Saturday, December 25, 2010

Santa brought smoked bacon (possibly reindeer) with brown sugar. Best Xmas ever! My special Christmas elf and I hope that all of you have a great holiday season with lots of goodies and good times!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I was in a few places in New Hampshire last week, and we ended up spending the night at one of them. Another pilot and I went for a few beers at a Chinese food place right by our hotel, and we spent a couple of hours talking about our dreams and our realities. They gave us fortune cookies at the end of the night, and this was mine:

The other guy's cookie said 'stay away from trees'...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Here's a recent accident report from a medevac flight up north - everyone was okay, but the airplane is a write-off. Too bad, it was the first MU-2 I ever flew and I liked the old girl.


From the report:


Narrative: The Mitsubishi MU 2B60 aircraft was concluding an IFR flight from Geraldton (Greenstone Regional) Airport (CYGQ) to Armstrong Airport (CYYW). The aircraft landed on runway 30 and encountered an unexpected amount of snow on the runway. The aircraft was unable remain on the runway and came to rest 50 feet south of runway 12/30. There was damage to the landing gear and propeller. There were no reported injuries and all agencies were notified.

UPDATE: a Mitsubishi MU-2 registration C-GAMC was a medevac flight en route from Geraldton to Armstrong Ontario. Earlier in the day the crew checked a NOTAM for Armstrong which indicated that the runway was 100% snow covered, but that snow removal was in progress. Believing that the runway would be clear upon their arrival, the crew conducted a night VFR approach with precision approach path indicator (PAPI) guidance to runway 30. When the aircraft touched down the left main wheel dug into the snow covered surface of runway 30 and veered off to the left eventually departing the runway surface. The aircraft sustained substantial damage to its fuselage, right wing and right propeller. The runway had not been plowed. After the accident, Nav Canada personnel were unable to contact airport operations personnel, and issued a NOTAM to close the airport.


Man, that sucks. The Armstrong airport is a small airport, north of Thunder Bay, Ontario. It's 4,000 feet long, and covered in ice during the winter. Here's a Google Maps link:

View Larger Map

With smaller airports like this, there aren't a lot of services, and frequently there is nobody around when the airplane lands.

Let's take a closer look at some of the text in the accident report:

"Earlier in the day the crew checked a NOTAM for Armstrong which indicated that the runway was 100% snow covered, but that snow removal was in progress. Believing that the runway would be clear upon their arrival, the crew conducted a night VFR approach with precision approach path indicator (PAPI) guidance to runway 30."

Turns out, snow removal wasn't in progress after all - in fact, the airport personnel had departed the airport and couldn't even be reached after the plane crashed - Nav Canada had to issue a NOTAM closing the airport after the accident.

Anyway, when the crew touched down they landed in a pile of snow and lost control of the plane. That's a hard situation, and I'm left wondering to myself what they could have done differently. I guess they could have done a low approach over the runway to try to ascertain whether or not some of the snow had been removed, but I wonder how much information you can really get while flying over a small airport runway at a few hundred feet at night - even if the runway is plowed, it's gonna be covered in ice, which looks just like snow from above.

I'm sure they called the appropriate unicom frequency before they tried to land, but they wouldn't have expected a reply anyway - it was dark, and at night, and at lots of northern strips there either isn't anyone there, or the airport operator person is sitting in the snowplow out on the runway, and the plow may or may not even have a radio.

It reminds me of a near-accident we had in the MU-2 during a summer flight in 2004 - we were going into a northern gravel strip called Ogoki Post, and we knew from a notam that the runway was being graded and smoothed. No sweat, we flew over the field and saw that the road graders had graded a strip right down the middle of the runway for us. They didn't have radios, but they saw us do a low pass, and they pulled off to the side of the runway for our landing. We had a nice smooth approach, and upon touching down discovered that the road graders had spread a foot of loose gravel over the entire runway, and had plowed the middle section down to maybe about 6 inches of loose gravel. Note: 6 inches of loose gravel absolutely sucks as a landing surface. We nearly lost control of the plane - the nose gear was whipping back and forth in the gravel so hard that the rudder was smacking the stops on both sides like a drumbeat of impending metal-fatigue doom. We got lucky though - the Captain shoved the power levers forward and we had enough remaining speed that we were able to get airborne before we hit any of the trees on the side of the runway. We didn't bother trying again, we just flew home and had maintenance do an inspection of our landing gear and rudder (it was all okay, the MU-2 is built like a tank). It's kinda the same thing as what these poor pilots in the MU-2 encountered in Armstrong a few days ago.

