Monday, April 30, 2007

While I'm being a link-skank, here's a set of the coolest airplane pics from Russia you'll see today. Normally I'd just copy them to the blog, but there are so many.

Extra points for pics of the Russian Amphibious jet I mentioned a few months ago.

Awesome Russian Plane Pix
This Boeing 757 breathes in a couple of birds just after rotation. A new engine is millions of dollars, and new seat covers for the pilots would be an additional couple of hundred bucks.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

One. I flew a B-58 Baron for a few years in Goderich, Ontario. The company had a contract with UPS to fly road grader parts from Goderich to Hamilton 5 nights a week, and the loads mostly consisted of a few boxes weighing maybe 50 pounds total.

I took Lisa flying with me one night, and on the way there I decided to demonstrate the zero-G manoeuvre by pulling the nose up and then pushing it over so we could float for a few seconds. It was pretty fun, and after that we went on our way to Hamilton to drop the freight off. We landed and taxiied into the UPS ramp, and presently were greeted by a crew of baggage handlers. I walked to the nose of the Baron and unlocked it, as that's where the freight was. But when I showed off to Lisa with the zero-G trick, the freight in the nose shifted and wedged the door shut. We tried for at least 40 minutes before I ended up putting my tail between my legs and flying home. Our AME got the cargo door open with a crowbar the next day and told me his theory about how it got jammed "You jackass, you were trying to impress your girl. That took me an hour to jimmy open, and I'm billing $80 for my labour." I confessed to the Operations Manager the next day, but escaped with a light spanking and a bill. I still thought it was pretty good though. You should have seen the look on Lisa's face when we were floating in the sky. Best eighty bucks I ever spent.

Two. Years ago, when I flew the MU-2, one of my captains knew this guy, a pilot for another medevac company. He was captain on a PA-31 Navajo, and maybe a f/o on a turboprop, I forget. Anyhoo, one day we were in Sault St. Marie and happened to bump into this guy, and he told us a fairly amazing story about what happened to him in the Navajo a few days before. So here's what he said:

"We had landed and done a quickturn, then fuelled up and departed for Thunder Bay. I was on the takeoff roll and the first officer had just called blueline when ATC called us and said we were trailing smoke from both engines. I looked over and saw the cylinder head temperatures were pegged at the top of the scale, and we couldn't get any power. We were departing to the west so that meant we were over the water as soon as we were airborne. I called an emergency and started a 180 back to the runway. I tried pulling back on the power so the temps would come down but the engines had no power anyway and we were unable to climb. We weren't more than 50 feet off the water for the entire time we were airborne. As we turned around and I saw that we were going to make the runway, I knew what I was going to ask the fueller when we returned. So we taxi back, and the f/o is scared and our medic in the back is having kittens, saying "what the hell was that" and saying he's gonna quit and stuff. And we shut down and we tell the firetrucks they can stand down and I get out and go over to the fueller and ask him if he had just started working at the airport. He said yeah and I told him that's probably why he put jet fuel in my Navajo instead of avgas. He got really upset and said he saw a decal on the side of the Navajo that said "turbocharged" and thought that it must use turbo fuel, which is Jet-A, otherwise known as kerosene. (Note by Sully - Some jet engines can operate on piston engine fuel for a brief time, but nearly no piston engines are certified to operate on jet fuel). I felt bad for the guy so I didn't give him a hard time, even though we nearly ditched into the lake during the turn back to the runway, and we all know you wouldn't last 5 minutes in that cold water. I should have been there for the fueling process but I had to take a leak."

And there you have it. I thought that was a bad one. Oh wait, the other bad part came later, when he told us this story. So we asked him, what happens to the plane now? He said his company mechanics flew in, drained the tanks of jet fuel and filled them with avgas, then ran the engines for a while and found no fault with them. So he was in town to pick up the plane and do some more medevacs. Oh, and it was a hard IFR day in Sault St. Marie when we met him and he told us this story. It scared me, but he assured us he would be just fine. As it turned out, he departed that day and carried out his flights uneventfully. Even so, I felt pretty bad for the guy.

