Tuesday, January 30, 2007

At home, our planes are stored in heated hangars when we aren't flying them. We pay a fairly hefty amount of rent for the privilege, but it's better than keeping the planes outside in the cold and in the snow. When we are on the road, a typical charge for putting our planes in a heated hangar is around $200 - the majority of the cost goes to reheating the hangar air after having to pull the doors open 50 feet wide to let the plane in. Sometimes if we purchase fuel the nice people at the FBO will hangar our plane for free, like on this trip. Today our airplane is warm and snug in a heated hangar, waiting until we return home. That way I don't have to worry about cranky batteries, frozen radios, stuck pressurization valves or exploded pop cans in the commissary bins.

I found this on AvCanada. This looks like the central deice facility at Toronto Pearson. If you need deicing, you pay $450 for the privilege of going onto the deice ramp and sitting there while 2 types of fluid are sprayed on your airplane - the first one melts any ice that's on your wings / tail, and the second type prevents ice from reforming.

The spray that drips on the ground is caught in a series of drains and sent into large holding tanks where it's cleaned and recycled into car windshield antifreeze, among other things.

The spray that sticks on the airplane is good for a few minutes, depending on the type of precipitation that's falling - if it's freezing rain outside, then the spray holdover time might only be a few minutes, and if the plane isn't airborne when the time is up, you have to go back to the de-ice facility and restart the process all over again.

Deicing is incredibly expensive - last year we had to get deiced and it cost us $2,400 for a 5-minute spray of their fine goo. It's cheaper than trying to take off with ice on the wings and crashing though.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm south today, on a secret mission for a day or two. I wish I could say why, but I can't so I won't. I'm checking out the prog charts for the next 24 - 48 hours and I'm not filled with joy.

On the right side of that map, about halfway up, see those two red "L"s right next to teach other? That's sort of where I live, and that's where we'll be heading at some point in the next while. Big red "L"s are bad in aviation; they represent lousy weather with low clouds and rain. Hopefully it'll be nice and easy when we actually go flying, but I am certainly keeping an eye out. The plane will be in a hangar so that's one less thing to worry about - few things are more depressing than coming out to your airplane and seeing 2 inches of frost and ice on it.

Anyway, time for comic relief. This had me howling with laughter, and I'm sure the people in the hotel room above me are thinking I'm insane, but whatever; this is still hilarious. Whomever thought this would be a good idea needs a smack. I got this from the original youtube clip which didn't allow embedding, so I ripped it here.

From cahaba2000:

A pet supply store offers a "pet spa". It has a device that will wash and dry your pet. After fighting with cats in the past, we decided to try it. The pet store told us that cats love it. As you can see he didn't like it. We stopped it early. He was much much cleaner but he didnt talk to us for a hour.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I drove up to our airport office to tie up some paperwork odds and ends, and overheard this:

"Hey, did you check the weather for our trip yet?"
"Nah. Why bother. We are goin' anyway"
"Heh yup. I'll put in the fuel order"
"Sounds good, see you out there"

The guys were my age, and appeared to be co-captains. Their US-registered King Air 350 was outside on the ramp.

I looked outside at the freezing rain, got a cup of hot chocolate and went back inside my office, glad that I wasn't flying, and more glad that I wasn't flying with either of those gentlemen.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

We took our other jet to Montreal this morning.

It has a different avionics package, a Garmin 530 / 430 combo. They are nice little units, providing moving map, GPS, and airplane communication / navigation radios in each box.

The sun is shining, providing a nice little reflection off the other pilot's forehead. I know, I know - like I can talk :)

It's a beautiful day, but Montreal was -20c outside when we landed. Fortunately our planes use hot (600 degrees c) engine bleed air to heat our cabin so we remain warm until we have to open the door to deplane.

We have a split duty day thing going on today - we don't depart Montreal until very late tonight, so we got a couple of hotel rooms to get our mandated crew rest. In our operation we are only allowed to be on duty for 14 hours in a row without getting a rest period, so when we land, we check into a hotel and rest for the day so we'll be fresh for tonight's flight home.

The Sheraton here is a decent hotel. Our company policy is that each pilot gets their own hotel bonus points, and I got into a bit of a scrap with the front counter lady - the other pilot paid for both our hotel rooms, but I wanted half the points and she told me it was impossible, which sort of got my Irish up. We resolved it without bloodshed though, and I have my precious points. Hey, they really add up, so it's worth it to me to be pushy about that sort of thing. For example, I already have enough Marriott points for a week's free stay.

Le Bifteque is a decent steakhouse and we are going there for supper tonight, so I'm pretty stoked! Hopefully I don't meet any angry bulls asking why they were neutered (see yesterday's post for some background).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Last night I ate some new food. I'm fearless when it comes to new grub, but this was particularly difficult. They called them rocky mountain oysters but they ain't seafood. They were actually pretty tasty, but I worry about the karma associated with my actions, especially if the bulls come looking for what was missing.


