Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tegucigalpa Honduras seems to be the successor to the legendary "checkerboard approach" at Hong Kong's decomissioned Kai Tak airport.

Listen to the audio and you'll hear one of the people tell the camera operator "Don't be afraid". I'd disregard that advice if I was there.

Major props to the flight crew for their obvious skill in landing safely. It looks like the final approach is down a hill.

Insane Landing In Honduras - Watch more free videos

I'm flying this weekend, then next week we are heading east for a couple of days. I'll be a-bringin' the camera.

Oh, just to get the gossip juices flowing, we are anticipating some welcome developments in the near future. I'll post more about that stuff after I get permission to make it public.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Here's a copy of the ride report for the recurrent ride I did on Saturday. Click on it to make it bigger.

According to the Transport Canada scale, a "4" on an item is perfection. A "3" is normal proficiency, maybe a few slight errors that don't affect safety of flight. A "2" means something happened that might eventually affect safety, and that you'll get your ass chewed by the inspector. A "1" means a serious error that jeopardized the safety of flight, and if it had happened in the real airplane there's a good chance you would have wound up in a field somewhere.

If you get a "1" on any item, you fail the entire checkride.

As you can see, I got a fair whack of "4"s and "3"s, but I also got a "2" on an emergency, which was Engine Fire. I'll be focusing on that part of my ride in this post.

Continued from 2 days ago:

My First Officer said "Engine Failure" in a calm and collected tone of voice.

I rotated the nose of the airplane to around 8 degrees nose-up and we started to climb out on one engine. I stomped on the right rudder to keep the nose of the airplane straight, and we started to climb.

"Positive Rate" was his call, indicating that we were in fact climbing.
"Gear Up" I replied, and he moved the landing gear lever upward, which tucks our wheels into the airplane, reducing drag. When we are operating single-engine, reducing drag is a priority as less drag means a better climb rate, and a better climb rate means less chance of hitting a nearby hill or building.

A big red light in front of us lit up.

"Oh, and the engine is also on fire." Said the First Officer.

"Set Max Thrust, flaps to approach" was my next call.

It's a redundant call in this case, as our flaps are already set to the approach setting, and during takeoff we already set the power to max thrust, but it's a call that we make for any engine failure when we are close to the ground.

My First Officer confirmed that the flaps were set correctly, and that the remaining engine was spitting out every pound of thrust it could muster.

"Make the calls to ATC please"

My First Officer made a simulated mayday radio call to Air Traffic Control, then did a simulated briefing on our simulated passengers, something along the lines of "Ladies and gentlemen, we had an engine indication on takeoff so we are going to return to the airport and get it checked out. Please keep your seatbelts on and remove any sharp objects from around your person. Once we land, we have asked for firetrucks to follow us down the runway, so don't be alarmed if you see them. It's a totally normal procedure" -- our aim is to keep the pax informed, but also to keep them from panicking. We do enough panicking up front during times like this :)

Then we climbed in silence for a couple of minutes, up to 1,500' above ground. Once there, I stopped climbing the airplane and had the First Officer run the "engine fire on takeoff" checklist.

Well, actually that's what I had said I was going to do in the event of an engine failure/fire. In reality, I climbed to 2,000' above the ground before calling for the checklist. It was a brain-fart - 2,000' was the altitude that the control tower had assigned us before we took off, and my brain accepted that altitude as the one I was supposed to shoot for before levelling off and running the checklist.

Not a huge deal in this airplane, but it could have been worse in another plane, and I got spanked for it, earning my "2" on my ride report.

You see, in this plane, an engine fire is kind of a big deal, but it's also kind of not a big deal. In our 550's, the engines are attached to the rear fuselage of the airplane. If the engine burns for long enough, all that's going to happen is that it will melt off the engine mounts and fall off the plane - the rest of the plane will still be perfectly flyable.

In the MU-2's I flew, the engines are buried within the actual wing of the airplane, so if an engine kept burning, it could easily cause the wing to burn off, which would end the flight in a dramatic and messy manner, so putting out the fire was a much more pressing concern.

Anyhoo, there we were at 2,000' with the engine burning. Again, not a real big deal. I pushed back a plastic cover that protected a big red button, and pushed the button. The button does 5 different things, but the jist of it is that it closes the fuel valve to that engine, and arms the fire extinguishers.

We have 2 engine fire extinguishers on our 550, and either or both of them can be directed into either or both engines.

I pushed a small white button which dumped the pressurized nitrogen gas from the bottle into the burning engine. The First Officer started a timer, and we waited for 30 seconds to see if the fire went out. After 30 seconds, the engine fire light was still on, so I dumped the second fire bottle into the burning engine, and the red light that indicates and engine fire finally went out.

