Friday, October 13, 2006

First of all, I'm making all this up. 'Cause if this had actually happened, I certainly wouldn't admit to it, and I also would be pretty ashamed of myself for my course of actions. Do you hear me, internet stalker? This is exceptionally fictional. No need to fret.


I had been asleep for about 45 minutes. What woke me up was the sound of the outboard tanks running dry. In the Navajo, when you run the outboard tanks dry, the engines will surge for a few moments before quitting completely. It makes a "Wow wow wow" sound. I felt like I had been clubbed like a baby seal, and it took a second or two for my eyes to adjust to the light in the cockpit, but I was already reaching for the proper switches. I changed the fuel selectors to the inboard tanks, and the engines resumed their normal routine. The adrenaline rush was enough to keep my eyes open until I made it back to home base. After I landed I walked home and slept for 18 hours.

I suppose I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.


It was nearly a decade ago. I was flying for Northern Dene Airways, on their Navajos and Barons. In the morning and afternoon, I had done a passenger run in the 'ho, taking miners from the local communities to a uranium mine, and taking miners who were done their rotations at the mine back home to the local communities.

I got home at around 6pm, and crashed on the couch, watching CBC North. (At the time, there were only 3 tv channels in Stony Rapids - CBC North, HBO, and a small tv station from La Ronge that mostly played old Westerns. HBO was awesome until I noticed that they repeat most of their progamming like twenty times a day).

Anyway, around 10pm the phone rang, it was a medevac. The owner didn't want to do it, so I took the trip. I showed up at the airport and found a little boy with his arm in a splint, along with his dad. The kid had been climbing or running or running and climbing, and had taken a header, resulting in a broken arm, so we were going south to make sure it was set in a cast.

I dropped them off in Prince Albert, and headed back up north at around 2am. I got back around 4:30am or so, put the plane to bed, went home and crawled into bed myself. The phone rang at 6:00am. It was the boss. He told me that he wasn't able to do the mine run that day, and so it was up to me to do the trips. I reminded him that I had less than an hour's worth of sleep, and he said "Yeah, that must be tough".

I went to the airport and fired up the plane, loaded up my miners and took them to the mine, a different mine than the day before. I waited there for a few hours, but unfortunately there were no bunks available, so I sat in the dining room and drank coffee. After a few hours, the outbound miners showed up and we flew home, dropping a few off along the way at places like Wollaston and Camsell Portage.

I got home at 7pm and walked into the house, nearly delerious with fatigue, and also with a wicked acid stomach, the result of too much coffee.

At 7:30pm, the phone rang. I didn't answer. At 7:40, the boss knocked on my door and told me I had a medevac flight down south. I told him I was exhausted and he said he had some hot coffee in the truck, I could drink it on my way to the airport. He said he'd even drive me there.

"Sir, I'm really, really tired. I probably shouldn't do this flight"
"We don't have anyone else to do it, unless I fix the problem by hiring someone tomorrow to come up here and do the flying you don't want to do"

Subtle.

We got to the airport and my passenger was there already, a pregnant girl who needed some sort of tune-up down south. We launched, and flew to La Ronge, landing around 10:30pm. My landing was so hard, I was lucky the girl didn't deliver right there in the plane. I just didn't care any more, all I wanted was to relax for a few minutes with my eyes closed.

I called the boss and told him I wanted to get a room for the night, then I'd bring the plane back the next morning.

"We need the plane first thing tomorrow for a mine run. You have to bring it back tonight. Either bring it back tonight or don't bother flying it up in the morning. You don't have to do tomorrow's mine run, so you get to sleep in as soon as you get back here."

The little man in my head told me to quit on the spot, but I told him to shut up. I had maybe 400 hours at this time and I knew I could be replaced the next day. So yeah, I took the coward's way and got in the plane for the flight back up north.

It was dark, the air was smooth, and the weather was perfect. And the sleep demons were coming for me. I was halfway back up north when I realized what I had done. There was no place for me to land nearby, the closest runway was now at my destination. Turning up all the lights to full bright in the airplane didn't do a damn thing. I smacked myself in the face, hard. It just made me angry and tired. I tried singing to myself, but that didn't work, I kept forgetting the lyrics to the songs I was trying to sing.

So I set the autopilot on heading mode, pointed in the direction of my northern home(the navajos I flew weren't coupled to the GPS at all, and heading mode was all we had), and I set it to maintain 9500' altitude.

And I sat back in my chair, and closed my eyes for a few seconds. Which brings me to the end, and the beginning of my story.

3 comments:

Smurfjet said...

Funny how your fingers/hands can move so fast when you need to.
We were in a Cherokee somewhere over eastern Ontario running on the outboards, needles on E. I turn to my friend who is the PIC and tell him maybe we should swith tanks now. He says we'll wait another minute. 10 seconds after that "wow wow wow" and the plane slows down. Boost pump on, mixture rich, and tanks switched.
February, IFR, over solid overcast. As I was taking pictures earlier through the holes in the clouds, it did not look very cozy down there.

Anyway I need to wipe my tears now "...a pregnant girl who needed some sort of tune-up down south".

No offence to the ladies I'm sure.

david said...

Your, uh, fictional world has 48-hour duty days. I'm glad that would never happen in real life.

Aviatrix said...

No offence to the ladies I'm sure.

None, actually, Smurfjet. I didn't blink. I've taken my share of pregnant women for their tune-ups.