Sunday, June 29, 2008

This is a helicopter tour of Rio De Janeiro. After the first 40 seconds, I'm thinking you'll agree that the pilot is clearly insane. But it looks like a hell of a fun ride.

Friday, June 27, 2008

We went south, then west over the past couple of days. How far south? How far west? Well, let the pic be a clue...

Friday, June 20, 2008

A while ago, Kitsch and I went east. All praise to Kitsch for these pics btw. Click on the pics to make 'em bigger.

We were there for a few days, and decided to take a trip down the east coast.

Pretty spectacular views around here.

You can tell which way the prevailing winds blow by looking at the vaguely creepy trees.

Oh, what's this? An island you say?

To be precise...The Island Of The Damned!

Click on the pic for a closer look. Note that all the trees are dead, and there are lots of large black birds nesting in the withered stumps. This would be a perfect location for some romancing. Perhaps some local high-school kids could get drunk, climb up to the top and spend the night there having premarital sex and consuming drugs. I'm sure nothing terrible and horrifying would happen to them.

Another place that the Island Monster could store the bodies...

I briefly overcame my fear to pose for a quick shot.

I am pretty sure I shouldn't have taken that last gulp of water from the pump. My face has been numb ever since, and the walls of my apartment keep bleeding.

After escaping The Island Of The Damned, we headed back, loaded the plane with 25 lobsters, and waited for our passengers. This job is a great job, and I am a lucky guy. Except for the whole numb-faced, bleeding-wall thing :)

*Pictures taken between Bathurst and Caraquet, NB*

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I saw this on Digg, and wanted to share. The author is Patrick Smith, and it was published in Reader's Digest. I don't particularly care for the author's hating on corporate jets, but perhaps I am a wee bit biased.

Welcome aboard. Our flying time this afternoon, not counting ground delays and holding patterns, will be two hours and thirty minutes.

Before we take off, I would like to apologize on behalf of this and every airline for the hassle you just endured at the security checkpoint. As is patently obvious to any reasonable person, the humiliating shoe removals, liquids ban, and pointy-object confiscations do little to make us safer.

Unfortunately, the government insists that security theater, and not actual security, is in the nation's best interest. If it makes you feel any better, our crew had to endure the same screening as the passengers. Never mind that the baggage loaders, cleaners, caterers, and refuelers receive only occasional random screening. You can rest easy knowing that I do not have a pair of scissors or an oversize shampoo bottle anywhere in my carry-on luggage.

Just a moment.

Okay, well, as expected, we've received word of a ground stop. Our new estimated departure time is 90 minutes from now, subject to change arbitrarily, without warning.

And while we're waiting, let me explain that these sorts of delays (and it's not your imagination -- late arrivals and departures have doubled since 1995) result not only from our antiquated air traffic control system but also from too many planes flying into and out of overcrowded airports. Passengers demand frequency-you want lots of flights flying to lots of cities. But this can be self-defeating, because many of these flights will be late -- in some cases, very late. At airports near major cities like New York and Washington, D.C., the proliferation of small jets has added to the congestion. They make up nearly 50 percent of planes at some of our busiest airports yet carry only a fraction of overall passengers. This inefficient use of air and ground space is one reason we will be sitting here for the next hour and a half.

Once we're airborne, flight attendants will be coming around with food and beverages for sale. I know many of you are irritated that an in-flight meal now costs $7 -- on top of the $25 you just paid for an extra checked bag. Unfortunately, with oil prices skyrocketing and jets requiring as much fuel as ever (a coast-to-coast flight takes 8,000 gallons), it's impossible for us to provide luxurious service and rock-bottom fares at the same time. We know that most of you are miserable and that you long ago learned to despise every aspect of air travel. But try, if you can, not to take your frustrations out on other passengers or the crew. The overall surly vibe is unpleasant for us too. And ridiculous as this might sound, look on the bright side.

Yes, there is a bright side: more choices and surprisingly reasonable fares. Domestically, you can now fly between almost any two airports in the country with, at worst, a single stopover. Internationally, transoceanic routes have fragmented, allowing people to fly direct from smaller hubs in the United States to points in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. Nobody enjoys holding patterns or sitting on a tarmac, but in earlier days, the overall journey would have taken longer-and cost more.

It's true that fares have risen sharply of late, but if they seem especially pricey, that's partly because they remained so cheap for so long, with many carriers selling tickets below cost. Fares in 2006 were averaging 12 percent lower than in 2000, despite a 150 percent rise in jet-fuel costs.

Current fares cost about what they did in the 1980s. And let's not forget that flying is much safer than it was in the past. Globally, there are twice as many planes carrying twice as many people as there were a quarter century ago. Although the raw total of crashes has risen, accidents are way down as a percentage of total flights.

I am well aware that airlines have become pariahs of the postindustrial economy. But it's rarely acknowledged that despite recurrent fiscal crises, major staffing and technology problems, and constant criticism from the public, our carriers have managed to maintain a mostly reliable, affordable, and safe transportation system.