The landscape we flew over today is like the surface of the moon. Beautiful, but stark.

Did 6 hours of flying today, a couple of which were sneaking through some really rough air. The sky was clear but the jetstream was being ornery, twisting this way and that through the flight levels. People ahead of us were complaining bitterly about the ride, and we started to get constant moderate chop. Moderate turbulence is when we can still control the airplane just fine, but we are pressed against our seatbelts firmly due to the bumps. Then an MD-82 just ahead of us reported severe turbulence just under us, so that got our attention pretty fast.

I wonder what severe turbulence in an airline jet looks like? I'm guessing lots of screaming and bags falling out of the overhead bins, which would be my primary worry if I was a passenger - did the guy sitting in the seat just ahead of me store his lawndart collection right above my head, and did he really make sure the latch was closed?

By definition severe turbulence is when the airplane is momentarily out of control and is subject to violent changes in pitch, roll or yaw, along with altitude deviations. When the air is rough we slow down to manoeuvering speed. What's that? It's a speed below which a big gust of wind will cause the wing to stall. In this case, stalling the wing can be a good thing because a stalled wing isn't producing lift and that means it's not creating a load on the airframe. To be technical, it's not so much the speed that's important, it's the angle of attack of the wing through the air, but I can't be bothered to teach a physics course right now so we'll just go with the simple explanation: A relatively low speed is good for penetrating really rough air. If we are going really fast and we get a huge gust of wind, the forces on the wing might actually damage it, and in a worst-case scenario, it can cause the wing to depart the airplane which is a profoundly career-limiting move.

Anyway, today we had to descend through some areas where multiple aircraft had reporting really uncomfortable air. We stayed up high until the last minute, then popped the speed brakes, pulled the throttles back to flight idle, and dropped like a stone to our destination airport, our theory being that the less time we spent in the rough air, the better. It worked fine, and we only had a few good jolts.

Unfortunately once we got gas at our destination, we had to take off and climb back up into the rough air. It wasn't much fun for my pax, but we managed to get back up to 37,000' with relatively little discomfort. The hard part was having to listen to several other aircraft whose pilots were clearly in distress - we could hear their voices wobbling as their aircraft were tossed about, and we could hear the stress in their voices. There but for the grace of...

On the upside, once we got into the jetstream we had a nice speedboost as it was going our way.

90 knots on the tail gives us a decent groundspeed for a 550 :)

After 600 miles of rough air, we finally made it into a more smooth area and things settled down. We were able to loosen our seatbelts a little and the pax were even able to eat their catered lunches.

When I got home, I found this in my living room:

I have one too, but it's in need of some TLC since my last few flights / crashes.

I have an early morning flight headed east tomorrow, so I'm off to bed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sully here, in a strange land.

The hotel I stayed at last night didn't have internet so I wasn't able to post anything. Can you imagine a hotel in North America in 2007 not having internet? And it's not like it was a cheap hotel either. I mean, it was a lousy hotel, but it wasn't cheap. I checked out this am and checked into a Best Western instead.

My, what a fine looking airplane! Some mountains in the distance and clear blue sky above makes for beautiful, if stark, scenery.

This is an orange tree. I didn't know they grew in the wild :)

There are a whole whack of cactii lining the streets here. One of my favorite words is "cactus". It's just impossible to be angry while saying "cactus" repeatedly - the word just makes me smile.

The airport we landed in has an airplane graveyard / storage facility. Lots of old tired gas-guzzlers are mothballed here, or rather covered in tinfoil and plastic wrap until gas prices fall below $10/barrel and they become economical to operate again.

Here's a random video of the airport we are at. The part that got blotted out by the airplane noise was "I saw some Jetsgo planes here last year".

I'll write about my bad gear day story later - right now I'm off to search for cactus juice.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Here's a quick clip of a plane having a bad gear day. Watch as the pilot shuts down both engines so the propellors don't strike the runway while turning. The only thing he forgot was to switch off the master electric switch - you can see the beacon on the top of the fuselage still blinking.

I had a bad landing gear day a long time ago - I'll write about it tomorrow.

From the news article:

"A twin-engine plane made a belly landing at Arlington Municipal Airport, Texas, late today after apparently having landing gear problems. Both men on board quickly slipped out of the plane. Neither appeared to be hurt. Live TV coverage showed the plane's landing gear did not appear to be fully extended as the Beechcraft circled the airport numerous times. The pilot was able to cut power to the engines as the plane touched the runway, the gear collapsed, the nose went down and the Beechcraft slid on its belly and stopped."
Back from Nassau, getting ready to go across the country next week. I'll upload a few more pics from the Nassau trip shortly, as I saw something I hadn't seen before on the ramp just prior to our departure. Until then, check these out:

I found this on AvCanada.

The original youtube video wouldn't allow embedding, so I ripped it and uploaded it again. This is a Citation II doing a barrel roll at altitude. Citations are NOT certified for aerobatics. At appears the crew has some brushing up to do on their decision-making skills, as this seems to be a case of taking a risk for no good reason.

Aerodynamically, performing a perfect barrel roll doesn't put a whole lot of stress on the aircraft, but if you screw it up that's another story.

On a completely different note, here are a couple of hilarious magicians. Normally I don't care about magic stuff, but I was wiping the tears away from my eyes as I watched this.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Click on the pics to make 'em bigger.

The alarm clock went off at 3:45am this morning. At least I knew it was gonna go off, so I went to bed early last night. I scraped the ice of my car's windshield and drove to the airport. We loaded up, lit up and took off, heading south.

For the first hour, things looked a lot like this:

This is what we saw about half-way to our destination.

After a while the sun came up, and we got a spectacular view of the spectacularly boring undercast layer.

The clouds started to break up and it was time to land, 3 1/2 hours after we departed Toronto Pearson.

Yeah, I'm a total goof.

We landed and checked into our hotel.

Hey, this looks familiar :)

I apologize for the audio quality. My camera sucks. Perhaps there's a well-heeled internet reader who would like to send me a real video camera? And perhaps unicorns exist, I know.

I find it interesting that all the major banks in the Bahamas are Canadian. Royal Bank, Bank of Montreal, etc.

In the main harbor there were no cruise ships today - usually there are up to 5 - but there was this beast, which is a transport ferry, taking things like cars, trucks and heavy construction parts from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau. It's at least 80 feet high an is the size of an actual cruise ship

All the school girls here wear uniforms, which must be pretty stifling in the heat. I didn't see a single boy in uniform, and I'm not sure what was up with that. I took these pics then realized that I probably shouldn't be asking school girls if I can take their pictures, so I got a little freaked out and stopped. But the uniforms are quite a striking contrast to the tank-tops and shorts that all the tourists (including me) wear.

I went for a tour of the straw market, which features local crafts and fake Gucci handbags. Actually, it's mostly fake handbags.

I stopped in on Winston the wood carver. He is happy and well, and asked if my mom liked the carvings he did.

After my gruelling trip to the beach, I relaxed by watching some fish. A cool thing happens 30 seconds into the clip - big fish chase the little fish, who then have the option of being eaten by the big fish, or jumping into the air and being eaten by the gulls.

That's all for now, I'll try to take some videos with a little less obnoxious audio.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I'm heading south, north, then west, then east over the next few days. I'm looking forward to it - I haven't flown in ages and I want to get back into the sky.

I wasted the better part of the day today, getting my newfangled Aircrew pass from the GTAA, the organization that's in charge of Toronto Pearson airport. The new passes have retinal scans and fingerprints encoded within them, and someone important has decided that it will protect us all from the terror, so that's that.

There is a bit of a catch though. 50,000 people work at Toronto Pearson and need passes, from airport restaurant workers to pilots to baggage handlers etc. The old passes have been declared invalid as of January 1st (recently extended to January 31st). The GTAA Pass office can process maybe 200 people a day.

Whomever made up the policy apparently didn't do basic math on how many people they could process by the deadline, and the end result is that the workers at the GTAA office are totally overwhelmed by the number of people who need new passes to be able to work at Pearson airport.

So let me tell you how this worked out in real life:

Last night I drove to the GTAA pass control building. At midnight. Why?

Well, a security guard shows up at midnight each night with a list of slots for the next day. We lined up last night to get our slot number from the guard. Mine was 55, with a "show-up" time of 730am.

I went to bed and set my alarm for 530am.

This morning, I showed up at 7am and got in line behind 54 other people and ahead of the 145 people who apparently showed up later than I did last night.

Now you might think that my number 55 would make me the 55th person to get my security pass. No, my naiive little muskrat, that's not how it works at all. The slot number was the sequence in line that I'd be allowed inside the pass building. Until then I waited outside in sub-zero weather. Fortunately the GTAA people have recently rented a bus which parks on the sidewalk just outside the building, and people waiting in line can go in the bus. Unfortunately it's only very slightly warmer than outside as the bus doors are kept open. But it does cut the draft a little, and I was pathetically grateful to have my hairless head out of the cold winters wind. Besides, as all the seats were taken, I kept warm by walking around and stomping my feet on the floor.

I waited for nearly two hours on the bus 'til the morning security guard called my number; then I was allowed inside the GTAA pass building. I got inside and promptly waited in line for about 45 minutes to have a nice lady do a 'prelim' look at my pass renewal application forms, making sure I had filled out the correct stuff. Then the lady gave me another number, in my case it was C-221. I sat down in the lobby of the pass building and started to wait again.

