Sunday, December 31, 2006

Hey, I'm on holidays.

I'll start posting daily again as of tomorrow, starting with a story that has remained burned into my consciousness since it happened.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Holidays!

I have been at Lisa's place for the past few days, eating and socializing. Today there will be 30+ people in the house, so I'm gonna make this quick entry before I go help with the mashed potatoes and gravy.

I hope Santa was kind, and that you didn't get too many lumps of coal in your stockings. I hope that next year sees you working less for more money, and I hope that the worst part of 2007 is your hangover on January 1st.

p.s. I got some yummy candy, some clothes, and some framed pictures of myself and Lisa. Santa did a great job and will be invited back next year.

I'll do a 'real' entry tomorrow; there are 2 stories percolating in my brain that need written down. But for now, it's all about the turkey and the giblets and the christmas rum 'n egg nog.

On a sad note, I see that veteran Soul singer James Brown passed away this morning. I'll do up some special mashed potatoes in his honor.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Today was a good day.

In Canada, each commercial flight operation is assigned a Transport Canada inspector, who will personally oversee the operation and conduct audits etc. Our former inspector got transferred to another department within Transport Canada, so today I met our new inspector and gave him a tour of our operation. He came to our flight department office and we talked for about an hour - he would ask questions about our operation and I'd tell him the answers. Stuff like "How do you track flight duty times" or "Show me how you flight plan a trip" or "Explain your maintenance system and arrangements to me" or "Show me your flight following system". He then randomly picked from all the flights we did in 2006 (so far) and we went over the records of the ones he picked, and I showed him that everything was complete and correct.

I was in high spirits after our meeting - apparently our operation is being conducted exactly how it should be, and he said he was very impressed. And last but not least, after a few months of being Acting Director of Flight Operations, he gave me a letter that allows me to remove "Acting" from the title, so that was really cool too.

I am incredibly fortunate to have the luxury of working for a company that has the resources and inclination to do things the right way in their flight department. We don't cut corners on anything, and we make sure every aspect of the operation is audit-worthy. Doing that isn't easy, nor is it cheap. It takes a *lot* of money and effort to keep everything together, but it really felt good to have our inspector give us kudos on our operation, and I know my boss considers the money well-spent. Oh yeah, having a top-notch, safe operation is in my own best interest anyway, seeing as how I fly the airplanes and all.

After that, I went to our parent company Christmas party, which was much fun. I ate and ate and ate and ate and ate some more. Then we had some games; each table of people had some supplies to build a styrofoam snowman, and 20 minutes to create something that would make Frosty himself melt with jealous rage. Our "Mardi Gras" snowman didn't win any awards but it was hella fun to make, even though I managed to get gold glitter glue all over my clothes, hands and face in the process.

Then we had a gift exchange, which was hilarious. It was the standard "the first person picks a gift from the pile and unwraps it. Then the second person can either take a gift from the pile or steal the gift that the first person got" and it was great watching senior managers get their presents taken by junior part-time employees. I was also really amused at the attempts that some people would go to in order to conceal their gifts so they couldn't be stolen. When my turn came, I worked every angle and got some good loot out of the deal, a nice leather suitcase and some houseware stuff that I'll actually use.

After the eating and playing and gifting, it was time to head home after a final speech by one of the owners. I'll remember this speech for quite a while.

"Life is short. And we work a lot. So let's make this a good place to work."

Amen to that.
Here's a truly amazing acoustic version of Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit". He even does the vocal parts using his guitar. Take a listen and admire the art, even if you don't like the music.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I was just sort of pondering an older news story - the one where a player for some baseball team in the states was flying with his instructor around New York and they ended up crashing into a building. The details of the story aren't really relevant so I won't bother Googling them.

The part that I remember was the widespread speculation that the pilot was trying to commit suicide, before it was eventually judged to be an accident, just another pilot flying in marginal weather who got disoriented and zigged when he definitely should have zagged.

I was just thinking that I hope my flying is never judged to be so poor that there are genuine questions about whether or not I was intentionally trying to kill myself.