Hang in there, and our crew will let you know if and when our plane might actually take off. In the meantime, those $7 sandwiches are actually pretty good.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My grandfather's name was Bill Sealey, also known as Flight Lieutenant William James Sealey. He flew in the Royal Canadian Air Force, on the C-47 Dakota, which was the military version of the DC-3.

Here's a sample pic of a C-47, for those of you who aren't familiar.

On January 19, 1946, my grandfather's C-47 left Comox, British Columbia on a flight to Greenwood, Nova Scotia. It and its crew of seven were reported missing shortly afterwards.

Around the Crowsnest Pass, people noticed smoke coming from a nearby mountain, Mt. Ptolemy, which straddles the border of British Columbia and Alberta. Though they were guided by the smoke of the burning wreckage, it took five days for the Crowsnest Pass Forest Rangers to snowshoe to the crash site because of bad weather.

The plane had collided with Mt. Ptolemy, and fallen into the valley below. There were no survivors, so the rescue team brought the bodies out on toboggans.

The men who lost their lives were: Flying Officer Robert Huycke Watt, Flying Officer James Leonard Norris, Flight Lieutenant William Joesph Woods, Flight Lieutenant William James Sealy, Sergeant Vernon Rupert Ducklow, Leading Aircraftsman Daniel Levy and Leading Aircraftsman Richard Brockwell Lowe.

The crash left my grandmother a widow with 2 small children. She didn't even qualify for a widow's pension from the DVA (Dep't of Veterans Affairs) because Grandpa Sealey had joined as a volunteer rather than being drafted. She survived by doing housekeeping for neighbors while bringing my mother and uncle along with her. Tough times, but grandma was a tough woman and she made a go of it. She remarried a few years later and had 2 more children, and together with her second husband, the man I knew as grandpa, they built a good life together on the shore of Vancouver island, near Comox. When my mother and uncle grew older, the DVA did pay for their university tuition, along with an extra $94/month to live on while attending school. They both made the most of it, and are among the smartest people out there, so thanks to the DVA for that.

Here's a link to a youtube video made by some hikers who went to check out the site, and the wreckage. Since then, a plaque has been posted to commemorate the place where my grandfather and his flying companions lost their lives.

The part I'm interested in doesn't start until 5 minutes in.

I did a google search on "Mt. Ptolemy crash" and came up with a few links from hikers who have visited the area.

Here's a link to some hi-res photos on a guy's Flickr account.

So what happened? Unfortunately, we don't really know.

I'm taking the following quote from an email from my uncle, who has done a fair amount of research on the accident.

"On the face of it -- It seems to me there was 1) a fire or mechanical failure on board; there have been a few engine or fuel line fires in the Dakota model or similar DC-3 model of planes, and this plane did in fact burn -- possibly both before and after the hit -- or perhaps more likely 2) there was icing (according to a Environment Canada weatherman who reviewed and interpreted historical weather records for that day and for several days before and after); or 3) possibly the navigator entered a false setting on the Altimeter, which although is a common error I think is unlikely but can't be ruled out, particularly because there doesn't seem to have been an emergency call, say to Calgary, before the crash.

There was likely no suffering after the crash, as the coroner's report on the crew indicated that they hit the ridge at high speed."

It's also frustrating because the crash investigation report is missing from the official files - likely filed in another binder by mistake. The trouble is, we don't know which binder and there are thousands of them.

Ever since I was a little kid I have always wanted to be a pilot, and I like to think I get my passion for aviation from my grandfather. I wish I could have met him so we could have shot the breeze, and compared flying stories. I sometimes think about what he'd make of my corporate pilot job, with all the differences and similarities from his. The technology certainly has changed, but I bet we would have found a lot of common themes, and shared a few good laughs. I would have loved to take him up for a trip in our baby jet, to show him my world, and the earth below from 40,000 feet.

But my biggest wish is this: I hope that in the giant bucket of karma that comprises the universe, his spirit somehow knows that I am following in his contrails as I burn holes through the sky. I hope he'd approve, and every time I push the throttles forward, I hope I do him proud.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Want to see more than a billion dollars go up in smoke? How about from 2 different angles? Read on...

The second plane in this video, a B-2 bomber operated by the US Air Force went boom on takeoff in Guam. Apparently the air data computers got a little confused as to the difference between up and down.

Apparently the crew didn't turn on the pitot heat before calibrating their air data computers, and moisture in the units made the computers chuck a fit, sending the plan into the ground. The crew both ejected and lived, though the f/o suffered a spinal compression fracture, which I'm sure isn't much fun.

Nothing $1.2 billion more won't fix.

That same amount would provide $50,000 university scholarships to 24,000 people. It seems like an incredible waste of money for a single airplane, but I guess I just have my priorities wrong.

The video is a bit jerky and annoying, but it's certainly interesting viewing.

Here's a second angle that cuts out right as the wing hits the ground...

More on the story here: