Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Click on the pic to make it bigger, then be jealous of my narcotic pain meds :)

I woke up at 3am with pus coming out of my ear and in considerable pain. I have had a sore throat for the past couple of days, but it got better yesterday and I thought I had dodged whatever it was. In fact I had dodged nothing, it had simply moved elsewhere in my body to regroup and fester.

So I woke up the lovely Lisa and got her to drive me to emerg (my sense of balance was also wobbly, and I didn't want to drive), where the doctor diagnosed me with a 'wicked' ear infection.

//Sidenote: my wait in emerg was about 5 minutes before I saw the doc. I paid $0. Even the parking was free. Don't believe everything you hear about the Canadian medical system. The prescriptions were free also, due to my company's medical plan. That being said, if I had to pay for it out of my own pocket, they would have come to $27 in total - not bad, considering I'd pay 100x that amount to get rid of the pain.

At least the doc was kind enough to give me Tylenol with codeine - I had no idea that ears could hurt this bad - between the pressure and the shooting pains, I'd give it a 7-8/10 on the pain scale.

Anyway, all this sucks on a regular day, but today I also had a charter flight at 7am. We are a small flight department and there are only 2 of us available for this flight. I called another operator with whom we have a friendly relationship and begged for one of their pilots, but unfortunately all their guys and gals are out flying today. So I was screwed.

Now this particular charter was a sub-charter for another air carrier, so then I got to call their dispatch and tell them that we would be unable to do the flight.

I felt really bad for the dispatcher I called; it's 4:30am by this time and I wake him up to drop a big ball of stress on his lap - the clients are good clients of theirs, and my inability to do the flight will undoubtedly piss the clients off at the other operator.

So that's how my day started. I have nothing to sum up this story; the codeine is kicking in and my brain is choosing more and more random words to type instead of the ones I want to, so I'm going to go stare at a wall for a while - the pain meds are loaded with caffeine as well, so sleep is out of the question for a while. But at least the pain is dull, like my senses.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

So a few weeks ago a guy from the Wall Street Journal drops me an email and asks a few questions, which I answer. Today, I show up in the freakin' WSJ, section R, page 6. That is kinda cool. Unfortunately there is no link to the article as the WSJ is subscription-only. If I find one online, you know I'll be posting that one :) Anyway, I guess I should make a post.

Today was an interesting day, pilot-geek wise. Kitsch and I took a group of bankers to the east coast for a few hours, then back home. It was kind of funny though; there was another jet on this same run, but the other jet was a large corporate jet and it was taking not just a regular banker, but the president of the bank. Yup, we took a half-dozen bankers in our small jet, and their bank president flew alone in a large jet. I guess that's what I'd shoot for if I was inclined to be a corporate type - being the guy who gets the big plane alone to himself. I'd wear tiger pajamas; you are welcome for the visual :)

Another interesting part was that the weather sucked absolutely everywhere - there wasn't an alternate airport in Ontario that worked for our return flight so we had to hold an airport in the US. This bad weather took the form of a lot of cloud, and a lot of low ceilings. It wasn't thunderstorms or anything, just a lot of flying in grey nothingness and rough air. That being said, I had a really fun time on my flying leg this morning, heading to the east coast. The weather was poor except for right along our destination, so I got to have some fun on a visual approach, which is when I fly the airplane down to the runway by actually looking outside the airplane. Our destination was a coastal city and I got to land at the airport by flying along the coast, between a few islands, then down the harbor, avoiding the floating cranes then hanging a last-minute right and landing. The harbor visual in this airport is most fun evar. On our return to Toronto, Kitsch flew the instrument landing system right down to 400 feet before we saw the runway; not the technical absolute hardest IFR but not the easiest either. Normally our approach briefing is 'visual backed up by the ILS' on whatever runway we are landing at, but today we did full approach briefings, detailing exactly what we would do if we failed to find the runway in the bad weather. That was kind of cool, looking outside on approach to Toronto while Kitsch flew the airplane by using the cockpit instruments, seeing only cloud and fog but knowing that the city was just a few hundred feet below us, then seeing the runway at the last minute and making a safe arrival. I have flown hundreds if not thousand of ILS's and it still amazes me when the runway shows up, right ahead of us, glowing and blinking through the clouds and fog. The system works, which is a good thing as I bet my life on it a few days a week.

We also got to deal with icing in climb-out and arrival in both our cities today. Icing is not a good thing, and living on the shoreline of one of the great lakes, we tend to see a lot of days and nights where icing is a big deal.

Every time we fly in cloud and the temperature is below freezing, the plane will tend to accumulate icing. When ice forms on the smooth surfaces of our wings and tail, the rough ice disrupts the smooth airflow, which wrecks the ability of the wing to produce lift in a real hurry. So we have 'boots' on the outer parts of the wings, and we have electrical heat for the inboard parts of the wings and also the engine fan inlets. The 'boots' are rubber strips on the front of the wing that inflate, which causes the accumulated ice to crack and fall off. We don't want our engines to ingest large chunks of ice, so our engine intakes are heated, along with the front few feet of the wing that sits ahead of the engines. By heating those surfaces, it prevents ice from forming at all. It also uses a lot of power; our normal electrical load is around 75 amps, but with the heats on, it's closer to 350 amps. Larger jets have all their wing surfaces heated, but I guess in our jet it would take too much power away from the engines, so the boots do the job for most of the wing surface.

Anyway, in our particular jet, the anti-ice protection systems use up a lot of our available engine power, and that affects our ability to climb while our anti-icing systems are turned on. The good news is that icing usually only lasts through maybe 25,000 feet up, and we can climb higher than that. The bad news is that it takes a while to get up that high, longer when our icing systems are on. I guess it's not really a safety issue or anything - we always have more than enough available thrust to climb through the icing, but it just sets off a primitive thing in the back of my brain, a little cold tickle down my spine. I watch the ice accumulate and know that if the icing system fails, I am in real trouble. But then the system works and we keep on keepin' on, safe but wary.

The last thing that was interesting from a technical perspective today were the winds; Theoretically in a no-wind situation, it makes sense for us to climb as high as we possibly can for each flight as our fuel efficiency generally increases with altitude - we might burn 1,400 lbs per hour at 26,000 feet, 1,000 lbs per hour at 36,000 feet and 700 lbs per hour at 41,000 feet etc.

Today was a bit different. We had a low-level wind going east at a hundred miles per hour, increasing with altitude. So it was in our best interest to fly as high as we could on the way there, then relatively low on the way back. We have access to some pretty good computer software that takes the predicted upper winds and applies them to our flight paths and tells us what routes are most efficient. And in today's case, it told us that we should fly lower than normal on the way back, like at 26,000 feet instead of 36,000 feet. We would burn 400 pounds more fuel but the headwinds were considerably lighter and we would arrive around 20 minutes earlier than by climbing to a higher altitude and saving fuel but staying in the air longer. Now in the business of aviation, flight time counts for a lot; let me randomly pick a figure of $150 every 6 minutes of flight time as a reasonably close guide to our operating costs for the plane. Fuel costs roughly 50 cents per pound, so the extra 400 pounds of fuel we burned added around $200 to our cost of operating the flight. But the 18 minutes we saved took $450 off our costs of operating the flight, so we came out ahead bottom-line wise. It's just one of the things that I get to consider as Ops Manager, but I don't mind, I like the challenge.

Anyway, a few random thoughts all spun out of this one little run we did today.

More later, the lovely Lisa tells me it's bed time, and I don't want to keep her waiting. Santa's list and all that.