The First Officer ran through the rest of the checklist and secured the engine while I turned the plane around toward the airport. We set up for an ILS landing to minimums, and I briefed the First Officer on the ILS approach, and on what we'd do if the weather was such that we wouldn't be able to land, and would have to go around and try again.

The simulator operator had set the weather to the absolute lowest limits that we are allowed to operate in, and a few seconds before we would have had to overshoot, we saw the runway and landed.

I stopped on the runway and asked the simulated air traffic control if he could talk to the simulated fire trucks and confirm that our simulated fire was out. He said it was, and that was that.

"Okay boys, that exercise is over. We have a few things to talk about, but overall it was well done. Now the sim operator is going to reset the sim and we will move on to the next phase of the checkride."

The Transport Canada Inspector sat back in his seat, and we set up for the next exercise.

The rest of the checkrides went fine, although I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the 3 1/2th one.

The TC guy spanked me for climbing 500' higher than I said I would before starting the engine fire checklist, then he signed off my license for another year. After 7 1/2 hours in the sim, I was re-certified to fly the plane.

//For what it's worth, in the entire Cessna 550 fleet of thousands of jets all over the world, there have been exactly ZERO engine fires in the air reported. Ever. But practicing these emergency scenarios will help us react appropriately should I ever draw the short straw and become the first Captain ever to have to deal with one. And that's a good thing for my passengers, and for me.//

Monday, May 28, 2007

I'm working on a nice long post about the rest of my checkride, and that's up on deck shortly.

But for now...

As I worked my ass off last Saturday, I took the day off today and dragged Lisa to Canada's Wonderland. It's an amusement park located just north of Toronto.

She hadn't been on a roller-coaster before, so I figured we'd start off on the Top Gun coaster, one of the most intense in the park. It's unusual in that we hang from it, with our feet dangling out the bottom.

If I could do it over again, I'd start her off on the "happy bunny kiddie koaster" or something a little less severe. I live and learn.

Til then, enjoy the video of us shrieking like howler monkeys. I'm the one on the right ;)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I did 3 1/2 Pilot Proficiency Checkrides yesterday. Let me tell you all about it.

Last week, two company pilots and I went down to a FlightSafety training center in the United States to undergo recurrent training, leading up to a checkride which renews our certification on the jets we fly.

I talked a bit about the actual recurrent training in my last post - it consists of groundschool and lots of training in a full-motion simulator, which is a fairly accurate computer-driven model of our cockpit, complete with fancy graphics projected through the cockpit windows to give the illusion that we are actually flying our jet, but without any risk of dying if we screw things up.

I have taken the Company Check Pilot course, which will eventually see me certified to conduct checkrides on our company pilots, but I still have some additional training to do before that all goes through, so I had to arrange for a Transport Canada inspector to conduct our recurrent checkrides.

In our company, we are all qualified as Captains. But we legally need 2 pilots to operate our jet, so we also need to be qualified as First Officers, or 'co-pilots' in non-aviation-speak. In order for a Transport Canada Inspector to sign us off, the inspector needs to see us demonstrate our proficiency in both roles and seats.

In airplanes, the left seat in the cockpit is the Captain's seat, and the right seat is the First Officer's seat. We swap seats on every other flight, so half the time we act as Captains and half the time we act as First Officers while the other guy acts as a Captain. In our operation, the person sitting in the Captain's seat flies the airplane, and the person sitting in the First Officers seat operates the radios and runs through the normal checklists (when things are operating normally) and the emergency checklists (when things aren't operating so normally).

The ride sequence went thusly:

First Ride: A fellow pilot acted as Captain, and I acted as First Officer.

Second Ride: I acted as Captain and the fellow pilot acted as First Officer.

Third Ride: A second fellow pilot acted as Captain, and I acted as First Officer.

Third and a halfth Ride: I acted as Captain while the second fellow pilot acted as First Officer. This ride was shorter as the Inspector only needed to make sure the second fellow pilot was capable of acting as a First Officer during an emergency.

Each checkride takes around 1 1/2 - 2 hours, and we either pass as a team or we fail as a team. That means that even if I'm just acting as the First Officer (co-pilot), if the other pilot makes a serious mistake and I don't catch it and do something about it, the Transport Canada Inspector can suspend our licenses to fly our jet, and our licenses to fly in cloud.

As I was a crewmember on all our checkrides, my license was in jeopardy the entire time.

After the second ride was over, I had successfully completed both portions of my recertification, so it was really hard for me to get back into the simulator for the remaining checkrides. But the other pilot needed a crewmember and I drew the short straw, so after chugging a diet Red Bull, I dragged my sorry behind back into the sim and we went at it.

When I get a .pdf scan of my actual checkride report I'll post it here and go over the Inspector's notes so you can get a better sense of it.

But for today's post, I'm going to go over the sequences that we covered during my Captain's ride (ride #2).