Three. You know what's weird? What I find s strange is what I saw on the news this evening. How the hell does Paris Hilton's name keep coming up? Why is it that I could probably pick her out of a police lineup even though I have never met the woman? It's just an example, there are a thousand other stupid things we focus on rather than deal with important issues, like how to sustain life on the planet. I hate stuff like what we saw on tv tonight; information I wish I could un-learn, so as to make space for other information that might actually be useful to me one day, like how to deal with a cranky fuel control unit, or a cranky passenger. But who can think at a time like this, when Katie is so unhappy with Tom, and it looks like Jen and Vince might get back together....

Epi. A decent amount of flying coming up next week, so that's cool. More pics and random comments shall ensue...

Friday, April 27, 2007

We took this week off as best we could - the planes are quiet and Kitsch and I have accumulated a fair amount of days off in lieu of weekends worked.

I have also spent the last couple of days moving Lisa from London to here, and integrating our possessions. We now have more towels than we will be able to soil in a year!

I have a good post planned for tomorrow, so come on back then. Today is all about unpacking Lisa's stuff.

Oh, and I bought a Nintendo Wii, which is the source of endless amusement. It's the perfect video game system for people who don't play video games. More on that later.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Today's post is all about pictures of the trip we did over the weekend.

Sunny skies as we departed Florida yesterday. Thanks to Kitsch for the pics.

Letting our minds wander, as referenced in yesterday's post:

The Air Canada 767 I mentioned in yesterday's random thoughts about contrails.

We were at FL370, and I think this was a Canjet 737 at FL360.

A few pics from the shooting range:

With the laser sight, just put the red dot on where you want the hole to go.

Kitsch chose the target titled "Keith Richards takes Juliana Margules from ER hostage"

Playing with the AR-15, a civilian variant of the M-16.

The last remaining ice floes around Buffalo, as mentioned in yesterday's post:

Clear skies and a good view as we circled for runway 23 in Toronto.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I'm back in Oakville now, after a 3-hour routine flight. The view was pretty spectacular and the haze wasn't too bad so I'm sure we could easily see a hundred miles in each direction.

That's one of the coolest things about this job - it offers a mindset and a visual perspective completely unlike anything else. We are tiny little bugs in the skies, completely dwarfed by the size of our view. If that makes any sense, and it probably doesn't. I'll explain a little; today was a three-hour flight in completely perfect, smooth flying weather, with zero headwind and nary a ripple in the air, the jet was well-behaved, and overall the flight didn't require a whole lot of effort or worry.

So I pondered the state of things.

The passengers were content and quiet, reading and watching movies, and from time to time our minds were left to wander here and there as the dual hell-fires bolted to our fuselage kept us whooshing effortlessly forward.

I mean, really, isn't that nuts how easy it appears? Our engines operate smoothly at 1,200 degrees farenheit at 30,000 rpm. I find it amazing that we can build machines capable of such stress at such a high precision for so long. We sure pay dearly for it - a single engine for our small jet is hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we have to throw it away after a few thousand hours. But still, the fact that it works at all, let alone is very reliable, is constantly a source of wonder to me.

Lisa is done university soon, and we are going to be living in sin shortly, so I'm very excited about that. We lived together for a few months last summer and it was a hell of a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to doing that full-time. I'm sure she will grow to love watching me play Gears of War on my 360. Right? Anyone? I think I just heard a wolf howl in the distance.

It was an hour to two in when we heard ATC tell an Air Canada 767 to climb above us as it overtook, so as not to run us over (for a jet, the Citation II is pretty slow). The 767 passed off our right side and as it did, we noticed that it was making contrails, which is the fancy term for the condensed exhaust trails that come out of the aircraft engines. I called ATC and asked them to call the Air Canada plane and ask them to tell us if we were leaving contrails. The Air Canada 767 said yup, in fact we were leaving a contrail several miles long, and that they saw our contrails long before they actually saw us. ATC then asked me why I wanted to know, and that in 21 years of air traffic control he hadn't had that request before, so I was forced to say "Because we can't see if we are making contrails, and contrails are cool, so I wanted to know". Then I briefly felt ashamed for being so lame, but I got over it with a diet Red Bull.