About an hour later, C-221 was called and I went up to the front desk with all my materials again, this time for a more thorough review and check. The guy looked at all my forms and took them away, along with my old pass, then told me to take a seat.

I waited two more hours before my name was called. I went into a room and got my fingerprints scanned by a laser, then got my retinas scanned by another laser, hopefully one of the "no cataract" ones instead of the more common "you'll need a seeing eye dog afterwards" lasers.

I was sent back into the main room again, and I waited for about half an hour before another lady came and gave me my pass.

Total time elapsed was from 7am to 1:43pm today, not to mention the couple of hours it takes to drive to the pass office the night before and line up for a slot number to even get started.

Now keep in mind that I shared the outdoors, then the bus, then the building with at least a hundred other bored, tired, frustrated people, many of whom had to take an unpaid day to get a new pass so they could gain access to their minimum-wage coffee shop jobs inside the airport security checkpoints.

At around noon today I watched a minor drama. The guy apparently had been told that his application was incomplete and that he'd have to come back another day with a fully-complete application, and that he'd have to start the lining-up process all over again. He was livid, and was refusing to leave the office until his problem had been addressed, so security had to physically drag him outside.

I asked the security guards if there had been any problems with angry people being forced to spend all day on a relatively pointless exercise, or perhaps with people losing/stealing slot numbers or butting ahead of the various lines.

"We had to call the cops twice last week and there was a fistfight on Saturday, but I think we're getting the bugs out of the system."

Assuming "bugs" = "people", he was entirely correct.
I have looked into the abyss and found it staring straight back at me.
Yeah, that's Celine Dion. Yeah, that's an AC/DC song. Yeah, she's air-guitaring it.
I need to post about aviation to remove the mental anguish, so that's coming right up.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I posted this on AvCanada a long time ago, and found it again. More flying stories coming up soon - I'm flying a whole lot over the next three weeks so I'll have some new content then.

A Short Ode to the Understated Genius of Neil Diamond

Sully here, reflecting on an artist who, outside of his loyal circle of fans, has been the subject of ridicule and punchlines, his music the foundation of the phenomena known as "Elevator Music". A musician whose songs have been in, out and back again, out of fashion, then back again, regardless of climate, pop culture, or mass taste. A man immortalized in not one, but TWO movies: The Jazz Singer (1980), and more recently Saving Silverman (2000).

The artist in question?

Mr. Neil Diamond. The man, the myth, the LEGEND.

I hear some of you out there snickering. "Sully" you're saying, "how can you, the arbiter of all that's cool and hip, consider NEIL DIAMOND a musical icon?"

My answer is: quite easily. You want proof? Okay, but remember, you asked for it.

Fact one: A student of New York University in the 1960's, Mr. Diamond felt the artistic desires and creative fires burning within him to write music and songs for all the world to hear. Keep in mind that the Neil we know of today was most definitely NOT the Neil back then. Caught in the conflict of finishing his degree or satisfying his creative muse, he chose the latter and left to pursue his destiny.

The catch (isn't there always at least one?) is that, yes, he did leave his degree unfinished, but it's the timeframe that's worth noting.

He didn't leave in his freshman year, some 18 year old snot nosed naïve bastard whose ego outweighs his talent. He didn't leave in his sophomore year, 19 years old, young dumb and full of...well, you can finish the thought. Junior year? Nope, at twenty and twenty one years old he hung out with his friends, a full citizen of the university nation.

He left in his senior year. At the beginning? Ah, there's the rub. Not at the beginning.

Our boy Neil left SIX MONTHS before graduation. He had one more semester to complete, then he would have been complete with a BA degree, youth, and talent on his side.

Screw the Sex Pistols, what Neil did, THAT'S PUNK ROCK!!!!

Fact two: Mr. Diamond, upon leaving school, went out west. After some struggling, he finally began to earn a living as a songwriter. Check that. He began to make a rather good living as a songwriter.

The Monkees's pop classic "I'm a Believer"? Written by Neil Diamond.

Didn't know that, DID YA?!?!?!?!?!

The Urge Overkill gem "Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon", from the "Pulp Fiction" movie and soundtrack? Written and first performed by none other than...

You guessed it. Neil Diamond.

And that's just a sampling of the hits this man's created. Consider the following, and don't kid yourself, at some point in your life you've hummed and sung along to one of these gems:

Forever in Blue Jeans
Sweet Caroline
Crackling Rosie
Coming to America
Song Sung Blue
Cherry Cherry

C'mon, everyone has these songs in their heads. You may be able to avoid the radio, but in the elevator?

Neil's there.