So let's do it:


Four of us were in the simulator; myself and the first officer, the Transport Canada Inspector, and the FlightSafety guy who operates the simulator from the control panel behind the cockpit.

The Transport Canada guy had given the sim operator a script of our checkride beforehand, so the sim guy had everything queued up when we got in.

He set the simulator to Memphis International Airport. No particular reason other than the simulator database of Memphis is pretty detailed, and we had done some of our previous simulator training in Memphis, so we were reasonably familiar with the airport layout.

Our initial weather was a 200' ceiling with 1200 rvr, which is pilot geek-speak for 1/4 mile visibility in fog. For those of you who aren't familiar, that's pretty low visibility - at 1/4 mile visibility during takeoff, we can see about 7 seconds ahead of us. In fact it's the minimum visibility that we can legally attempt to take off in.

We ran through the before-start checklist, and got ready to fire up the engines. The first engine start was uneventful, but when I went to start the second engine, the engine temperature quickly soared, and I had to abort the engine start before the fan blades melted. That's known as a 'hot start' in jet pilot parlance.

The simulator instructor reset the sim, and I started the second engine without difficulty.

After the after-start checklists, we got taxi clearance to a nearby runway. Because of the low visibility, we had to make sure we knew exactly where we were at all times, lest we accidentally taxi down the wrong taxiway and end up on an active runway. We also had to consider the possibility of encountering other airplanes on the taxiway, so we lit up all our available lights to make sure we were as visibile as possible.

We found our assigned runway, and taxied onto it to await our takeoff clearance.

The FlightSafety sim guy was acting as our simulated Memphis Tower control, and he made a point of telling us that there was a large puddle of standing water on our simulated runway, about 2,000 feet down. I discussed that with my first officer, and we had to recalculate the previously computed takeoff and landing distances to take into account the wet runway. But the most important part of having a big puddle on the runway is that in the Citation 550 (my jet), the nosewheel is designed to deflect water to the sides, away from the engines, but if it is damaged, then water can possibly get into the engines during takeoff. If too much water gets into a jet engine, it can cause the engine to flame-out and stop working.

This was my cue to expect something dramatic on takeoff. Oh, also the fact that I was taking a checkride in the simulator. That also told me to expect something dramatic.

With quivering hands I pushed the engine power levers forward and had the first officer set the engines to our maximum allowed takeoff thrust settings. I released the aircraft brakes and we started to haul ass down the runway.

//A brief aside:

In a multi-engine airplane, before every takeoff we calculate a certain speed, called V1. If something bad happens on the takeoff roll, but before V1 is achieved, we pull back on the throttles, stomp on the brakes, and stop. If we reject a takeoff at significant speed, like a hundred miles an hour, our brakes are going to heat up to 700 degrees C, and possibly fail, which might lead to us running off the end of the runway at high speed, which is a BAD THING. If something bad (like an engine failure) happens after we are going faster than V1, it's safer for us to continue the takeoff, climb out and return to the airport than it is to attempt to stop on the runway.

We had calcuated our V1 for this takeoff at 102 knots, which is just under 120 miles per hour.//

Anyway, we were hustling down the runway in Memphis, right as we drove over the simulated pool of water, and at 103 knots, my left engine failed.

Quelle surprise.

We were past V1, so I continued the takeoff and we started to climb out with only 1 engine working. In 1/4 mile visibility. At our maximum gross weight. That's when things got kind of busy...

More tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

See that box on stilts? That's where I have been living for the past while.

I am at FlightSafety right now, and have just finished my second day of recurrent training. I have another day tomorrow, then a checkride on Saturday.

A checkride with a Transport Canada Inspector. I spend a couple of hours with a man I have never met, a man who hasn't seen me fly before, and I have to convince him that I don't suck at being a pilot based on a few semi-random, semi-scripted events.

Oh, by the way, this man from Transport Canada can take my license away if he thinks I suck at pilotage.

No stress, right?

A PPC ride is such an artificial situation. When we fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) we are not supposed to make any turns with more than 30 degrees angle of bank. When we do a checkride, one of the first things we do after we get airborne is to do 45-degree banked turns. Then we do an instrument approach to an airport, then miss the approach and immediately set up for an approach on the opposite runway. On a ride, it's par for the course for us to be about to land, like literally 50 feet above the runway when we are told to overshoot and on the overshoot have an engine failure, then have to enter a hold and circle around for a while before being allowed to return back to the runway. In real life, this is highly unlikely to happen. And those are just the discrepancies that occur to me right now, without actually thinking hard about it.

So what prepares us for the checkride?

Well, we practice the checkride sequences several times during the days leading up to the ride, and during our practice sessions the FlightSafety instructors are merciless; at least during our checkride the Transport Canada inspector can only give us one emergency at a time, but during our training the instructors will give us multiple unrelated emergencies in an attempt to load us up. I guess it's the (use an Arnold Schwarzenner accent) "I must break you to make you better" thing.

