne.
You often watch your aircraft take to see if any panels fall off.
Even spotters avoid you like the plague.
Dirty aircraft? That's not dirt, that holds panels on.
You often work with no shirt on to catch some rays.
People ask who you work for? You reply with your airline. They will then say, "never heard of them".
A fax machine is considered Hi-Tech equipment.
You keep a bottle of Crown Royal in the nose for the day the engine blows a jug and your'e stranded in some reserve for a few days.
You're asked where is your torque wrench? You reply, "It's right here in my elbow and my wrist watch is my calibration sticker".
They can't have drug tests because everyone would get fired.
You wipe the cowlings clean only to find that it's the same color underneath.
Your maintenance vehicle has many roles including, house, ladder, office, HAZ MAT storage, parts depot and maintenance control.
You set an alarm clock in the cockpit, in case the whole crew falls asleep.

From October 15th, 2003 - Ode to my pager

I hate my pager. I hate the way it looks, I HATE the sound it makes when it goes off, I hate the way I have to replace the batteries every month; I even hate the way it smells. Yeah, I've smelled my pager. I have chewed on it from time to time also. Don't look at me that way, most of you have been there The stupid little buttons on it have no internal logic at all. It seems like the buttons exchange functions each time I pick it up.
I hate the way it just sits there most of the time, like a hand grenade with a weak pin. It taunts me, daring me to forget it somewhere, waiting until 15 minutes after I have gone to sleep for the night, then beep-beep-beeping me from my peaceful sleep to the cold sweat of a midnight rush to a medevac in a blizzard.
If I ever win the lottery, I'm going to buy a Viking hat, a pair of Depends and a large bottle of scotch, then show up at the office wearing only those 2 articles, whilst drinking the third. As my last official act as a salaryman, I will hand the dispatcher a small bag of plastic pieces and wire, the remnants of my Motorola DA 1260. The bag may be moist, because there will probably be urine involved.
I wear my electronic leash for 10 days in a row, then I have 5 days off, then it's back on for 10. I will most likely repeat this cycle until a job with WestJet, retirement, or death.
When I hear similar noises on TV, it always makes my heart skip a beat. Even when I'm testing the damn thing, and I know it's going to chime, it still makes me feel all panicky and sick just for a few seconds after it goes off. Even when I know it's not actually summoning me for my 15-hour duty day. Pavlov would be proud.
After I shower in the morning, I run over to the pager and make sure it hasn't gone off whilst I was washing the bugs off.
I haven't missed a call on it yet, which is a good thing; I think it will probably break my mind the first time I look at it and realize that it went off an hour earlier and the medevac patient died and the boss is pissed.
There's no real point to this story; I'm just on days off right now and I notice that I feel much happier and less stressed cause I know the damn thing is sitting under a pile of laundry with the battery ripped out, and will remain there until Sunday. Then the battle of Sulako vs. Motorola will begin all over again. One of us isn't going to walk away from this struggle; the sad thing is it's probably me

From November 17th, 2003 - MU-2 Medevac Stories
Most of them are a blur; your average older person with cancer or liver failure etc. Sometimes we get ones that are a little more unusual. Here's a few that I have had since the spring.
[b]Some stuff has been changed 'cause I don't wanna lose my job by revealing 'customer' details. These aren't exactly feel-good stories. You have been warned.[/b]

The forest fire fighter who was chopping down a tree and got squished by it, breaking both his shoulder blades and both his arms. Nothing special there, but he was a larger gent; in fact wider than the doorway of the airplane, so the medics had to push his arms together to get him through. Even with the morphine he still managed a few lusty shrieks.

The dimwit who got drunk with his buddy, then decided to play tag on jetskis in the harbour after dark. His buddy won, smoking him with the jetski and breaking his back (not paralyzed, though). A memorable quote from the whiny, hungover jock - "I have been on lots of stretchers before, and this is the most uncomfortable one I have ever been on."