Look, it's Neil!!

And lest you think, like the fluff that N'Sync, Britney Spears, and the Backstreet Boys peddle, Neil's songs have no substance, consider the following lyrics:

Money talks
But it don't sing and dance, and it don't talk
As long as I can have you here with me
I'd much rather be
Forever in blue jeans

Honest. Straightforward. Heartfelt. REAL.

And for all my verbal brilliance 8-), I know that I could never write lyrics as simple or as brilliant as Neil's.

It's a fact that writing a song is not the easiest thing in the world. Conveying an idea, creating a story, characters, within a song is not a matter of writing words to paper and BOOM! You have a moneymaker. If it was, EVERYONE would have a hit song.

Only a few have the gift.

Even fewer use it consistently, and can sustain a career doing so.

It can be heard in songs like the soul stirring melody of "Heartlight," the playful, flirtatious "Sweet Caroline", and the strange, inviting sounds of "Kentucky Woman".

Fine, you say. He can write a song. How is he live?

Oh, you want to know how the man does LIVE?

Check out the thousands, even HUNDREDS of thousands, of fans that flock to his concerts. From Seattle to Miami, San Francisco to New York, Neil has, most definitely, a FOLLOWING. Some have been fans for years, dating back to his beginnings in the 60's, while others are young enough to be Neil's grandkids. His shows have been described as "mesmerizing," "enticing," "hypnotic," and "enthralling." This, most clearly, is the measure by which all musicians can and should be judged.

Neil BRINGS IT. Every performance, every note, every gesture, it is fully and completely NEIL. He leaves his body, heart and soul on the stage at the end of each performance. Because of that, is it any wonder that he has the cult-like following (they follow him, like a CULT!) and the types of fans that he has?

So I ask you once again: who has the gift, the magic, the musical je ne sais quoi?

The Beatles?

Bob Dylan?

Skinny Puppy?

Joni Mitchell?

Count Neil among them. He has more than earned his way into this elite circle.

Hey, my fav bands are Tool and Skinny Puppy, but I do appreciate genius.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Some B-52's covered in snow in Minot, North Dakota. I think the pic is quite beautiful. A real post in a few minutes, as soon as I'm done supper.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Check it out, it's pretty cool. Hexafluoride is a gas that's a lot more dense than air, so they put some in an aquarium and floated a little aluminum boat on it. I'll try to come up with some way to tie this into aviation later, or not.
Here are 5 things about me I haven't told you yet, courtesy of a kick in the pants by Aviatrix

1. I have attended a trial twice, once when my neighbors were convicted of aggravated assault on me and threatening my life, and once again when they accused my cat of digging up their potato plants in their garden and filed a complaint against me with the city. I lost the cat trial, and had to pay $185 in damages to my neighbors for their potato plants. This was while they were both still on probation for the assault / threats.

2. I have 4 tatoos - 2 demons, a dragon and a skull - all in places that are covered by a pilot shirt and pants. I want more.

3. I once went 96 hours without sleeping on a bet. I attended work each day(I wasn't working in aviation at the time) and on the 3rd day, I saw huge hieroglyphics on the floor of the warehouse I was working in. I don't remember much else about the 4th day.

4. I own a collection of thousands of CDs of gothic / industrial music. I collect(ed) goth music for 15 years before highspeed internet and MP3's cured my desire to spend $30 on a rare disc with one good song on it. No, I never dressed up as a goth, and no I don't own any black lipstick.

5. I have a mild case of dyslexia that has only affected my ability to tell spades from clubs in a deck of cards. The shape on a card kind of swims around if I think of it as a spade or a club, but if I call it a shovel or a clover, the image resolves itself and remains constant. Hearts and diamonds are unaffected. Yeah, I'm a freak.

6th bonus fact: I was the reason Selkirk College implemented a mandatory uniform for student pilots in 1988, when I showed up for class in a blue plaid shirt with a purple paisley tie to go with my torn blue jeans. The department head brought me up to the front of the class and said "This is what we are trying to avoid". Hey, I was 17, and I'm sure my look was the fashion at the time, as was the onion I kept tied to my belt.

I'm kidding about the onion, but only that.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A lazy evening storm lights up the local palm trees down south. Better to be on the ground wishing I was flying than vice versa.

When I was little, I'd look up at the stars and wonder if my true love was looking at the same stars as me. Sometimes when I'm away from Lisa, I'll tell her to look outside at the same time I am, so we are both staring at the constellations together, though we are miles apart.

I flew night cargo in Goderich for a few years, and on clear evenings I'd frequently see meteors burning across the horizon for a second or two before they winked out, incinerated by earth's atmosphere. Whenever I saw one I'd make a wish, usually involving my being safe and warm at home instead of flying single-pilot night cargo in icing conditions in a small piston airplane with a dodgy heater. But overall it was really easy flying and I was home every night by 930pm or so, so I'm not complaining at all.

I enjoyed flying at night because the air was smoother, there was a lot less traffic, and I could actually see better at night than I could during the day - in summer the smog tends to make it hard to see more than a dozen miles or so during the day, but at night I'd be able to see the lights from towns 50 miles away at least. If I was bored I could have actual conversations with ATC people to pass the time - they were usually quite happy to converse during the off-peak hours. Sometimes when I was flying back to Goderich at the end of the evening, I'd light up my landing lights, drop to 2,500' (100nm safe altitude) and follow the main highway home, pretending to strafe the cars along the way. The Baron's landing lights were like laserbears and I'm pretty sure I looked like an alien fightercraft, come to enslave the inhabitants of southern Ontario, turning them into human jerky for the sustenance of my alien race. Yeah, I had the backstory all worked out and I might option it for a movie one day, so hands off my intellectual property.

Anyway, for me, night flying was peaceful and relaxing until I got my next job, flying medevacs. When I flew medevacs on the MU-2 based in Timmins, my logbook shows I flew more at night than during the day. My pager would routinely go off at 9pm and I'd fly until noon the following day.

And this wasn't ILS to ILS or anything either.

We'd fly at night to 3,000' snow-covered gravel strips in a blizzard, picking up and dropping off the unfortunate people who were so critical that they couldn't wait until daylight. We'd fly in all sorts of weather, bumping along during rainstorms, eyes fixed on the weather radar that we desperately hoped would paint a picture of what to stay away from before we plowed into it.

"The scary night bumps" is how my friend and former Captain described them once as we were going to Sault St. Marie at midnight in the middle of heavy rains and bad weather. I hate thunderstorms since my little incident years ago, and I was white knuckling this particular leg. She and I both knew there weren't any thunderstorms in the area, but we were in cloud the whole night and we couldn't see a thing. My rational mind knew it wasn't particularly dangerous, but my primitive mind told me there were demons swirling outside our windows in the fog, waiting to sink their fangs into the wings and tail as soon as I acknowledged their existence. So I trusted my Captain and continued to focus on flying, refusing to let the skeery night bump demons get the upper hand. She was right, and we remained safe.

I can't overstate how tiring it is to be on call 24/7, then fly all night, even if you are 99.9% sure you'll get paged out at 9pm, just like the 5 nights previous. If we didn't get paged out by 3pm or so, we'd have a nap for 2 or 3 hours, so we'd have a little edge at night. Unless the pager didn't go off at all, in which case we'd sit, wired, and watch late-night tv and try to get to sleep in case the pager went off at 6am the next day.

More often that not, when we landed I'd be grey and shaking with fatigue. Not shaking a lot mind you; I don't want to give the impression that I was writhing about and convulsing on the floor, because I wasn't. It was more like a soft vibration that went through my head and consciousness, dulling all the edges, something that Tim Horton's couldn't fix no matter how many double-doubles I loaded up on during my shift.

There were times I'd fly 15 hours, ending with an ILS to minimums to get home, then start to doze off at the wheel during the 10 minutes drive to my apartment. I'm sure I was a safe pilot, but I'm not so sure I was a safe driver on those 10-minute trips home from the hangar, heading toward my minimum legal duty rest before doing it again the next night.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

This is a fine cat pic, courtesy of a friend at work.

Tonight I'm going out to a local pub with a pile of pilots from the north end of Pearson. It's a great way to network and also just to relax and talk shop with people who share a similar lifestyle. I bump into the same people at the airport all the time, but we are usually on the job and so don't have a lot of time to chat about important things, like video games, movies and beer. Our weekly Tuesday night session fills in an important part of the picture for all of us, and it gives us a better idea as to how things are going in the industry overall.

Aviation is such a small industry in Canada that it's very possible the same faces I see tonight across the table might be faces I'll be talking business to tomorrow. I want to have a good reputation within the industry, and showing up and talking to people and hopefully showing them I'm not a complete tool will help in that regard.

So if you see me tonight with a pint of lite beer in my hands, it may look like I'm having fun and goofing off, but in reality I'm doing important business-related social networking. I'd hate to give the wrong impression... :)
Lisa sent me a few pics of our Christmas cheer from a couple of weeks ago. These were taken at her parents house in Goderich, Ontario. There is still no snow there, which is getting really freaky.

I'm a freakin' elf and stuff.

I have a real problem with smiling for the camera. I get very self-conscious and the act of baring my teeth seems really fake. Lisa has it figured out, but I do not.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I don't know much about this clip except that it's a glider, and the landing doesn't seem to go very well.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Part 2 of 2. Part 1 was the previous post.