I really enjoy the simulator part; I am a die-hard video game guy, and this is just a big video game to me so that's fun.

It's the part about my license being in jeopardy while I'm doing a ride that I don't like so much.

More tomorrow, I spend 14 hours at FS today and I'm exhausted.

Here's a video from my crappy camera that I took today; I'll try for something more exciting later. Hey, maybe I'll get lucky and fail my ride, then I'll really have something to talk about :)

It'll take about 20 minutes for youtube to encode and recognize this vid, so don't sweat it if you happen to be dropping by right after I post this and youtube says it ain't available. They lie ;)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm sure this skill will come in handy at some point.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The past few days have been great; enjoying time off with Lisa, and getting ready for mom's visit. That's right, my mom is coming to town and I'll be spending Tuesday with her, showing her my world. So today I cleaned and vacuumed in an effort to create the illusion that we live in less squalor and filth than we actually do. I found a family of raccoons in my laundry hamper and I know that would have freaked her out, so my efforts have already been worth it.

Next week is all about our recurrent training and PPC rides; we'll be heading to FlightSafety for some sweat-time in the simulators, then a Transport Canada inspector will be supervising our checkrides. No stress, right? :)

I have a surprise for tomorrow, but until then check out this video. It's sort of cool; the refresh rate of the video camera is the same as the rotor frequency on the helicopter.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It's Spring, and that means nesting season is upon us. I was in Goderich last weekend and took a quick visit to the airport early one morning. There is a large aircraft paint shop there, and I wandered over to one of their latest projects, an old Dash 8 100 series.

This video is boring. I am unapologetic for that, but I'm sorry for the parts where the camera is looking at the sun and it goes all wonky. It's kind of sad to watch the airport decline; I spent nearly 5 years there and Goderich was pretty busy, but apparently the only traffic they get now is Skyharbor Aircraft customers.

The airport fuel tanks are old and they didn't meet the proper environmental standards any more, so they got ripped out. The thing is, the town doesn't want to pay for new fuel tanks so they haven't been replaced. That does not bode well for the future of this place.

Oh, and on a completely different note, we celebrated an addition to our family. No, Lisa isn't pregnant but she did buy a new car, a 2007 Civic. It took me 10 years to get a flying job that paid enough for a good car, and Lisa gets a job right out of university that lets her afford one easily.

It even has a moonroof. My Civic hybrid doesn't even have a moonroof.

Maybe if I'm good, she'll let me drive it once in a while.

Lisa wanted a red one, so a red one she got. The hybrid is in the background, watching the new car carefully.

I'll spoil the ending for you: the person doesn't crash. But it's close. Listen as the airshow announcer pauses for a second, in obvious expectation of the "kaboom"

A 'real' post is coming up later on today.

Plane Nearly Crashes During Air Show - Watch more free videos

Monday, May 14, 2007

Here's a birdstrike video with a twist - you experience it from the passenger's point of view. The strike happens at 47 seconds into the video - this is an Airbus 319 out of Gibraltar.

There are some serious hills outside - I bet the crew was glad this didn't happen in hard IMC.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A few random things today:

1. Check out this blog, Pilot's Wife. It's written by a young woman living in London, UK who is married to an airline pilot. She writes about a lot of things that are recurring themes in my relationship with Lisa, and if you are a pilot I bet your significant other has also brought those same issues to your attention, too. It's a good look at how our lives as pilots affect those who love us.

B. Kitsch and I overheard the following yesterday, on departure from New York:

"Center, this is United **** heavy. We have a medical emergency on board and would like to return to JFK. We are going to need the long runway"

"Roger United, what is the nature of your emergency?"

"We have a passenger on board who has had a seizure of some kind, and we would rather return to JFK than to continue on to Moscow with the passenger in this condition"

The controller and the crew worked out the best routing to enable the plane to dump fuel while returning for landing, and it seemed that things were working out as well as could be expected when we were told to flip to another frequency.

I felt bad for the poor person having a seizure, but I also started thinking about the logistical nightmare this scenario would present; this jet had just taken off from the airport for a long-haul flight, so the airplane would be loaded up with fuel, fuel they were going to have to spend some time dumping before they would be able to return for landing. Even though the airlines get good prices on fuel, I'm guessing it would cost them at least 25 cents a pound, and it wouldn't be unheard-of for a heavy aircraft to have to dump over a hundred thousand pounds of gas before being light enough to land without damaging the landing gear. Also, because New York to Moscow is a long-haul flight, the crew might also be fairly tight on duty-day requirements, so a delay like this might force the airline to switch the crew for a fresh one once they landed. If they can't find a fresh crew immediately, they might have to put the passengers up in hotels until they could. If the emergency became life-or-death, the crew might have to consider landing overweight, balancing the risk to the rest of the passengers with the risk of the sick passenger dying due to lack of immediate medical care. And of course let's mention that fact that they would be making an unscheduled landing in New York's JFK airport (one of the busiest on earth), which adds considerable stress and workload to the already-busy air traffic controllers. And those are only the things that immediately popped into my head, I'm sure I haven't considered loads of other factors. I wonder if airlines have insurance for this sort of thing. Does anybody know?