I feel really spoiled now that I fly a jet which isn't allowed to land on gravel strips, and 99.9% of our flights are to large airports that have runway condition reports and snowplows that work 24/7 when it snows.

So here's my question: what would you have done if you were in the position the MU-2 crew was in a few days ago?

Friday, December 10, 2010

I'm at the office as I write these words - taking a break from coding bills and updating some manuals. My plane is down for an engine hot section, which is what I'm gonna babble about today.

Our plane uses Pratt & Whitney JT15D-4 engines, which each produce 2,500 lbs of thrust. This model was the first turbofan engine that Pratt & Whitney ever made, and they got it right the first time.

The overhaul period on these engines is 3,500 hours, with a hot section interval of 1,750 hours. What that means is that after a new (or newly overhauled) engine has accumulated 1,750 hours of air time, they take it apart and check out the bits of it that spin around really fast and heat up - hence the name 'hot section'. After 3,500 hours, they take the whole engine apart and replace most of the moving parts. A typical hot section cost is about $60,000 and a typical overhaul cost is about $350,000. Aircraft ownership is not for the faint of heart :)

First, let's refresh ourselves with basic turbofan operation. This is a cross-section diagram of our engine. The arrows illustrate the airflow, and the colors illustrate the relative temperature.

Basically, air goes through the main (big) fan in the front, and is blown backwards. Some of the air gets ducted along the sides of the engine and never goes through the combustion process, and some of the air goes through another fan near the middle of the engine (called the boost fan because it's not really compressing the air, it's just speeding it up a little) and starts the journey toward the combustion chamber.

If the air goes through the engine, it first gets run through an axial compressor (the dark-shaded spinning disc where the air temperature turns from blue to yellow), then it does a 180 degree turn and goes into the combustion chamber. Fuel is sprayed into the combustion chamber and ignited (the air temperature goes from yellow to red), and the resulting expanded air does another 180, then starts to travel at a great rate of speed toward the back of the engine.

You'll see that the air spins another dark-shaded disk (called the high-pressure turbine because the air is traveling at its fastest when it goes through the turbine), which is directly connected to the same shaft the compressor at the front is - that's how the compressor is powered. Once the air passes through the high pressure turbine, it it blows through another couple of light-shaded disks (the low-pressure turbines, called that because a whole lot of the energy of the air has been depleted by the high-pressure turbine already and the air is moving slower), which are attached to (and power) the main fan and the boost fan at the front. Once it's done all that, the air blows out the back of the engine as straight jet thrust.

It's interesting to note that the air that's ducted along the sides of the engine (and only goes through the big fan at the front) is a much higher volume than the air the goes through the core (and the combustion process). The bypass ratio on our engine is 2.5 to 1, meaning that 2 1/2 times the volume of air goes along the sides of the engine than goes through the core.

It's also interesting to note that the airflow changes direction a couple of times as it goes through the combustion chamber - our engine is called a reverse-flow engine because of that, and it's a design that Pratt & Whitney have favored in many engine models over the years (like their PT-6 turboprop engine which is used in zillions of turboprop aircraft). One of the main advantages of the reverse-flow design is that it reduces the length of the engine; you can see in the drawing that if the red section was a straight line it would be considerably longer. Sure, it makes the engine cross-section wider, but I guess the engineering people have determined that a fatter, shorter engine is better than a long skinny one. Hmm, I'm thinking there's a joke there somewhere, but I'm gonna ignore it and move on...

These are relatively old engines, but they remain popular due to their low fuel consumption and great reliability - on this engine, there are only 6 moving parts (compared to hundreds in your car's engine) and out of the nearly 7,000 JT15D engines built (and more than 40 million flight hours), reliability is well over 99.9%

Okay, that's enough about how the engine works. Now let's talk about the hot section itself, and what they found. Fortunately for me, we got a nice shiny report on the condition of the engine, which I am passing on to you.

Phew, that's a relief. I'd be pretty concerned if the engine wasn't turning freely, or if there were metal shavings in the oil.

No cracks found in the first set of blades, which is welcome news.

The pins that hold the combustion chamber are starting to wear down a bit, but still well within limits.

Moving further inside the engine, still nothing bad to report.

A bunch of fuel nozzle sheaths need to be replaced, and so they shall be. They run about $300 each, but relative to the total cost of the hot section it's pretty minor.

This is definitely good news - the low pressure turbine is fine. Each of those blades is seven hundred bucks, so I'm glad to see they are in good shape.