I mean, after a flight, landing and shutting down and having someone run up to the plane and say "Clearly that was a cry for help" would be a sign to me to start working on my instrument scan a little harder.

//Just a random thought bubble in my head today.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My friend had to write up a report to his Chief Pilot a while back, and he was kind enough to show me a copy. I found it interesting as they fly a similar aircraft, and only having 450 lbs of fuel on landing in our Citation 550's would have me sweating.

In our operation, we need to carry enough fuel on board to make our destination, attempt and miss an approach, then go to an alternate airport where the weather is forecast to be decent, and then have 30 minutes of fuel on top of that. It might sound like a lot, but it's really not much extra gas at all.

Where I work, we also have a company directive that states we shall not commence any flight unless we plan to land with at least a thousand pounds of fuel. I think that's great.

Anyway, on to the report. You can see that it could have been a lot worse, and I'm glad my friend made it in safely, if only because he still owes me $15 :)

We departed CY** with 4,500 lbs of fuel as per computerized flight plan. We needed 4,300 but we added 200 lbs more as ‘just-in-case’ fuel. During our initial climb out from CY**, our fuel burn was higher than predicted as the ATC controllers had kept us lower than normal for nearly an hour. Crossing CY**, we had burned 125 lbs more than expected. Enroute, the favorable tailwinds that the flight planning software had anticipated were not as strong as forecast, and we were airborne for nearly 30 minutes longer than we had expected. I was in the left seat during our initial approach to CY**, which had a ceiling of ~1,000’ and good visibility underneath. As we approached within 25 miles of CY**, the right tank low fuel light came on, and I noted that we would be landing with 700 lbs of fuel. As we prepared for landing and were roughly 2 miles final for runway 23, we noted an aircraft still on the runway. Tower told us to pull up and go around as the traffic wouldn’t be airborne by the time we touched down, and as I advanced the thrust levers to go-around, I noted and remarked on the left tank low-fuel light illuminating. I told (F/o's name) to declare minimum fuel, and he told ATC that we were “tight on gas” The approach controller said we were number 3 on approach, and that it would be at least 10 miles before we could turn back to the field. (F/o's name) again told ATC that we were low on fuel, and ATC told us that if we declared an emergency we would have priority. I was quite concerned about our fuel state, as we were indicating ~550lbs of fuel, but (F/o's name) thought we would be okay in the approach sequence. ATC said “If you declare an emergency, we can turn you toward the field right now, otherwise it will be 2 more miles before we can turn you base.” (F/o's name) said something like “We’ll take the base turn”, which ATC then took to mean that we were declaring an emergency, though I think (F/o's name) had meant we were okay for another 2 miles before turning base. ATC immediately pulled 2 Air Canada planes off the approach and cleared us direct the field. We landed without incident, and taxied in, where (F/o's name) called ATC on the phone. When we shut down, the fuel was indicating roughly 450 lbs, and both low fuel lights had been on for several minutes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

This is pretty funny. Except for the part where it perpetuates an unwelcome stereotype. But the rest of it is funny.

Friday, December 15, 2006

This is all about the animals.

Cats are free and dogs are slaves. That's my take on the whole dog/cat thing.

The best kind of cat is a dog. That's Lisa's take on it. Clearly we have some negotiating to do.

Our contest closing date is coming up shortly, and it's still anyone's guess as to whether we will be dressing in tuxedos or furry suits for our big day. I came out of the gate strong, but I have slacked over the past couple of weeks and Lisa has been at it every day now so I'm worried that she might overtake me.

Anyway, on to airplanes.

I have ended the lives of 4 animals whilst flying.