I got my insulated work gloves and walked to our airplane for the evening, C-FZOW. I watched my breath freeze in little puffy clouds and listening to the crunch of my Sorel boots on the hardpack snow. I fired up the engines, popping and belching smoke as they roared into life, and finally got them to idle contentedly, warming the oil and the metal crankcases, then I went in the back of the plane and pulled out a couple of the airplane seats, stored them in our shed and waited for the taxi to arrive. There weren't any ambulances in Stony Rapids, so the local taxi services were responsible for the medical transport runs.

I stood outside with my hood and ski mask on, and watched the ice crystals glitter in the night sky. Up north in Winter, it's too cold for clouds to form and so we were regularly treated to spectacular views of the sky and the stars. That night the moon was really bright, and I remember being able to see almost as well as if it were daytime. After a few minutes I shut down the Navajo engines and put the engine covers on them, big insulated tea cozies that would keep the precious heat from escaping the engines too quickly.

About 5 minutes later, a taxi van pulled up and out stepped a couple of nurses. They pointed to the back of the van and we opened the doors to reveal a body wrapped in blankets. The first thing I noticed was that it was adult-sized, and the second thing I noticed was the smell of alcohol.

"What happened?"
"He was snowmobiling with a friend and he hit a tree. He was only 16. One of your airplane mechanics found him out in the bush."

** Later that week I talked to Scott, our young mechanic who had been driving to Black Lake and had come upon the shattered remains of the snowmobile and driver. Scott was barely 17 years old and was pretty shaken up to find something like that in the middle of a lonely road late on a Winter's night. He never went snowmobiling at night after that, and he often spoke of that evening, so I think it really stayed with him. **

"Where do you want us to take him?"
"Saskatoon, but first you have to go to Fond du Lac to pick up his family"

That didn't sound like fun at all. We loaded the body onto a stretcher, then gently loaded him into the back of the plane and got the stretcher all secured and tied into position so it wouldn't move if there was turbulence.

One of the nurses was coming with us, and she got on board as we fired up the Navajo. The flight to Fond du Lac was uneventful, aside from the fact that it was nearly 1am. The smell of alcohol from the body was so strong it began to permeate the air inside the Navajo.

"Leave the door open when we land so his family doesn't have to smell that"
"Okay, but I think they are gonna notice on the flight to Saskatoon"

We taxiied into the dirt ramp of Fond du Lac airport, shut down, and saw a taxi van already waiting for us.

The nurse spoke.

"His parents and brother and sister are here."

I'll never forget the few seconds it took for the family to get out of their taxi van and come over to the airplane. They walked slowly over to us, not looking at us until they were standing close. And then I wished I hadn't seen their faces at all. His fathers eyes were flat and hopeless and angry, and the moms eyes were red slits, tear-stained and puffy. The brother and sister were really young, and were sleeping while mom carried them in her arms.

The father asked to go in the plane first, and we let him inside while we stood outside for a few minutes to let him spend some time alone with his son.

When we entered the plane again, the cabin and the wrapped body smelled like Drakkar Noir, a men's cologne. The father must have brought some. But why would he have? I mean, what circumstances would have led the father to think "I'm going to see my dead son and I should bring something to mask the smell of alcohol" I don't want to know.

We fired up and flew to Saskatoon, 2 1/2 hours in complete silence in the middle of the night. The smell of cologne was strong, but it was better than the smell of stale beer.

After we dropped the family and nurse off in Saskatoon, we flew back up north, silent, arriving back in Stony Rapids just as the sun started to rise.

Dwayne spoke for the first time in hours.

"That was a hell of a trip"
"Yeah. Pretty sad. I hope that's rare"

Dwayne smiled, but it was a sad smile.

"It ain't rare"

That month we did 3 more trips taking snowmobile riders down south for preparation and burial, out of a local population of maybe 1,000 people. The circumstances of those trips were different, but the smell in the airplane was always the same.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Okay, I'm back. With some background and a little foreground.

I like the Piper Navajo and Navajo Chieftain. They are good, honest airplanes that will carry a decent load and they'll go into just about any airstrip in existence. They aren't much fun on one engine, nor are they a lot of laughs in icing conditions, but not many planes are.
I flew them in Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, from Spring 1997 to Fall 1998. When I first got to Stony Rapids, the deal was pretty straight-forward for a newbie like me: I gave them 18 months of my life and they gave me multi-engine PIC time and free rent. Other than that, money wasn't really included in my deal - I made about $2,000 per month as a dispatcher but when I stopped doing that and went to straight pilot salary, it dropped down to about $1,300 a month. Yeah that's awful, but I was flying 110 hours in a month and I put the slavery issue on the backburner and concentrated on putting hours in my logbook.

I still had to pay for food though, which is worthy of a quick digression.