This single nut needs to be replaced ($550) not because it's in bad shape, but because a newer betterer nut was created after this one was installed, and the maintenance bulletin that talks about this says the old nut has to be switched out during the next scheduled heavy maintenance (hot section or overhaul).

I obviously removed some identifying information, but in summary the engine is behaving how the engine should be behaving. That buys peace of mind, and to me that's well worth the $61.543.22 expense.

So basically that's it - the engine is halfway along the road to a complete overhaul, and it's holding together nice and tight. The overhaul will be in another 1,750 hours, during which they will pull the entire engine apart and replace damn near everything, (at about 6 times the cost of the hot section inspection). Yup, you gotta spend money to run an airplane, but as it's my hind end in the front seat on most of the trips, I am okay with spending it on stuff like this :) One additional note: at the rate we fly, we won't hit 1,750 hours more use for nearly another decade - I won't be trying to achieve that interval between inspections in my Honda Civic any time soon, but that just goes to illustrate how reliable these engines are.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'm baaack :)

I took this a couple of weeks ago, going into Spirit of St. Louis airport on the way home from Arizona. 720p and fullscreen makes it cooler :)

We are following the water on the visual - I'm flying and Kitsch is along for the ride. A nice bumpy day with a 20-knot direct crosswind. Besides that, the landing worked out okay I guess. I tried to stretch the sound along the whole video - it works fine in quicktime but in VLC media player the song ends 2 mins before the end - I liked the marshalling at the end so that's why I didn't edit the taxiing out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

45 minutes into our flight this morning. Click on the pics to embiggen them.

55 minutes into our flight.

10 minutes later.

For a view like that, it's almost a pleasure getting up at 4am! Almost... :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This is a new one. This model flew yesterday in the UK. It's called the Demon UAV.

Here's a video of it flying.

So what's the big deal?

Well, it has no moveable control surfaces. That's right, no flaps, ailerons, elevators or spoilers. Just a wing, an engine and some holes.

First of all, the exhaust nozzle is moveable, so it can be vectored around to aid in directional control. Also, bleed air from an APU (auxilliary power unit, meaning a small engine) is blown through hundreds of tiny holes in the trailing edge of the wing to also help with directional control.

The military likes this because moveable surfaces like slots and flaps have edges and gaps, which are apparently total heat-scores when you are trying to have a low radar profile. Less edges to bounce off = more stealth, and that's generally what you are going for when you build a small UAV, most of which are used to spy on people in some way.

The advantages to this in a civilian application would be less moving parts, a stronger wing, less maintenance requirements and a cleaner wing which results in less drag, meaning less fuel burn.

You could control the boundary layer across the wing with air jets, which would also help change lift/drag characteristics for takeoff and landing.

We'll see if anything comes of this, but it sure does look promising. The one thing they will have to work out is how to control the airplane if the APU fails - presumably there'd be a way to store enough compressed air on board for a dead-stick landing. Presumably :) Now that I think about it, I'd also want some way to ensure that the holes don't get plugged with de-ice fluid in the winter... Clearly we are a few years away from hopping into a jet with no moving control surfaces, but the proof-of-concept is right there on Youtube, so it's not inconceivable that one day we might, assuming the advantages outweigh the hassles. I wonder how they'll rig the controls?

Flightglobal link here

Other link here

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I felt like I didn't give yesterday's post enough meat so to follow up the Biggin Hill accident, I want to clarify a couple of things and maybe ramble a little bit as well. Read yesterday's post first, then this one :)

First of all, in the Citation 500 series of jet we are taught that if an engine is still providing thrust, we are in no hurry to shut it down. For example, an engine fire after takeoff - the first item on our checklist is to ignore the fire indication until we climb to a safe altitude, then calmly deal with it, without rushing.

Why don't we freak out? We have no real reason to.

On our baby jet, the engines are in the back, attached to the fuselage. If worst comes to worst, they are gonna burn off and depart the airplane, which doesn't hurt the structural integrity of the airplane at all. In my previous ride, the Mitsubishi MU-2, the engines were built into the wings, so if you left an engine fire too long it could easily burn through the wing spar (which is bad), but on our jet that's not the case. Just like on lots of Airbuses and Boeings, if one of the engines falls off they will leave the airplane with reduced thrust, but they won't cause the airframe to break up. If you are going to lose an engine soon, you might as well milk it for any excess thrust you can get before you shut it down, especially if you have just departed and are close to the ground.