I made fun of Kitsch's massive sunburn, which he described alternately as like having cats hanging on his chest, and "I woke up screaming this morning", so that made me laugh because I'm a sadist.

On the descent toward Toronto, we passed across the southeastern portion of Lake Erie, and we saw a whole pile of fragmented ice floes in the harbor around Buffalo. I think it's the last ice we'll see around Toronto for a few months. It was 31 in Florida when we left, but it was 24 here in Toronto when we arrived, so that wasn't exactly painful to return to.

And that was some of the stuff I randomly thought about today in cruise. I hope your day was at least as productive :)

Friday, April 20, 2007

I was thinking about this after my initial writing, and I wanted to add a few words. So here goes, this is my final draft of this post as of 11:30pm on Friday night.

I'm in Florida for a few days. The flight down was uneventful with the exception of seeing a HUGE forest fire in Georgia; the smoke stretched for at least 200 miles. Kitsch took a few pics which I'll post shortly. Our rental car is a Fusion, which is a zippy little car with a bass-y stereo system, but a pretty cheap-looking interior. Yesterday Kitsch locked me in the trunk of said car to see if the trunk escape mechanism works, and I'm pleased to report that it does. Last night we went to some downtown restaurant and feasted while sitting out on the patio, which is something I haven't been able to do in Toronto since last September.

Today we went to the beach and I saw a guy wearing a hair suit so that was interesting. From a distance it looked like he was wearing a shirt, but as we walked closer I saw he was wearing a red speedo and nothing else. He sparkled in the light; his sweat was trapped by his back-fur and in the hot spring sun he glistened like Ron Jeremy after a 17-hour duty day. He was standing by the lifeguard shack, hitting on an older woman who was wearing a one-piece suit that would have been considered modest in 1815. He was explaining to her that he didn't drink any more, as the wind rippled across his back hair like a breeze through Saskatchewan wheat in June. I don't think I believe in God, but I said a quick prayer just in case. The beach was nice, if boring. The skies were clear and blue and the water was warm and well populated with a mixture of retirees and hard-core sun-tanners, with their fruit leather skin and apple-doll faces. Does that make them sound like food? Jerky, maybe.

Oh yeah, today we also went to a gun range. Yeah, I know that's pretty inappropriate and I have no real reply to that. I figured when in Rome...and I wanted to see the world from behind the barrel of a semi-automatic handgun. In Canada, that's nearly impossible. In Florida, all I have to do is show my driver's license.

My handgun had a laser sight - I put the red dot on the target, squeezed the trigger and a little hole magically appeared under the red dot. The shell casings felt warm on my chest as they were ejected, and they sounded like quarters falling out of slot machines as they skittered across the ground. Each 9mm bullet I fired was really noisy, and I'm glad I had hearing protection on. I betcha lots of old cops are half-deaf

I'm glad I don't own a gun. Guns make things appear waaaay too simple, and combined with human nature, that's a serious problem. I really shouldn't be allowed to own a gun, and after today's shooting session I have serious doubts that anyone should. I have never tried crack, but I bet I know what the rush feels like now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

This is New Jersey. I could take a pic of any part of the entire state from any angle, and it would look like this.

Yesterday we had a charter - we flew a couple of hours west, then a couple of hours east and ended up overnighting in scenic, fresh-smelling New Jersey. Not Teterboro airport (it's underwater at the moment due to recent rainfall), but Newark, another major airport that feeds New York City along with La Guardia and JFK. We head home this afternoon, then tomorrow we are off again on a charter, heading south to spend a few days in Florida.

Yesterday was uneventful with one minor note; it was a wee bit bumpy coming into Newark yesterday, with some clouds and rain, and we had to hold for about 20 minutes before landing. Everyone was calling it "light chop" and that's actually all it was.