The first one was the most violent. I was departing Toronto's Buttonville airport in a Cessna Conquest II, a twin-engine turboprop that is mostly used as an executive transport. I lined up on the runway and poured the coals to 'er. Through about 60 knots, the left engine surged and went "Whooomph!". I figured that was a good a reason as any to reject the takeoff, and we came to a stop at the end of the far runway. Tower said the left engine was smoking, and I taxiied back to the ramp and shut everything down. Maintenance came out and took a look at it - they said it was most likely a bird-strike, but I was skeptical as I hadn't seen anything before the engine's little "event". Anyway, a day later it was confirmed that a sparrow had been sucked into the left engine's air intake and the resulting fragments had damaged three fan blades and caused all sorts of commotion inside the engine case. The engine was a write-off and had to be replaced, which was not cheap. I had only flown the plane for a few hours before this happened, and I wasn't sure if this sort of thing was a frequent event.

The second bird was a mid-air collision with a seagull. It took place in Goderich, just as I was joining final for landing. No big deal, it just bounced across the left wing and left big streaks along the side of the airplane which took me hours to clean later.

The final bird (so far) was another seagull, this time on landing in Kenora, Ontario in the MU-2. The seagull bounced off the nose of the plane, which broke its neck and left the bird crumpled on the runway. The plane was undamaged - the MU-2 is built like a tank. A guy drove up in a pickup truck and threw the bird into the back, and that was that.

The 4th event was a gravel runway, a stray dog and a Piper Navajo. I'll spare the messy details.

I'm hoping I don't kill any other animals, or fresh humans during my flying time.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mmmmm, caffeine

I was up to 3 or 4 large Tim Horton's double-doubles per day when I flew medevacs. It was the only way to make sure I could keep my eyes open at any time of the day (or night). The downside to that was I spent $15/day on coffee and cookies (it wouldn't be right to get a coffee without one of the caramel/chocolate/pecan cookies that Tim Hortons offers), and I had frequent stomach cramps.

Then one day I tried Red Bull. It was great - it tasted like liquid candy and it went well with vodka. And at 630am the following morning as I sat, tipsy and wired, in my hotel room, I realized that it had lots and lots of caffeine.

At $3 per can we could have no long term future, and I have settled on its cousin, Red Rain as my fav energy drink. They are only $1.25 per can and have as much caffeine as 2 cups of coffee, but without the stomach rot.

They also work really fast - if I wake up from my afternoon nap and feel like a clubbed baby seal, I just chug a Red Rain and by the time the contents are in my gullet, the fog has lifted.

What's your secret for staying alert in the cockpit?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nice violent Boeing 777 Wing Ultimate Load test. They load up a brand new 777 wing and see what happens as they increase the stress on it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Nassau pics!

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I smuggled Lisa on board this trip. She passed the time by working on university stuff and listening to her beloved ipod.

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We landed and I saw some crazy Russian plane. I like the blue props.

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Peter Nygard has his own 727. He's a Canadian fashion designer.

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His seal is everywhere on his plane. I thought it was pretty busy. I mean, there is a viking hat, an eagle with his initial, a lion, a second lion coat of arms, a 727 apparently about to stall/spin, a maple leaf, and a phrase. Clearly the man stands for a lot of different things :)

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At the Hilton, holiday season is in full swing. This is part of a huge table of gingerbread houses and icing trees. I snuck past the barricade and confirmed that everything is in fact made of icing. It looks pretty strange sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Bahamas, but whatever.

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The wind knocked down these inflatable decorations, which is fine by me. Snowmen just look ridiculous when it's +25 outside.

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After the long flight down, it was time to relax by the pool.

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And dip our toes in the ocean.

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I'm pointing toward an imaginary shark which I'll photoshop in later. I mean, there are lots of sharks in the local waters, but the swimming area behind the Hilton has lots of nets to keep them from biting us.

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Enjoying the free snacks and beverages in the Executive Lounge at the Hilton.

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We went to Atlantis on Paraside Island.

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We took a look at the aquariums, which are world-class. The furthest manta ray is the size of a car. It had no comment on how it felt toward Australian naturalists.

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Yellin at the fish.

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You can see through these fish. It's wild.

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Making our own fish lips.

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After a few days, we flew home.

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Crossing back over land at Wilmington, North Carolina, which is half-way from Toronto to Nassau. If I don't have to pee too badly by then, I'll think about drinking some water.

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This is northern Pennsylvania. It's really interesting how you can see that the glaciers of ages past carved out huge ridges in the earth.