That's the part I really don't understand about the accident - the engine indications would have shown that the engines were still producing thrust, but I guess the vibration from the back of the airplane caused them to think that the engine indications were faulty, and that at least one of their fans was busy digesting itself. Maybe they were concerned that an uncontained engine failure might spray the cabin with fragments of fan blades - a pretty rare thing, but if it does happen, that usually means anyone sitting in the back of the plane is going to have a really bad day. The vibration must have been bad, but there's no way it would have caused the airplane to shake itself apart in the air or anything.

Why did they pick the right engine as the culprit? I don't know - they either saw something in the engine gauges that made them think it was the right engine, or they flipped a coin. Either way, we are also taught to pull the power lever back to idle to see what happens first BEFORE shutting the engine down, and that's a standard procedure for every twin-engined aircraft I have ever flown. So suppose they did that.

My take on it is that once they were convinced that it was the right engine that was sick (the left engine would have still been producing enough thrust to keep them climbing, so maybe that's how they decided it was the right engine), and when pulling the thrust lever back to idle didn't stop the vibration (again, the vibration was the air cycle machine, which had nothing to do with the engines, and it would have continued as long as either engine was operating), they decided to shut it down completely.

So far, I can see how that would happen.

The vibration continues after the right engine is shut down, the crew goes "unfortunately it appears we shut down the wrong engine" or words to that effect, and they decide to go to plan B.

Now here's the part I don't understand:

If I have the good engine shut down, I'm not even going to bother pulling the sick engine back to idle thrust as long as it's putting out a single pound of forward thrust. I wouldn't be touching the sick engine, I'd be flying as best I could on what thrust I had, and working my ass off to get the good engine relit.

In their case, the 'sick' left engine was actually working just fine, so I don't understand why they would even try to pull the thrust back at all. However, they did, and unfortunately the missing rivet head on the left thrust lever allowed them to pull the lever all the way back to fuel cut-off, killing both engines. What an unpleasant surprise that must have been.

So they are a glider then, and have maybe a minute or so before they hit the planet. The part where they had really back luck was that the dual engine failure checklist seems to say that you can try to light up both engines as long as you wait ten seconds in between, when in reality it takes 35 seconds for an engine to go from 'dead' to producing useful thrust, and even worse, if you try to light up both engines at the same time using battery power, it will kill both engine start sequences.

They try to light up the right engine, but they aren't going fast enough (200 knots) for an airstart, so they need to use the starter, which runs on the battery if neither engine is operating and they are in the air. It takes more than ten seconds, so in a panic (the ground is rushing up to meet them), they hit the left engine start button to try to get that back and running. There's no way the small aircraft battery can handle a simultaneous double-engine start sequence, so it shuts down the flow of electrons to both starters, and all that's left is picking a soft spot to land. Unfortunately they were over a bunch of buildings, so that was that.

Anyway, I find accidents pretty fascinating, and I read about as many as I can, my logic being "If I can remember to not do all the things they did that resulted in their demise, maybe I will break the accident chain links".

What I came away from this accident with are a few things:

1. Don't assume that vibration in the back of the plane is an engine. There's other stuff back there too.
2. Confirm which engine is the bad one. Is it obvious? How? Am I absolutely sure?
3. Confirm it again before touching anything.
4. Take my time in an emergency. There are only 2 things in my airplane that require split-second action - cabin depressurization at altitude, and thrust reverser deployment in flight. For anything else, I will take a deep breath before touching anything.
5. If I ever suffer a dual engine flameout, I will only concentrate on starting one engine at a time.
6. Check the thrust levers from time to time (on the ground) to make sure I can't pull the levers to the fuel cut-off position accidentally.

Any of those steps would have helped mitigate this accident, and maybe the people involved would still be with us. Unfortunately they can't speak any more, but we can still learn from what they left behind.

I don't see aviation as dangerous but I do see it as unforgiving. I'm not that smart, but I do work hard to minimize the occasions I need to beg forgiveness, and I hope the same for you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Links in a chain.

No, I don't mean handcuffs - We passed our audit, so...umm...hooray and stuff! I'll go over the specifics of the audit later - in response to some of the suggestions of the inspectors, I'm adding a whole pile of guidance material to our various manuals (Company Operations Manual, Standard Operating Procedures Manual, Safety Management System Manual, Emergency Response Manual, Flight Crew Training Manual, Maintenance Control Manual, etc) and once I'm done, I'm gonna post some of the content online so you can see what sort of paperwork is involved in keeping us airborne. That'll be a couple of weeks from now at the earliest, so until then let's talk about other stuff.