Anyway, when we landed, one of our pax pointed at the other pax and said "This guy needs an ambulance". I laughed, thinking it was a joke. But apparently the other guy got really motion-sick during our final approach, and he actually needed to collect himself for about 10 minutes before he was able to walk off the airplane. He was actually bright green, and I would have loved to take a pic but I wasn't able to think of a reason for asking the guy to pose.

The guy stumbled out of the plane and then had to stand doubled-over while touching his toes for a few minutes, standing motionless and breathing deeply.

I told them the weather for today indicated fewer bumps, but sick-boy might actually take another way home rather than air travel, and we might end up only taking one guy back home after their meetings this afternoon.

I have a pretty weak stomach when it comes to aerobatics - I'm good for about 5 minutes of flinging myself through the sky and then it's time to land. I remember doing spin training in flight school and sweating through every minute of it, not because I didn't like spins (they are really cool) but because my stomach was in my mouth for the last hour of each lesson. Hell, I don't ride the merry-go-round because I am nauseous for hours afterwards, so I felt kind of bad for our poor sick-boy passenger. He was even sober; I checked our commissary and they had only consumed water and pop on board.

I'm just glad it wasn't actually bumpy yesterday, and I'm especially glad the pax didn't order extra catering; if they had, I suspect we would have been getting our plane's interior steam-cleaned last night.

Monday, April 16, 2007

At least 33 people have been confirmed dead this morning in a shooting at Virginia Tech .

CNN has updated news.

My heart goes out to the friends and families of those killed. A lot of families in Virginia are going to be getting terrible news today.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Who is this man and how did he get so good-looking? Clearly he's thinking about a lot of things, like maybe a solution for world peace, or a cure for cancer. Some might say his expression is due to excess gas, but those people are wrong. Wrong and bad. Clearly this man is pleasing to all 5 senses. Oh, and I think there's an airplane in the background or something.

When we were passing through a resort area in Georgia last week we came upon this remarkable beast, a Boeing Stearman, which was built as a military trainer around World War II. This one is a total creampuff and is privately owned by some rich guy. Apparently the owner flies down in a Gulfstream and uses the Stearman to play around when he's here on vacation. Yeah, life is fair.

The Stearman has a beautiful old radial engine that provides 450 horsepower, which is twice what they originally came with, and I presume is more than enough to get this airplane up in the air and around the patch at a good clip even though it was designed years before wind tunnel testing and computerized drag analysis.

A huge chunk of the airplane is fabric-covered, like the wings, tail and fuselage. Only the areas around the engine were metal-skinned.

While it sits on the ramp it's attached to an oil can so that when it leaks oil out of the sump, it goes into the can rather than all over the clean ramp. Speaking of oil, I liked the fact that you can add it to the engine while you are sitting in the cockpit - it is a radial after all :)

I'm guessing the yellow circular thing that hangs under the fuselage between the landing gear is an oil cooler, but I don't know for sure. Does anyone out there know?

I took a video. A thousand apologies for the poor sound quality. I really have to upgrade my video capture capabilities soon.

The plane was absolutely immaculate up close.

The propeller was polished and chromed, and it reflects an image of some suspicious airport hooligan quite well. Or maybe that was Kitsch, I forget. But he looks hooligan-ish and that makes a better story, so I'm going to go with that.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kitsch took these pics when we got de-iced last month.

It's the law in Canada that we can't attempt to take off if there is any contamination on any critical surface on the aircraft. Contaminants are anything that sticks on the wings, like snow, slush, ice, freezing drizzle, hordes of winged monkeys, etc. Critical surfaces are those used for lift, like the wings, elevators, and tail.

So suppose we want to go flying when it's snowing outside; at Toronto Pearson, we will incur some time and expense.

First, we fax in a request to use the central de-ice facility at Toronto. That costs $455.00, and that's just the cost of us showing up.