III. I saw 28 Weeks Later (link goes to reviews) last night with Lisa, and if you are a zombie-movie fan, I recommend it. There were some continuity errors and I didn't like the zombie-shaky-cam effect very much, but it had some pretty scary moments. Most 'normal' zombie movies feature ones that shuffle along with their arms outstretched, mumbling "Brains....Brainssss", but 28 Weeks Later features furious screeching zombies who all have excellent cardio and can sprint faster than most of their victims, which really ramps up the tension.

Four. I managed to hornswoggle Kitsch into doing a long flight today, so I have the next few days off! I'm looking forward to relaxing outside with a cold beer in my hand, enjoying the summer weather and not worrying about anything aviation-related for a while. I love my job, but the reason I do all of this is for days like today, when I can spend time with Lisa on my own schedule instead of my passengers' schedule.

Have a good weekend, and fly safe!

Friday, May 11, 2007

I'm back from the check pilot course, but I'm flying all day today so I only have time for a quick post.

This is a pic of another classroom in the learning center where I did my check pilot course.

Click on the pic to make it bigger, then take a guess what the course is. I'll post the answer below the pic.

It's a sensitivity training course for aircraft mechanics. Aren't the stuffed animals cuuute? :)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The check pilot course I am on is fascinating so far; we spent the first three days in groundschool, talking about how to fill out the paperwork, about IFR procedures, and about how to conduct briefings and debriefings.

Okay, that stuff was pretty boring, but it got better. At the end of the third day, the class was presented with a few dozen events that might occur on a check-ride, and we discussed the grade we would give the candidates, and why.

As it turns out, it's pretty much all voodoo; there are very few cases in which a grade on a checkride is cut-and-dry, and most of them end up being grey areas in which we are expected to use our experience, judgement and discretion to arrive at grades.

Our class had about 20 people in it, from all aspects of the industry, and including about 10 Transport Inspectors doing recurrent training also.

I thought it was really interesting that one inspector might give a candidate a '1' (failure) on an exercise that another inspector would give the candidate a '3' (meets the standard) on. 99% of all the scenarios we discussed ended up being debated at length by everyone in the class, with lots of different opinions and grades assigned to the same events.

Doesn't that give you the warm fuzzies? :)

Anyway, moving on, last night we each created scenarios that would include the mandatory elements of a checkride (1 precision approach, 1 non-precision approach, hold, single-engine landing, V1 cut, etc)

Then today we conducted briefings on each other, and then got into the Citation 550 simulator here in Ottawa and conducted rides on each other.

Here's the scenario I prepared last night, and inflicted on the guys today.

If you passed this scenario with me on an official checkride, you'd earn a Citation 550 Type rating and an IFR renewal (assuming I checked off the correct boxes on the offical form). I still have a good ways to go before I'm signed off to be a check pilot, and a lot more experience to get, but I'm moving forward.


1. Start at main ramp in YOW (Ottawa) – Weather is 200’ceiling 1/2sm visibility
2. Regular checklist use
3. Engine Start – HUNG START on Second Engine
4. Reset, then normal engine start
5. Normal taxi, takeoff runway 32, Ottawa 1 SID

Trainer 1, Ottawa Tower, winds 250 at 11, cleared for TO runway 32, contact departure 128.17, good day.

6. On climb, AIR DUCT O/H

Trainer 1, good day, radar identified, climb and maintain 5,000’, cleared direct YOW VORTAC

7. Vectors to practice area, freeze location.
8. Steep Turns
9. Stalls (if applicable)
10. RH FUEL FILTER BYPASS after upper airwork is complete.
11. Vectors for ILS 07 – Weather set for 250’ 1 sm – vector to at least a 9 mile final

Trainer 1, maintain 3,000 until the glidepath intercept, cleared for the ILS runway 07 Ottawa, contact tower 118.8

12. At 100’, plane on runway – REJECTED LANDING

Trainer 1, pull up and go around, traffic on the runway. Climb to 3,000 and contact departure 128.17

14. Vectors to hold at YOW VORTAC – prefer parallel or offset entry

Trainer 1, runways are closed due to disabled ac, you are cleared to hold at the YOW VORTAC to hold NW on the 320 degree radial, maintain 4,000, expect approach clearance for VOR runway 14 at hold entry + 15 mins

15. New weather suitable for VOR 14 approach – 600’ 2 1/2sm

Trainer 1 you are cleared for the VOR runway 14 approach via the straight-in, contact Ottawa tower at KISUT on 118.8

16. normal landing (assuming crew has attempted restart of engine in #12)

Trainer 1 contact Ottawa ground 121.9


17. Start at threshold of 07 – Weather is 100’, RVR 1200 – Ottawa 1 SID

Trainer 1 Ottawa Tower, winds 070 at 14, cleared for takeoff runway 07, contact departure on 128.17 after take-off.