Specifically, let's talk about a Citation 500 accident that happened on March 30th, 2008 in Biggin Hill, England. A Citation 500 is the little brother to the 550 that I fly, and they share enough of the same systems that I could be qualified to fly a 500 with very little extra training.

Here's what happened:

The aircraft departed Biggin Hill for a private flight to Pau, France.

One minute after takeoff, the First Officer Radioed ATC with the following:

"We're making an immediate return to the airport, immediate return to the airport”

The aircraft was given permission to land on any runway, and the pilots indicated that they would return to runway 21, from which they had just taken off. A few second later, he told ATC that they had a bad engine vibration.

A minute after that, came the final transmission:

"And er.. we have a major problem a major power problem it looks as though we're er going in we're going in."

A few second later, the airplane struck the side of an unoccupied house in the village of Farnborough, Kent, [not the town associated with the international air show]. An intense fire quickly developed, consuming the house and the aircraft. Both flight crew and all three passengers were fatally injured. The house owners returned shortly after the accident, and as you can imagine, were treated for shock.

That sucks, right? Sounds like they had some kind of nasty engine problem that somehow brought down the light jet. The thing is, it can fly just fine on a single engine.

Unfortunately, eyewitness accounts were pretty useless at first:

Witnesses reported that the aircraft was maintaining a normal flying attitude with some reporting that the landing gear was up and others that it was down. Some described seeing it adopt a nose-high attitude and banking away from the houses just before it crashed. Some witnesses stated that there was no engine noise coming from the aircraft whilst others stated that they became aware of the aircraft as it flew low overhead due to the loud noise it was making, as if the engines were at high thrust. Two witnesses described hearing the aircraft make a pulsing, intermittent noise.

Now let's skip ahead and add a few more facts that will really bake your noodles while we are trying to figure this thing out:

1. The airframe was just fine - the wings and tail were firmly attached, and the flight controls were working correctly.
2. The airplane was correctly loaded, and was below maximum takeoff weight.
3. The airplane had lots of gas, and the gas was not contaminated in any way.
4. The engines were not damaged in any way before impact.
5. The weather was good, with light winds and scattered clouds.
6. Approximately 70 seconds before impact, neither engine was producing any power.

Wait, what?

Now here's a little history on the pilots, which may or may not prove to be relevant:

The Captain had over 8,000 hours total flying time, but had just completed his type rating on the airplane, and had a total of only 18 hours on the C500 series. On his initial checkride, he failed the "Engine Failure after takeoff" portion of his flight test, but passed it on the second try.

The First Officer had 4,500 hours total flying time, and was more familiar with the particular aircraft, with a total time of over 70 hours on that particular airplane. That's still not a whole lot of time on type.

The crash investigators certainly had a difficult job ahead of them: There were no data recorders on board, nor was one required to be. So they started going through the wreckage, sifting through the charred bits and trying to figure out what was working before the crash and what (if anything) wasn't. That's not an easy job, looking at blackened metal chunks and trying to find meaning from the debris, but their hard work eventually paid off and they found 2 things:

The air cycle machine had chucked a fit, and there was a missing rivet head on the left throttle.

The air cycle machine is sort of like an air conditioner - it takes air and heats it or cools it and circulates it through the cabin. the actual unit is housed in the tail.

Airplanes go through thorough maintenance inspections all the time. However, there was no maintenance schedule that detailed when that particular rivet head should be inspected. That particular rivet head was a physical barrier that prevented the left throttle from moving rearward past the "idle" position to the "fuel cut-off" position unless the throttle lever itself was pulled upward.

That should give you all the clues you need in order to solve this, or at least to have a pretty good idea of what likely happened. Give up? No problem, it took the investigators a couple of years to figure it out.

Now before we get to the big reveal, I've said it before and I'll say it again: accidents are usually the result of a whole bunch of links in a chain, and this case was no different.