We then taxi down to the central facility and get in line to get de-iced, like we did in these pics a few weeks ago. The ground controller will pass us off to the de-ice controller, who we call Iceman even though she's a woman (with a really sultry voice actually). She tells us what de-ice bay to taxi toward, and gets us all set up for the de-ice trucks.

The de-ice trucks are really cool, which is good because they cost a million dollars each, for real. In the above pic you can see a couple of them working on the jet ahead of us. It's hard to see, but there is nobody in the main cab of either de-ice truck. In fact, the de-ice truck is operated by a single person, who sits up in a little cab on the main boom and can drive the truck remotely as well as operate the spray nozzles. It's pretty nifty - in the main cab of the truck we can watch the steering wheel turn all by itself as the remote operator in the boom moves around for a better position to spray the airplanes.

We set the parking brake and close our air vents (unless we want the smell of vodka to permeate the cabin) but we keep the engines running as they don't mind the alcohol spray at all.

Anyway, first they spray us with Type 1 de-ice fluid, which is basically alcohol mixed with hot water. It is to remove any ice buildup that's already on the airplane, or to disperse the hordes of winged monkeys (they seem to hate the taste of alcohol). The fluid is a bright orange color and is fairly thin and runny.

Once the operators are satisfied that we are clear of contamination, they hose us down with Type 4 de-ice fluid, which is essentially alcohol and vegetable oil. It's green, and it's a lot thicker than type 1 fluid. It will actually stick to our airplane, and it's meant to prevent ice from re-accumulating. (When we start our take-off roll, the Type 4 fluid will eventually slip off the wings, but it takes a wind of about a hundred miles per hour to do that.)

Once we are done getting sprayed, the Iceman lady with the hot voice tells us what time our de-ice protection started, then passes us back to the normal ground controllers, and we hustle out of the ramp and try to get airborne as soon as possible - we can't take too long or we'll have to repeat the experience.

We have charts on board our aircraft to determine how long the de-ice fluids will protect us from the falling snow and the angry flying monkeys, and it all depends on the ferocity of the precipitation (and the beasts) and the temperature. If there is light freezing rain falling we might only have a very few minutes to get airborne before the charts tell us we have to go back to the de-ice pad and do the whole thing over again.

Deicing at Toronto is really expensive - they charge a few bucks per litre to spray the fluid on us, and then charge about 9 bucks per litre "recovery fee", to treat the de-ice fluid that drips onto the ramp after it falls off our airplane. The excess fluid goes into big drains and flows into holding tanks where it is reprocessed and used for car antifreeze and windshield washer fluid.

When the trucks spray us, they do so with considerable force - the nozzles are like firehoses and the fluid is under a lot of pressure. For us to get de-iced will only take 5 minutes at most, but the trucks will hose us down with at least a couple of hundred litres of fluid in that time.

Our last de-ice bill was $2,000.00 and the one before that was $2,400.00, so you get some perspective of the cost of those 5 minutes. The large air carriers like Air Canada pay a fixed fee to the airport for their de-icing requirements and they get de-iced whenever they want, but we don't have that deal; we pay each time we get sprayed. Toronto is fairly insanely expensive when it comes to de-icing corporate aircraft - for the same service in Wisconsin last month, our bill came to only $600.

It is a lot of money, but it's not worth taking risks with icing; even a little bit of ice on the wings can completely screw up their ability to produce lift and result in the aircraft being unable to stay airborne, which would end up costing us a lot more than a couple grand.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

This is a really quick clip, so you only have a couple of seconds to tell me what went wrong. Fortunately nobody died.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Well, we are done our busiest week ever, and today I'm back in the office, coding invoices and making sure the bills for the flights are getting paid. Both our jets are in for scheduled maintenance, so I have a few days to relax, do laundry, buy groceries, and make sure our paperwork is complete and correct.

I really enjoyed the last week except for the part where my lips are very chapped due to the dry air in the cockpit. I haven't had chapped lips before, and I kind of hate it.