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Some large commercial jetliner at 35,000'. We were at 37,000'. It was easily a hundred miles an hour faster than us and it soon streaked out of sight.

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More Pennsylvania. the little while dots are houses. I thought it was interesting how they were all clustered along the main roads.

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Lisa says "Thanks for taking me!" in her own special way.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

I'm an optimistic fellow, and I assume that I will be married exactly once, and it will end when the sun goes supernova.

It's a common joke that in order to get promoted to Captain at Air Canada, you have to have been divorced. I did some checking and it appears the rate of divorce in Canada by the 30th anniversary is around 35%. Higher if you live in Quebec (48%) and lower if you live on the east coast (22% for PEI and Newfoundland).

I can't find any stats on pilot divorce rates. The Googles, they do nothing. I'm guessing it's slightly higher than the average rate, but I have no evidence to back that up besides my gut feeling.

My parents divorced 30 years ago, and I was lucky in that it was exceptionally amicable. They went out of their way to cooperate with raising me, and I honestly had a fantastic childhood. I won the parent lottery, and I was sort of shocked when I started to talk to my childhood friends about stuff like that and realized that not everybody's parents were kind. I have seen lots of other situations where the people involved spent tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and fought over every detail, and that seemed pointless and a total drag for everyone, and I would hate to be involved in something like that.

I have had a few boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, and out of them, I have been dumped twice. The first was Jessica. I was 16, she was 18 and after she graduated high school, she went away on an exchange program to Ecuador for 3 months and wound up hooking up with another guy on the exchange program. She was the only one who broke my heart, but she was my first love and the first bite leaves the deepest teethmarks, so I get that most of my anguish was because she was the first girl I loved and I wasn't particularly wise, relationship-wise. Anyway, Jessica and her partner have 4 kids together now, and have been living together happily for the past 18 years, so no worries. The second time I was dumped, it was Kate, a girl I got together with when I was working my first flying job in northern Saskatchewan. We had been together for a year when I moved to Ontario for another job, and she lasted a couple of months before having a fling with some guy named Donovan. It wasn't that serious between us so I didn't really mind, except that the guy's name was Donovan. I mean, really.

So in my limited history, out of the two times I got dumped, 50% of them had aviation-related stress as a contributing factor. I knew Kate was liable to go sideways eventually, but I'm still putting aviation down as a cause because I think we would have lasted at least another few months if I hadn't moved away to get a better flying job.

I'm writing this because a pilot friend of mine just separated from his girlfriend after 5 years, and he's pretty upset. She is also a pilot, and I was wondering if that makes them more likely to split or less likely. The main pro would be: both partners would be aware of and sympathetic to the various factors that rob us of time with our loved ones. The main con would be: their separate schedules would make it difficult indeed to spend time together.

I know there are a million other things that can affect a relationship and a split might not have anything to do with the occupation of pilot, but I'm sure it doesn't help things. What do you think? Has your dedicated to your job caused your heart to break? Would you do it again?

Friday, December 08, 2006

I am in Nassau at the moment, which is great. What's even better is that Lisa is also here. We are going to tour all over the island and see the sights, then get 3rd degree burns on the beache before quaffing a few cocktails and going dancing.

I forgot the little cable that connects my camera to the laptop, so pics will have to wait until we get back, which is in another few days.

We are gonna hit the pool now, then back here to get ready for supper, so I'll write about an interesting flying encounter later on today. For now, it's time to slather on the SPF 50 and go lay on the beach.

Life is good :)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Lots of flying coming right up, so I'm gonna call it an early night. I'm flying all next week too, so that's kind of exciting. We are headed all over the continent, including a couple of new destinations, and I'm looking forward to that.

Lots of fresh pics to come.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It snowed last night but stopped around 3am this morning, which made our departure a little easier. I'm in a big US city at the moment, hanging out in the pilot's lounge for another couple of hours before getting ready to return.