Also, here's the emergency engine restart checklist for the C500. There's an item on it that is misleading at best:

And now the links:

1. Fresh crew, inexperienced on type.
2. Captain just got out of the simulator, and might be a little 'twitchy' after going through a whole bunch of engine-failure drills, especially as he failed that particular item on his first flight test. Nothing vibrates on a jet when it's working correctly. If a jet engine vibrates even a little bit, it's going to consume itself soon.
3. The air cycle machine is housed in the tail, right between the 2 engines.
3a. It is extremely rare for an air cycle machine to die in flight.
4. The air cycle machine ignores the statistics and decides to die anyway, and thrashes around in a relatively violent fashion.
5. The pilots feel vibration in the rear of the airplane and assume it's an engine.
6. The engine indications for both engines are normal (because they are actually operating normally) but the vibration compels the pilots to shut one of the engines down.
6a. Suppose they flip a coin or imagine some indication and decide it's the right engine that's causing the problem and shut it down.
7. The right engine shuts down, but the vibration continues because the air cycle machine is still dying a noisy death, and it's still getting power from the operating engine.
8. The flight crew decides it's the left engine, so they are faced with shutting down the left engine while trying to relight the right engine.
9. The flight crew pulls the left engine throttle back to the idle position (likely to confirm that it's the left engine that's causing the issue) and the missing rivet head (that hadn't been inspected/noticed, likely ever) lets them accidentally pull the throttle all the way back to the fuel cut-off position.
9a. Now both engines are dead. The vibration goes away, because the air cycle machine isn't being powered any more, but they have bigger problems now, namely:
10. They are at a low altitude (the airplane never climbed higher than 1,200' above ground level), with no power to either engine. Gravity sucks.

Now here's the part I really feel bad for the crew for having to deal with:

See step 4 in the "Emergency Restart - 2 engines" checklist? It says to increase the speed to 200 knots if the altitude allows. Their speed never went above 140 knots, and the altitude did NOT allow for this, which meant that restarting the engines would be more difficult and would likely require the use of the engine starters.

It takes about 35 seconds to relight a C500 engine. See step 7 in the "Emergency Restart - 2 engines" checklist? It says if the engines don't restart in 10 seconds, press either restart button momentarily.

The thing is, if one engine is spooling up but hasn't fully started and you hit the start button on the other engine, it kills the start sequence for both engines. That's likely a result of a battery limitation - an engine start pulls a whole lot of amps, and aircraft batteries are built to be as light as possible while still doing the job, so they don't have a whole lot of extra power to spare.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened - after the series of most unfortunate events that preceded both engines being shut down, they attempted to start the second engine before the first one was fully lit up again, and the start sequence on both of them terminated, leaving them with no power, no altitude and no options. At least the final part was over quickly.

As a result of the crash, 3 safety recommendations have been made. Time will tell if they are put into place.

1. Cessna should introduce a scheduled inspection of the throttle quadrant assembly system into the maintenance schedule on the Citation 500 series.
2. The Cessna emergency checklist should be amended to emphasize the importance of starting only 1 engine at a time.
3. Flight recorders should be installed on light aircraft so investigators have more data to work with after an accident.

Links in a chain.

Wiki on the crash

Full Air Accident Investigations Branch report:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ack! We have been crazy busy lately and I haven't had time to update this. For example, we just finished up an extended Transport Canada audit, which involved me answering questions (from three different Inspectors at the same time) for a total of 14 sweaty, upset-stomachey hours. Dealing with Transport Canada Inspectors during an audit is much like dealing with a bad girlfriend/boyfriend, and the joy was compounded by the fact that they went to a completely new format since the last audit (December 2008), which basically involves a stress-test of the entire operation. Emphasis on the 'stress' part. They assured me it's nothing personal, that they are giving the chainsaw-enema treatment to all their operators now, so at least there's that. Anyway, I'll detail the experience over the next couple of days, but first I gotta sleep.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Here's a big pillow fight on board a Lufthansa airplane. It's nice to see passengers having fun on a commercial airliner :)

On a different note, the previous post had nothing to do with Lisa, it was about something that happened a long time ago. The story was/is self-contained.

Monday, August 09, 2010

I remember once long ago, when you and I were still us. You asked me to come with you to an old cemetery to take pictures of graves that you could put on your bedroom wall, to hang beside old photos of Marilyn Monroe and your sketches of dragons. It was nearby, and you asked if I minded walking there with you instead of driving. You already knew the answer - I'd crawl to the moon for you. We arrived 10 minutes after we left your apartment, walking through the open gates and into the forest that grew around the older graves. We were the only people there, maybe not unusual for a weekday morning. We walked past huge gaudy crypts in the wealthy area, and then past hundreds of flat stones marking pauper’s deaths in the 30’s. We strolled silently, you walking up ahead like always. I liked to dawdle but I also couldn't let our distance grow too great so I hurried behind you, idly wondering why you walked with such purpose during our stroll, and why you hadn’t asked me to take your picture along the way, like you usually did. The sky was clear, and I enjoyed the sunlight on my face and the light summer wind blowing through the trees. I trotted along behind you, taking pictures of tombs with the camera you gave me for my birthday.