Random thoughts looking back on last week:

Toronto - Raleigh - Augusta - Toronto. We did the same route every day for a week, and I was pretty freakin' bored by the end of it. With corporate flying we generally mix up our destinations, and it's rare that we'll do the exact same trip twice in a row. This tells me that perhaps I'm not cut out for airline flying - I really enjoy the variety of places we go to while flying corporate. Don't get me wrong - I have been to Teterboro maybe 50 times in the last 2 years, but those times weren't all in a row.

Overheard last week on departure from Augusta:

ATC - "Cessna 172 5 miles north of Augusta, what are your intentions?"
Student pilot - "Umm, I'm on a solo cross-country trip to Augusta"
"Confirm you want to land at Augusta. Now. During the Masters Tournament"
"Umm, okay. Is there anything special I should do?"
"Just follow the instructions in the NOTAM for Augusta"
"Umm, I think I left that back in the car. Can you tell me what they are?"

Unfortunately we were switched over to another frequency before I could listen in to the rest of the hilarity. But seriously, what kind of instructor would let their student do their solo cross-country flight into Augusta during the busiest week of the year. There were business jet arrivals and departures every 3 minutes for a week straight.

Bah, I forgot to bring my usb cord for my camera but fortunately Kitsch has a few random ones from last week, so here we go:

Each morning was an early one:

This was the weather for the entire week. A bit boring, but no news is good news when it comes to weather::

During an empty leg I decided to make sure my oxygen mask is set to fit snugly around my hairless skull. Results were mixed...

You get pretty familiar with the cockpit layout after spending 6 hours a day in the machine:

In Augusta they use a taxiway as overflow parking. That's us on the right.

And that's about all I know right now. I took a bunch of video clips of Augusta, and when I get home tonight I'll try to remember to post 'em.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Random Post #1:

I'm sure you have heard about the latest bullet train in France that will do 350mph.

In the 1970's the Russians experimented with their own bullet trains.

This one was powered by two engines from the Yak-40. It could do a max speed of 180mph

The Russians also put jet engines from a TU-134 on a passenger ferry, enabling it to do 60mph on the water.

Sadly, none are in use these days.

Monday, April 09, 2007

When I posted about our busy schedule a few days ago, it was before more trips got added last weekend.

36 flight hours in the past 6 days makes for a tired Sully.

I have one more flight tomorrow before the planes go down for routine CAT scans and Thorazine injections (known as Phase inspections by mechanic types), so I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Well, I'm enjoying every part except for the chapped lips I now have due to the dry air in the cockpit.

Kitsch and I took some nice pics today, and I'll post them tomorrow during my layover.

But now I really have to sleep.

While I snore, watch this 60-turn spin in a 172.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

This is a Citation II, like the ones I fly, riding the ILS into Greensboro SC. The guy is pretty smooth on the controls, that's for sure.

Friday, April 06, 2007

In 5 days we expect to do 28 hours flight time. That's time spent sitting in the jet with the engines running. Not bad for corporate / charter.

I have to be in bed in 15 minutes, so I'll make this quick.
Kitsch and I have been flying a lot lately, doing multiple runs to a popular event. It takes us about 3 hours to get there, but only 2 to get home as we can do a direct flight home rather than stopping for customs like we have to do on the way to the event.

Here's what we do for a single trip:

1. Get passenger names, details. enter them into our flight planning system.
2. Call US Customs at our destination to make sure they will be able to attend our arrival.
3. Print out various Customs forms, fax them to US Customs.
4. Enter the same information into the eAPIS internet reporting system.
5. Call US Customs again to make sure they have received the forms, and the eAPIS electronic transmission.

A quick aside :

This popular event means that the normally sleepy local airport is very busy for a few days each year, and an internet arrival slot reservation system is in effect. You aren't allowed to fly IFR into this airport without one, and they are only good for 15 minutes. There are also only 20 slots per hour into this airport, which means that competition is fierce for good arrival slot times - they are snapped up within seconds of being made available on the internet. Anyway, we need an arrival slot for each and every arrival, and we can only reserve it 72 hours in advance, and have to confirm it 12 hours in advance or it gets released again to whomever else wants it.