We took a customer here for a meeting, and I learned a fun fact: He's the CEO of a big company. When I started my flying career, I used to fly his company employees all over the place in small piston twins. Ten years later, I'm flying the boss of the company in a small jet. I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from this, but it seems significant in some small way.

The weather today is beautiful, clear blue sky through the entire continent. I had to really search to find bad weather this morning, but was rewarded with some low cloud and fog reported in Campbell River, British Columbia, and some crappy weather in a few spots in Northern Ontario. Other than that, the satellite weather program is telling me that everything is clear.

So if you are out and about in the sky today, have a good one and enjoy the sun! :)

My post for today is all about Airport Day in Goderich, Ontario. I lived there for a few years, flying a B-58 Baron on a cargo run.

The local COPA group is really active, and they are always organizing various events to publicize and utilize the Goderich airport. One way they did that was airport day. They'd polish up their own aircraft and invite all the small airplanes within a hundred miles to show up for free food. There was a barbequeue with those awesome greasy cheap burgers that you buy in bulk that have the grill marks already painted on them, and there was a large assortment of junk food for the kiddies, as well as salads for those who like that sort of thing.

The company I worked for would do sightseeing flights for $20, which would earn 3 people a ride in a 172. We'd take them up over town, do 2 circles around the perimeter, and land. I really enjoyed those flights, as I got to meet a lot of people and also watch little kids enjoying their first flights ever. It usually followed the same pattern - we'd take off, and the kids eyes would open wide as they saw their familiar town start to resemble a model railway set. They'd cheer and ask to fly over their own houses (which I was usually able to do), then settle in for the landing. The 172 is a really easy plane to fly, and my landing was usually decent, but even if I pounded it on the pavement the pax would always compliment me on my masterful handling, which was a great ego boost.

So that part was fun, but the part I really enjoyed were the various activities the COPA group set up for pilots. We had flour bombing, spot landing contests, and balloon bursting, which was even more fun that it sounds.

With flour bombing, we'd buy little paper bags full of flour from the group for like 3 for $5. Someone would haul a huge old tractor tire out into the middle of a runway, and we'd go up in our airplanes and fly over at 500' or so, then throw our flour 'bombs' out of the windows of our plane and hope to hit the tractor tire. I never won that contest, but I did manage to drop a flour bag onto a vistor's van that was parked a little too close to the action.

The spot landing contest was pretty straight-forward - you'd fly downwind on the circuit, then pull the throttle to idle and try to land closest to some pylons along the runway. You weren't supposed to use engine power at all during the descent, and if you did you had to go around and try again. I got the boss's permission to take my Beech 58 Baron out on a spot-landing run, and I came in third one time, so I was happy.

But my most favorite was the balloon bursting. There was a helium tank on the ground. People would blow up balloons and hold them. You'd be flying in the circuit, and at some point you'd call the people on the ground and ask them to release the balloon. Once they did, it would be up to you to run it through the prop of your airplane. It was awesome. A helium balloon is completely harmless to a small piston airplane, and it makes a really satisfying 'POP' when it hits the prop. I think I won one of those contests, or maybe I didn't - the point was I got to hit a whole lot of balloons in my 172, and it felt like a cross between a dogfight and a video game, but without any of that pesky 'risk of death' that real dogfights seem to have.

There was a main Airport Day which was annual, but there were maybe 5 other small Airport Days each Spring and Summer, which made it so there was something to look forward to just about every month I was there.

If you live around a small airport, I encourage you to get in touch with your local airport pilot's group and see if they have similar stuff going on. I met a lot of really interesting people, and it was a good way to test my skills as a pilot in a bunch of areas that normally I don't use a whole lot.

Monday, December 04, 2006

For my second post, I had to share this article as it hits my funny-bone dead on.

A fart caused a commercial jet to make an emergency landing today. No, really, it did.

I feel for the poor lady - first she has the chilli, now she's in a room being questioned by the FBI as I write these words.

Weird Smell Forces Emergency Landing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A Nashville International Airport spokeswoman said an American Airlines plane bound for Texas had to make an emergency landing Monday morning in Nashville.