Then you stopped walking and stood still, your back to me, hugging yourself like you were freezing.

As I caught up to you I saw the tears on your face, and heard the hitching in your breath. I asked you why, and you pointed to the headstone. I saw only a few words before I wished I had been struck blind: She was seven years old when she left. Her mother shared your full name. And her father shared mine. You traced the letters on the headstone with your finger and turned away again, walking toward the exit gates. I then understood why you had brought me here, that this wasn’t the first time you had been at this grave site. And I realized that we would soon become strangers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I saw this on AvCanada. This is such an evil thing to do. Seriously, I think the pax should be allowed to either press charges or vigorously groin-punch the pilot for an extended period of time.

I kinda laughed a little though.

Monday, July 26, 2010

More high-deffy flying frolics! The sun was shining everywhere but in the valley that held our destination airport today. That was fine, I really enjoyed this approach. ATC kept us at 23,000' the whole way here, so I didn't bother hooking up the autopilot - I hand-flew the whole flight, like back in the old days. Yes, that also explains the shaky approach and landing :)

*Update* the localizer on this particular approach is offset a couple of degrees to the left, which you can see as we ride the sky-rails on down. An ILS approach can be offset up to 3 degrees to either side and still be called an ILS. In this case, my guess is that terrain played a role in the decision to offset the approach a little bit. Here's a link to a pdf of the NOAA approach chart for the runway so you don't have to take my word for it - it says so near the middle of the top of the diagram :)

When you offset the localizer, the decision height increases, usually by 50 feet for every degree of offset. And that's your pilot-geek factoid for the day! :)

We were up extra-early this morning, and touched down in Scranton just before 8am. No, we weren't taking paper company employees :p

Notice the suicidal birds at 8:53 into the video or so - not much I can do about them at that point but hold my breath and hope they don't get inhaled by an engine. We'd still land safely but a new engine is just north of $350,000 and payday isn't until Friday, so we'd be stuck for a while.

The music is extra-geeky, it's a remix of Still Alive, which is itself a song from a video game called Mirror's Edge. It's a bit ethereal, but I liked the piano parts and the song was pretty much the same length as the video I took, so I mashed them together.

Today was a good day.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lisa's parents took us out to a nice restaurant last night, in anticipation of our 2nd wedding anniversary which is in two days. Damn, time speeds up. Someone on Facebook sent me a note saying "Beauty and the Beast", but I disagree - I don't think Lisa looks like a beast at all.

We did up our budget and it appears we have finally saved enough money to have a kid (our kid last year was a house), so I might not be posting as regularly for a while...practice makes perfect and all that.

Off to a friend's wedding now. Check the local forecast, the wedding is scheduled for 2130 GMT:

PROB30 2416/2418 11/2SM +TSRA BR BKN006 OVC025CB
FM241800 24012G22KT P6SM BKN025
TEMPO 2418/2502 P6SM -SHRA BKN020
PROB30 2422/2502 VRB20G35KT 1/2SM +TSRA BR BKN004 OVC020CB

We brought rain-gear and lightning rods, just in case :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Youtube suggested I view this video. I'm not sure I should have done so - it gave me the shakes just to watch it. Hail = not good.

Monday, July 19, 2010

2 posts in one day, but this was waaay too cool to pass up. We took a look at a B-17 bomber that was sitting by the FBO in Albany.

Here's a transcription of a press release on the beast:

The Liberty Foundation’s B-17G (SN 44-85734) has an interesting post-war history. Originally sold on June 25, 1947 as scrap to Esperado Mining Co. of Altus, OK, it sold again later that year to Pratt & Whitney for $2,700. Pratt & Whitney operated the B-17 from November 19, 1947 to 1967 as a heavily modified test bed for their P&W T-34 and T-64 turboprop engines. It became a “5-engine aircraft”, having the powerful prototype engine mounted on the nose! The aircraft was flown “single-engine”, with all four radial engines feathered during test flights.

Following this life as a test platform, it was donated in the late 1960s to the Connecticut Aeronautical Historic Association in East Hartford.Unfortunately, it was heavily damaged on October 3, 1979 in a tornado, in which another aircraft was thrown onto the B-17’s mid-section. The wreck was stored in the New England Air Museum, CT from 1981 until 1987.

I did a walkaround for about 10 minutes, here you go. Pretty cool. Wait til youtube is done processing the video for the full 720p awesomeness.