18. On takeoff roll @ (V1 – 10%) - DUAL GEN FAILURE– rejected takeoff
19. Reset to runway 07 – Weather is 250’, RVR 1200
20. On takeoff roll @ V1 – LH ENGINE FIRE leading to ENGINE FAILURE – Fire will go out with use of bottle, but engine will not restart

Trainer 1, Ottawa Tower, contact departure on 128.17

21. Climb to 5,000’
22. Radar Vectors for ILS runway 32

Trainer 1, Ottawa departure, maintain 3,000. You are cleared for the ILS runway 32, at GREELY, contact Ottawa Tower on 118.8

Trainer 1, Ottawa Tower, good day, winds 060 @ 11, cleared to land

23. Single-engine landing


Trainer 1, Ottawa Tower observes smoke and flame coming from your left engine. What are your intentions.



I got lucky; it ended up flowing pretty well, and the guys did a good, professional job in dealing with the various crappy things I threw at them.

ps the towing mishap I mentioned in my last post turned out to be minor - Our mechanics took the plane apart and found no real damage, just some scraped paint on a small non-structural area. I'll let you know how much the new paint will cost as soon as I find out - it's aviation, so I'm thinking around 15k when all is said and done.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Wow, I'm batting 2 for 2 as far as new experiences go. I am in Ottawa for a Company Check Pilot course, and I got a phone call this morning. It was about one of our jets, which is back at Pearson, and was scheduled to go out today on a trip.

Things you don't want to hear at 11 am on the phone:

"Hello, this is xxx from your FBO in Toronto. First of all, I'm really, really sorry. We sort of had an accident while towing your plane from the hangar to the ramp..."


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Today I had an experience in aviation that I had never had before.

We arrive at the FBO today to get our plane ready to return home to Toronto. I go to the front desk and ask the guy to pull the plane out front, and for a gpu.

"Yes sir, your plane is already pulled out front and fuelled, and I'll get a gpu for you" says the guy.

"We haven't ordered fuel yet, but I'll let you know how much we need" Says I.

He gives me a funny look and shows me a piece of paper.

"But I have a fuel slip for 541 gallons here, for the Canadian plane"

I start to sweat a little, even in the air-conditioned building.

"With what we had remaining in the tanks, that would give us full fuel, and make us very overweight for this flight. I say again, we have not ordered fuel"

Another line guy, a young fellow with wide-set eyes, comes up and interjects himself into the conversation.

"Yeah you did. I got a call at 6am this morning from the guy in the Canadian plane, asking for a pullout at 1pm and for a top-off of fuel"

"I was asleep at 6am, and we aren't departing until 3"

Just then, another guy walks in from the ramp.

"Hey, I'm in the Piper Saratoga, the Canadian one. I ordered fuel this morning and you guys didn't do it"

There is a long pause as we soak in what just happened. At least our fuel slip indicates that the wide-set-eye guy fueled us with jet fuel and not avgas.

The guy behind the counter looks at the wide-set-eye line guy, and shakes his head.

"You screwed up. You screwed up bad."

He then turns to me and looks at the ground.

"We have no way to de-fuel you"


Kitsch and I run to the airplane and Kitsch pulls the engine covers off while I go up front. Our passengers are due in 45 minutes.

I pull out the performance charts and start to calculate. It's a hot day, with a light wind. The runway is just over 4,000 feet long, with a tall forest at each end. With our passenger load and baggage, I need to sit here and burn nearly a half-tonne of fuel before we can even think about departing.

I light the engines up and taxi to an area far from the main ramp, where I set the brakes and advance the throttles until the fuel flows indicate a burn of 4,000lbs per hour. With the hot day and short runway, we can't even take off at our normal max gross weight; we need to be light enough so the plane can clear the trees even if an engine fails right as we lift off.

A quick aside: If we departed with a full load of fuel and a full passenger and baggage load, we would be maybe a thousand pounds over our max allowable gross weight. Now even in a little baby jet like the Citation 550, the plane has enough power when both engines are working that we could probably get airborne, and most likely climb out and continue our trip. But if we blow an engine on the take-off roll, or if we blow an engine right after we get airborne, one engine will not be able to keep us going and we would either run off the runway, or wind up descending into the forest at a hundred miles an hour. I look at the forest - the trees are large, sturdy, and they appear to be well-rooted in the ground.

I get a text message from Kitsch, who has stayed behind at the FBO to greet the passengers.