7. Get an arrival slot reservation for each and every time we arrive at the normally sleepy airport.
8. Get an arrival slot reservation for Toronto Pearson on our return, which is busy enough that this is frequently required.
9. Decide where to get fuel and how much fuel to take based on cost of refueling at different airports and FBO's, passenger load, aircraft performance and finally, landing weight. And 20 other things I forget right now.
10. Arrange catering and make sure our on-board drinks / snacks are also fresh and fully-stocked, and the plane's interior is clean.
11. Call our FBO to make sure our plane is pulled out an hour before we are scheduled to depart so we can prepare it for the flight.
12. Create and print out flight plans for each leg we fly and make sure the math makes sense.
13. File the flight plans for the flight and get a weather briefing to make sure we are aware of any bad weather enroute or at our destination.
14. Create and send an invoice to the customer for our trip, and make sure our costs (fuel, hotels, maintenance, etc) are fully documented by our computerized flight planning system.
15. Call one of our employees who is not flying that day and formally make them responsible for flight watching us for each particular flight - a provision of our flight operation is that we have to have a person keeping track of our airplanes at all times, so that if we are flying and fail to arrive at our destination, someone will notice.

Keep in mind that this is all stuff that we do before even setting foot in the airplane, and we have been spending 6 hours a day in the airplane as well.

I am having a good time and enjoying it while it lasts, but I really have to get to bed so I can make my 8 hours prone.

Kitsch has been taking pics of our flying and I'll have to steal some soon and post 'em.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

This is pretty cool. It's cockpit footage of the final 3 1/2 minutes of landing at Hong Kong's old Kai Tak airport. This is a Boeing 747 shooting the famous checkerboard approach and landing in rain. The instrument approach was set 45 degrees away from the airport, so when the pilots broke out of cloud instead of seeing the airport they'd see a large checkerboard sign set into a hill. Rather than hit the hill, the crew would turn 45 degrees to the right at 2 miles from the airport, then land. I imagine that would be tough to do in a large jet. The airport has since closed and been replaced by Hong Kong International Chek Lop Kok, an airport with a conventional instrument approach.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The closest I have come to death is aviation-related. The closest I have come to death is NOT aviation-related.

It was 1997 and I was working for Northern Dene Airways. I was based in Stony Rapids, but had taken a weekend off to head "down south" to Saskatoon. I was returning on the Monday morning, along with a company mechanic and another pilot, my friend and roommate Daryl.

Northern Dene Airways had an agreement with Air Sask, and we were allowed to fly non-rev on their Jetstream 31's to/from Stony Rapids. The only downside was that if the plane was full, we'd be the first to be bumped off so that paying customers / freight could be loaded on board. Added to that, on hot summer days the Jetstream was frequently weight-restricted on the northern runs due to the short runways.

Anyhoo, it was Monday morning and the three of us were heading back to Stony Rapids. We made it as far as Prince Albert before being bumped off for cargo. Fortunately the owner, Dave Webster, had a trailer in Prince Albert that we could stay at until the next sked flight, which was the following afternoon. Dave also had a minivan in Prince Albert, so we were set for transport.

So essentially, 2 pilots and an aircraft mechanic had 24 hours to kill in a small town.

We went to the bar.

As it became time for us to leave, we talked about how we were gonna get back to the trailer.

Daryl - "I have spent too much time and money on my pilot's licence to screw it all up with a DUI"
Me - "Yeah, me too. What Daryl said"
The mechanic "I'm fine, I have only had a few. I'll drive"

He was a grown-up, so we took him at his word.

Now I'll just say this before we get to the weird stuff - I have made some poor decisions in the past, but this one seemed solid. I was half in the bag, and the mechanic said he was sober.

Anyway, we were driving through downtown Prince Albert on our way back to the trailer. It was dark, and we were in full bloom - singing drinking songs and yelling incoherent things to pedestrians. I'm going to guess that we were speeding also, and I'm going to guess that our mechanic wasn't as sober as he made himself out to be.