Due to high shipping costs, food at the local stores was very expensive and most of us attempted to order our food from a grocery store in La Ronge who would then drop off our food boxes at the La Ronge airport, to await the mercy of Air Sask dispatch. We had a partnership with Air Sask, and they happened to operate a Jetstream 31 on scheduled service that included a run from La Ronge to Stony Rapids. If there was free weight on the Jetstream, Air Sask would put our groceries on it. If the Jetstream was at max weight, then our groceries would sit in the luggage shed at the Air Sask terminal until the next daily Jetstream run. Or the one after that. Summer was bad as the high temperatures and the route schedule meant the Jetstream had to operate light, so it could use less runway distance and get out of runways like Fond du Lac, a 2,800' gravel strip with trees and a lake on both ends and a huge gravel hump in the middle. (For any non-pilots, 2,800' is a fairly short runway for a 19-passenger turboprop airliner, unless you are talking about a Twin Otter. But we're still talking Jetstream, and groceries). The Jetstream would frequently have to leave behind paying customer's bags, so it was often a lost cause for our groceries. If your food sat for three days in +30 heat or -40 cold, would you still want it? We'd often swap grocery horror stories with the other bases ("the lettuce was brown and the steak was green"). So we ate a lot of canned stuff, or what we could catch ourselves, or sometimes we splurged and bought food at the local store, after thoroughly inspecting it to make sure it had remained frozen during transit to Stony Rapids.

Oh, and on a completely random note, 12 cans of beer or a 375ml bottle of hard liquor cost $50 from the local bootleggers. I guess their shipping charges were equally atrocious.

Anyway, that's just some background.

Now I'm going to focus on Stony Rapids, during the winter of 1997, a few months after Daryl's death. I was living in 'the Hilton', a house that had been built that summer and was pretty nice inside. I had previously lived in a little red log cabin just up the road from the Hilton, but it wasn't really possible to keep it warm when the outside temperatures were south of -40 for weeks at a time. The Hilton was hooked up to a boiler also used to heat a nearby garage and as long as that garage had heat, so did I. I made a simple thermal decision and moved from the log cabin to the Hilton. The Hilton featured fresh carpeting and decent furniture, along with new appliances and uncracked glass in the windows. Originally I was in the downstairs apartment and the Ops Manager and his family were upstairs, but 3 weeks after I moved in, he went on to fly a Lear jet out of Vancouver before getting on with Canadian Airlines, back before they were merged with Air Canada. That meant I had the whole place to myself for the winter of 1997. The Winter flying season was pretty slow and work only took about 40 hours a week, leaving me lots of free time. In -45 weather. Fortunately I had a Nintendo 64 console along with a color tv and my friends and I spent hours playing Goldeneye and Mario Kart 64, waiting for winter to subside so we'd be able to live outdoors again.

One night around 11pm I was sitting at home with some of the locals, playing Goldeneye deathmatch when the phone rang. It was Dwayne, our Chief Pilot. He wanted to know if I would do a medical flight down south with him. He was qualified to operate single-pilot but he wanted the company as it was late at night and he was tired. I said sure and that I'd meet him at the airport. I grabbed my headset and flight bag and ran out the door, arriving at the airport 5 minutes after the phone call. Dwayne was there.

"What's the medical flight about?"

"We have to fly a body and the victim's family down to Prince Albert"

"A body? How did it happen?"

"Go warm up ZOW"

Zow was one of the Navajos in our fleet.

More tomorrow...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Last night was nice; Lisa and I went to her friends house, then we all went to a local pub / lounge for the countdown. I closed my eyes so Lisa was the last thing I saw in 2006 and the first thing I saw in 2007.

Sully's 2007 Resolutions:

1. Do some volunteer work that helps people - I have been really lucky and it's time to start helping out people who haven't had the same good fortune.
2. No french fries or breading - I want to live to 100, or at least not spend the last 20 years of my life as an obese invalid.
3. Alcohol no more than one night a week - See #2, above
4. Invest some money - For the past 15 years I have been used to living paycheque to paycheque and it's time I updated my mindset
5. Get a pet - I want a cat so bad I feel like I miss my cat even though I don't have one, if that makes any sense.
6. Take a course in something that interests me - "use it or lose it" applies to brains as well as muscles. Maybe the history of Gothic music or a cooking class or maybe a drama class.
7. Add something to my aviation license - whether it's an instructor rating or a new type rating, I want to keep building my qualifications. I'm taking the Transport Canada Approved Company Check Pilot course in February which is a start. After I finish that class I'll be able to do PPC checkrides on company pilots, which sounds pretty interesting. But the ACP course is only the beginning; one of my flight instructors at Selkirk College had 75 type ratings and I want to beat that number.

2006 was pretty freakin' awesome, so I'm looking forward to 2007.

Haunting flying story coming right up...