"The pax are here" - 30 minutes early.

I ponder this, and then realize that all I can do is relax, wait, and listen as the engines turn $800 US worth of fuel into noise.

15 minutes later, I taxi back to the FBO, and we load up. The FBO manager can't apologize enough; he eats the cost of the fuel we had to burn, and gives us the rest of the fuel at the same rate we pay in Toronto, which is about a buck-fifty per gallon cheaper than their normal rate. I notice that the wide-set-eye line guy is no longer around.

The pax are understanding, and laugh it off as Kitsch loads their bags and I finish up paying for our gas.

It's Kitsch's flying leg. We load up, fire up, and head toward the runway. Kitsch taxis to the very end of the runway and turns around. He sets the brakes and advances the throttles. I set them to our calculated take-off thrust setting, and he releases the brakes. The plane leaps forward, and soon we are airborne, climbing well above the trees at the departure end of the runway. Better safe than sorry, but damn, what a waste.

Upcoming: The next 5 days are a different sort of aviation adventure for me; I'm going to be attending a Company Check Pilot course, which is theoretically going to give me the authority to conduct PPC rides and IFR renewals on our jets. Stay tuned...
This isn't my 'real' post for the day, but it's something I wanted to share. I just got back from the Publix supermarket, getting some plane supplies, and I happened to park next to a tired old Ford Escort.

It had 2 bullet holes in the driver's door, and one in the passenger's door on the left side.

Welcome to the South!

Friday, May 04, 2007

This afternoon was really quite nifty. I got a call from our FlightSafety representative, offering to have us attend the local FlightSafety training center to try out their Gulfstream IV SP simulator. Kitsch and I were downtown when I got the call, and we dropped everything and drove straight to the facility at a great rate of speed.

The complex is freakin' huge here, far larger than the one in Toledo where I got my 550 type rating. The guy said they trained about 8,000 Gulfstream pilots here last year.

They have a swimming pool where you can practice emergency egress training, which is fancy talk for getting the hell out of the airplane if you end up ditching it into water. Gulfstream IV aircraft are large, long-haul business jets, so a fair amount of their time could conceivably be spent over various oceans.

There are full cabin mockups for training flight attendants also. They have sims here that they can pump smoke into to simulate electrical fires, and pilots can wear oxygen masks that they pump nitrogen into to simulate hypoxia.

They have a lady who comes in once a week to give haircuts to any pilots who need them. Sorry the pic is blurry.

Anyway, Kitsch and I hopped into the G-IV sim and took her for a ride around the patch for about an hour. It's going to take me a lot longer to stop grinning like a fool.

Here's a blurry pic of me getting set up for an ILS approach.

A pic of me without the flash. Boring pic, but I thought it was funny that I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops while flying a 30 million dollar business jet simulator.

Our instructor/tour guide was great, he knew the plane inside and out, and he was enthusiastic about his job.

FlightSafety, you totally made my day.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

We went south today on a charter, into the heart of the southern US. The city I'm in is plastered with billboards for bail bondsmen and pawn shops, but the rest of the place is remarkably nice. Waaay back when, the city here was originally planned for 20,000 but only 3,000 people showed up, so the planners did some quick thinking and made every third block a park. The city is a lot nicer for it; Kitsch and I did a quick tour of downtown this afternoon, marveling at the huge mansions and the omnipresent creepy trees with the long stringy moss that hangs off them like Fu Manchu's beard. Lots of nice shops and things to see, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow afternoon, once I'm done some paperwork and can venture forth to explore further.

On the way here, we got to fly in this:

1 sm FU SKC

That's not a curse, it's pilot geek weather-speak for "sky clear, visibility 1 mile in smoke". There are some humungous forest fires going on now, with the smoke stretching for hundreds of miles all around. I realize how ignorant I am of our neighbors to the south when I saw that and was amazed that the US has enough forest left in the south to be able to catch fire.

But don't take my word for it, take a look at what we saw on approach, and keep in mind that they were reporting clear skies in this area.

Our destination airport had an Instrument Landing System, so the relatively low visibility wasn't a big deal, but I still thought it was interesting.

Once we landed, things got a little sticky. Customs met us and for only the third time since I got this job, they made us unload all our bags, then searched them all while they ran a dog through the interior of the plane, and around all of us. I was wondering what they thought we might smuggle from Toronto, but talking to the officers, it honestly seemed like they gave us the full-meal-deal search because they didn't have a lot to do today and they were bored. Unloading all the bags and searching them and the pax took about an hour, in +28c (82F)temperatures with 100% humidity. I was a mess; I had sweat through my undershirt and my company golf shirt, the backs of my pant legs and my shoes were soupy by the time they let us go. Yeah, flying is glamorous :)

Once we were cut loose by Customs, we loaded up (sweat, sweat, sweating) and flew our pax about 20 miles away to the small airport they wanted. We dropped them off, put the plane to bed and rented a car to return to the big city, as hotels were all sold out in the small town our pax are staying in. The car is pretty cool, a Mazda 6. Kitsch wanted to drive it, and I was okay with that until he disabled passenger access to the windows, then rolled them down and started blasting The Backstreet Boys on the car stereo, laughing maniacally while pedestrian heads turned and I shrunk down into my seat, trying to become invisible.