As we came toward a major intersection, I swore I could hear sirens.

I asked the mechanic if he heard anything, and he said "Nope!" then proceeded to accelerate. As we drove across the intersection, we saw a firetruck cross us, sirens blaring and lights flashing.

Then we T-boned a full-sized firetruck while driving at high speed.

Yup, that's right. We drove straight in the side of a moving firetruck with the bosses minivan. We were really lucky - if we had been about 20 feet further ahead, it would have T-boned us and I'd be blogging from beyond the grave.

The firetruck didn't stop, nor did it give any indication that they knew they had been hit. The firetruck kept on going down the street until we couldn't see it any more.

The minivan was mortally wounded, and it started to billow smoke from the engine and spray fluids all over the windshield. Just across the street from the intersection was a funeral home, and it had a parking lot. We still had a bit of momentum going, and the van coasted into the parking lot before giving a few shudders and dying for good.

Daryl had banged his knee pretty good, but other than that, we were all fine. We looked at each other in disbelief.

"We just hit a firetruck"

Then the mechanic started to realize the consequences of his actions.

Mechanic - "Oh shit guys, what do we do?"
Daryl - "We tell the boss the truth. Man I'm glad I wasn't driving"
Mechanic - "No way. I'm gonna tell the boss that his minivan got stolen."

The mechanic then threw the keys to the minivan as far as he could into the distance, losing them forever.

Mechanic - "Yeah, that's what we'll do. We'll tell the boss that overnight the van got stolen"
Me - "Hey, I just got this job. It's my first aviation job. I have been here 3 months, and I don't want to get fired. I'm telling the truth. After all, I wasn't the one who was driving drunk and hit a firetruck"
Mechanic - "I'm not drunk! I just had a few"
Daryl and I simultaneously - "Dude. We. Hit. A. Firetruck. It even had the sirens on."

So long story short, we walked several miles back to the trailer and went to sleep. The mechanic said he'd come clean and tell the boss the next day.

The next morning came, and the phone rang. It was our Ops Manager.

The mechanic answered the phone, and I could hear his side of the convo.

"Hey Chris. What? No way! It was parked here last night, let me look. Yeah, it's not here any more. It must have been hotwired and stolen. What? It had stolen licence plates on it too? I dunno. Oh, you want to talk to Daryl or Sully? They are asleep and I don't want to... Okay, okay fine."

He handed Daryl the phone and hung his head.

"Hi Chris. We were out at the bar last night and we hit a firetruck on the way home. Yeah, mechanic was driving. I have no idea what the stolen licence plates are all about"

Daryl hung up.

"Sully, you and I are to report to the boss in Stony this afternoon. He's paying for our tickets so we won't get bumped. Mechanic, you might as well take the sked flight back to Saskatoon"

The mechanic knew what the outcome was going to be when Daryl picked up the phone and had already started packing his stuff up to head south.

And that was that. Daryl and I flew up to explain to Dave Webster why his van was destroyed, and the mechanic started looking for another job. Dave was very against alcohol so he was pretty mad, but he did give us a lot of credit for refusing to drive, and for telling the truth about the firetruck. And we kept our jobs, which was important to us at the time.

So what was up with the stolen license plates?

As it turned out, the stolen license plates were completely unrelated to our adventure. A few weeks previous, Luke, (the pilot who rolled the Navajo with me in it) had been stuck in Prince Albert and had wanted to use the minivan. He noticed that the license plate stickers were out of date, so he did what any reasonable man would do, he took the plates off another car in the parking lot and put them on the minivan so he'd be nice and legal for driving. At least that's what I think his mental process was.

So that's my story. The closest I have ever come to dying was due to my aviation job, but it had nothing to do with actually flying.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I'm being lazy again, enjoying Lisa's company and not blogging.

Lots and lots of flying this week, and I have been thinking of a specific flying story that needs to be put in writing, so I think things will be a little more exciting shortly.