VIDEO - Authorities: Woman Struck Matches To Mask Body Odor

The pilot said the concern was what passengers said they smelled inside the aircraft and that he did not feel it was safe to continue on.

“About 6:30 this morning, an American Airlines pilot called the FAA tower reporting that passengers were smelling fumes like matches being struck within the cabin,” said airport spokeswoman Lynne Lowrance.

The 99 passengers and five crew members were taken inside the terminal after landing so the plane could be checked out.

“They did find evidence of where matches had been struck in an individual’s seating area. That individual is being questioned by the FBI at this time,” Lowrance said.

A woman passenger told investigators that she lit matches to mask a body odor.

“You can take up to eight books of safety matches, the paper matches, onto the aircraft,” Lowrance said.

Just before noon authorities said the passengers re-boarded the plane and continued on to Texas.

The female passenger who admitted to striking the matches was still being questioned by authorities.
The snow is blowing across the runway at a great rate of speed today; I can see it from the passenger lounge. I bought a new toque to keep the worst of it off my head, but Winter is here and that sucks.

Good things about Winter and flying:

1. Aircraft performance increases in the cold air. We see 3,000 fpm climb on departure now instead of our normal 2,000 fpm, and that's pretty neat.

2. There is very little convective weather when it's cold, so that means a much smaller chance of thunderstorms, which are about the only thing in aviation that really terrifies me.

3. The Citation 550 cockpit is a bit of a greenhouse, but in Winter the sun can be shining and I still won't usually be sweating through my shirts.

4. The free hot chocolate at the FBO tastes better when it's cold outside.

Bad things about Winter and flying:

1. A lot more flying is done at night, due to the shorter hours of sunlight.

2. Icing on the ground. De-icing the airplane is incredibly expensive, so if we want to depart when there is sticky snow falling, we will have to pay roughly $2,400 to go to the central de-ice pad at Pearson and get de-ice spray applied.

3. Slippery runways aren't much fun at all. It's not so much a problem here, but at smaller airports it can be a real consideration whether or not it's safe to land.

4. Icing in the clouds is much more frequent. A nice thing about the jet is we can usually climb above the ice within a few minutes, but it's still not much fun while we are in it, nor is it fun having to shoot a full approach somewhere while accumulating big chunks of ice on the wings.

So there you have it. According to my very scientific study, Winter has no more minuses than plusses. But it's cold and that sucks.

Good thing I'm heading somewhere warm shortly. No, I don't mean Hell.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

This is pretty damn cool. I haven't seen this video on the interwebs before. Notice how the engines spool up just before the plane snags the arrester cable, just in case it misses the cable and has to go around.

Friday, December 01, 2006

It's been a month since we started our bet and I have lost 10 lbs now. Yeah I know that muscle weighs more than fat, but I'm not really doing this to build muscle, I'm doing it to lose any trace of a gut. Beer guts are just so freakin' gross.

I visited Lisa last weekend and we went to her grandparent's 45th anniversary party. It was pretty cool, about 50 of her relatives there (a fertile bunch) and a lot of food and good times.

Anyway, I was talking to one of her uncles and he asked if he could wear a bear suit, so I guess word has gotten out. That would also explain the strange looks her aunts were giving me last night. I assume they are jealous because they didn't think to dress up like forest creatures for their hitchin' ceremonies.

The weather today is crap, and I'm glad I am not flying. The winds here are easily 70km/hour with torrential rain and low clouds. That's one thing about corporate flying that I enjoy - Averaging 300 hours a year, I really don't fly a whole lot, so if we have a bad-weather day, odds are I'm not going to be flying anyway.

Here's a METAR from Hamilton, about 30 miles away. I don't know a site where I can find old METAR info for airports, so I don't have one for Toronto.

CYHM 011512Z CCA 07046G56KT 7SM -RA BKN005 BKN026 OVC045 RMK SF5SC2SC1

To those of you who aren't pilots, it says the wind was gusting to 100km/hour. Ugh.

Lots of flying next week, so I'm gonna relax for the weekend with some Chinese food and a couple of good dvds.