Anyway, tonight we are going to head downtown (I'll drive) and check out the scene, perhaps having a mojito or a mint julep out on the deck of a nice cafe. Okay, maybe flying is kind of glamorous after all.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I don't know how it turned out this way, but this post is sort of raunchy, so you have been warned.

My medical is coming due shortly. Lisa is certainly getting into the spirit of things (if not the actual procedure) in this pic.

I am under 40, so I only have to do a medical exam once a year to keep my pilot's license. Once I turn 40, the doc will get 2 tries per year to take my medical away and leave me jobless, but until then he only gets 1 attempt per year. Aviation Medical Examiners (AME) are doctors who take an additional course so they can certify that pilots are unlikely to die whilst airborne. They usually have an aviation background, and I'm guessing that's mostly why they do it, as the average rate for a pilot's medical is only around $110, and I'm sure a doc could make more money during that time if they did other medical stuff.

The actual medical takes about an hour - I fill out some forms and indicate that I haven't had an open head injury or seizures in the past year, that I don't smoke, and that I drink 5 alcoholic beverages per week. We do some color-blindness tests, which I find kind of strange - I assumed color blindness was genetic and didn't develop over time, so that if I have full color perception one year, odds are I'll see the same colors the next year, but what do I know. I get weighed and the doc taps my kneecaps and my legs jerk to show the doc that I'm not paralyzed. He pokes my liver and listens to my lungs, then we talk about airplanes for a bit.

Then the fun stuff. I drop my drawers and he grabs my boys and gives them a good squeeze, then tells me to turn and cough. I usually settle for turning and whimpering and that seems okay by him.

The doc gets a specimen jar and I toodle off to the washroom so I can pee in it. Every year I ask the doc what he's testing for, and every year I hear the same thing "We don't test for drugs, hippie. We test for excess protein in your urine, which may be a sign of impaired kidney function." Funny story about that for a second; the night before my very first medical, I stayed over at the girlfriends house and we got frisky. When I peed in the jar the next day, my protein count was off the chart and the doc came back looking worried. I was freaking out until the doc asked what I had done the previous night, and it became obvious that the excess protein was residual, umm, swimmers that were still hanging around in the plumbing. A few days later, a second test confirmed his suspicions. I'm guessing you are kind of grossed out right now, and that's fine 'cause I'm having a giggle.

Then the really fun part of the medical; now I know that any women reading this will roll their eyes and call me a wimp, and they would be correct.

Depending on your age and general health and family history, the doc may or may not want to examine your prostate. For those of you who don't know, your prostate is somewhere down in your guts and the best way to examine it is by sticking a large, calloused finger up the guy's butt. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not my idea of a good time. My first AME was pretty prostate-obsessed, but the ones after that were easy on the spelunking. My next medical is with a new doctor, and I have no idea what his opinion on the exam is, but if I walk into his office and he has prison tattoos or worse - long sharp fingernails, I'll know what my answer will be. Another minor note is that I rode my bike to my first pilot medical exam / prostate festival, and I wore biking shorts. It was hard staying on my seat on the ride home, I kept sliding off.

I have had a couple of great AME's during my career - when I lived up north in Stony Rapids, the only AME in the north lived in Uranium City, 100 miles away. It was standard practice for us to mail him our medical certificate in an envelope attached to a 40oz bottle of Canadian Club, and he'd mail our certificate back with the stamp on it.

Another guy in Thunder Bay was fantastic mostly because he was really quick, and really cheap. He only charged $30 for the whole thing, but that was also because the entire exam took 5 minutes. He asked me my weight, my height, and if I had to pee. I didn't have to pee and he said no worries, we'd skip that part. A great doctor for a pilot's medical, but I'm not so sure I'd go see him if I was actually sick.

I know a good one who saved photocopies of the previous year's medical form, so a person could go back and see what their answers had been to the questions the year before, so as to avoid inconsistent answers. He thought it might raise a red flag if a pilot said they had 3 drinks a week one year, then said they had 8 drinks a week the next year. To me, that's natural pilot career progression, but what do I know.

Anyway, back to the doctor's office. I have been poked, prodded, perhaps probed, and I have peed. I present the doc with my medical certificate, and he stamps it with his uniquely-numbered doctor's stamp. I give the receptionist my cheque and walk out the door, healthy for another year. Assuming my cheque doesn't bounce, that is :)