This one still haunts me for some reason. An average fellow, no strange medical history. Gets a nosebleed. It won't stop. We were paged out in the middle of the night to fly him to a major hospital 'cause otherwise he was gonna bleed out. He had a catheter in his nose leading to a bag, and he had filled the bag completely during the 25 minute flight. I asked one of our medics about it and he said people die all the time from nosebleeds. //me will think twice before battling the nose goblins ever again.

The shirtless fellow in handcuffs, accompanied by 2 police officers. He was built like a tank, covered in tattoos. I asked why we were taking him to the hospital, and the cops told me "Cause he's homicidal". Our medic gave him a quick shot of something before we started the engines and he spent the trip softly singing to himself.

The sweet 19-year old girl with liver cancer. The whites of her eyes were bright yellow. We were taking her home to die. When we landed, almost 150 people were there to meet her. Some sang, most just wanted to touch her as she was being loaded into the van.

The elderly lady with a broken hip. For whatever reason, the doctors hadn't given her any pain meds before transferring her to a new hospital, so she was already weeping in the ambulance. The loud ones bug me. Now before I go any further, I wanna say that I had never dropped a patient before. Actually, let's cut this one short, I think you can see where it's headed.

The teenaged boy who tried to hang himself, and ended up breaking his neck, turning himself into a quadrapalegic. Whatever problems he had before must seem pretty inconsequential now in comparison.

Why am I writing this? I dunno really. Most of them don't bug me at all, but I need to get a few of them outta my head soon. I'm hoping that writing this might help. Feel free to add to this if you have similar ghosts.

From February 8th, 2004 - Flying the MU-2 for Thunder Airlines

We have several bases at the company that I work for, and a couple of weeks ago I got a call from the CP. It went something like this "You are taking a company vehicle to another base tomorrow, and it's gonna have all your stuff in it." I am paraphrasing, and the dance was a little more delicate, but the end result is the same.

This is not the first time this has happened, and it won't be the last either. I don't really mind at all; I hadn't particularly bonded with my current location outside of work, so this will give me a chance to reinvent myself as well as being about 8 hours closer to the lovely Lisa.

It was funny as well as sobering to realize exactly what a move means to me. I pack a few clothes, the all-important white shirts with epaulets, some music CDs and my computer. Throw some old mini-soaps and tiny shampoo bottles into the hockey bag also (gee, wonder where I got those from?), some granola bars and a couple of bananas and I'm good to go.

I am 32 years old. The truck had eight boxes in the back of it. Eight. Is this the sum total of my life? Yeah I love and I am loved, but as far as earthly possessions go, I am pretty lacking. Ahh, don't forget my Xbox. Do other professions ask that you not accumulate furniture in case you have to move on a moment's notice? How long will I be forced to memorize new phone numbers and postal codes? Is this still paying my dues? Will I be expected to pay my dues until I retire? When I was 5 years old and dreamed of flying, I imagined watching the landscape stretch below me endlessly and luxuriously, while the stars burned bright above me, guiding my way home. I never even thought about being lonely or how many suitcases I would wear our. Talk about naiive.

When I was a twentysomething, still going to university and indulging in that lifestyle, at night my pals and I would sit in our back yard, laying flat out on the park benches we had liberated, staring up at the stars, and discussing philosophy. We agreed that change was good and stagnation was evil. Were we really so foolish?

Will I know when it's okay to put down roots? To think about owning rather than renting? To think about putting the extra effort into making real friends rather than buddies or acquaintances? To consider a family? Have I given that up?

With this new move I get to meet new people and fashion their impression of me a little bit closer to the way I want to see myself. But if I am born again, why do I feel so tired?


Anonymous said...

Wow, I remember some of that stuff!
At least you got to leave!!!
*grumble, grumble*


Aviatrix said...

Damnit. I skipped these earlier, thinking "who wants to read old AvCanada posts? I don't even like reading current ones." And then, sucked in by the pretense that the "you know you're a cargo/medevac pilot" one was funny, I started reading about my life.

I'm not sure whether to be miserable or reassured that you're now flying to the Bahamas in addition to flying to Goose Bay. I'm still flying to Goose Bay analogues and have learned the hard way that everything I want to see again must be in my flight bag.