We are doing a tour of New York state today; we are on our third leg of four, dodging thunderstorms and eating at lousy restaurants while waiting on our clients. We are in KALB Albany at the moment - here's a video of Kitch's approach into here an hour ago, in glorious hi-def.

There was a nasty Tstorm about 3 miles north of the airport, so we elected to use runway 01, which put us south of the airport on final approach. It was +30 outside, with all the bumps that come along with daytime heating, and a few extra ones courtesy of the tstorm cel.

Gotta love the turn to final at 500'! We were avoiding certain death, or at least a few minor bumps. It looks cool too, and you can't put a price on that!

Once we got into Albany, we went to the only FBO, Million Air. I haven't been to this FBO before, but I was pretty impressed. I took a video so you can see why - this is how an FBO should be. The only downside is that a place like this must have one hell of an overhead to pay, so jet fuel here probably costs more by volume than printer ink ;) Oh well, they have free cookies.

One other thing that's cool is the upload speed of the Million Air internet connection - I uploaded 700 megs of video using their wireless in less than 7 minutes. Badass!

Here's a vid of the FBO.

Friday, July 16, 2010

2 landings for your perusal, both in glorious 720p hidef. I love my little Kodak Zi-6 video recorder, I got it last year for $150 online.

Anyway, the first approach was a nice circling visual approach into MYAM, Marsh Harbour. The airport itself is out of town, so you can really get a good idea of what the 'black hole approach' is all about. It was at 10:30pm with some local fog in the area. This approach was kinda screwed up at first (not recorded on video) as the Miami controller forgot about us and we ended up losing communications with ATC for about 10 minutes while approaching Marsh Harbour. Eventually a passing airliner heard us and relayed the correct frequency to us through their ATC person, and it worked out, but the end result was that we were about 10 miles from Marsh Harbour at 22,000' before we could descend. Normally we'd be at about 3,000', so we had to dump the speedbrakes and drop like an elevator for a few minutes to get back on the proper descent angle. Our speedbrakes are fairly effective but they also rumble the whole airplane like crazy, so I made sure to let our passenger know about that beforehand so the pax didn't think the plane was coming apart when all the rumbling started.

You should fast-forward at least the first minute, it's pretty boring. Sorry for the blur, I was holding the camera instead of mounting it. As you will undoubtedly notice, a night VFR landing into a black hole airport is pretty much an IFR procedure - there really isn't much to look at outside, so we go by the PAPI lights (if they exist) or by simple math to calculate how high we should be on final approach. If there is no glideslope information then we use 300/1, meaning that on a 3-mile final, we should be 900 feet above the runway threshold, at 2 miles we should be at 600 above, etc. In our jet that works out to about 600-700 feet per minute descent rate, and you better believe that the pilot who isn't flying is constantly updating and crosschecking the distance vs the altitude and letting the flying pilot know if we are a little high or a little low. In the case of CYAM, there was a PAPI indicator to the left of the runway, so we used that as well as basic math for a crosscheck. All credit to Kitsch for the actual landing.

This next one is all Sully, it's pretty much a clone of the one I posted last week. After we overnighted in Marsh Harbour, we flew back to Toronto yesterday morning and I did a visual approach onto runway 23 at Toronto Pearson. It was nice and bumpy with a gusty crosswind of about 18 knots. In this case, the crosswind was from the left to the right, and you will see that the nose of the plane is angled to the left of the runway during the final approach. The last minute gives an idea of my crosswind landing technique - different people do it differently, but my shtick is to point the nose into the wind until the last 50 feet or so, then align the nose with the runway, drop a wing into the wind and keep the plane straight with rudder. Ideally the first wheel that touches down is the wheel that faces into the wind, followed by the other wheel, followed by the nose wheel. In this particular landing it's more like clunk-clunk-clunk all at once. Some landings you win, some landings you win a little less. It wasn't my greatest, but the plane was still useable afterward, so I'll take what I can get :)

This particular trip gave me some material for yet another post, so I'll do that soon - we did something that I have never had to do before in 22 years of flying, and I'll share what that was shortly.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

We flew from Newark to Marsh Harbour, Bahamas last night. On the way down, we passed this particularly fine electrical storm. See if you can count the flashes in 4 minutes! Or don't, that's okay too. Either way, it was a pretty unruly cel, and we kept well clear of it - at the closest point to it, we were 80 miles (130km) distant. Even from a distance, big thunderstorms look closer than they are because they are so large. I have zero interest in finding out how big they appear from up close.

I really can't sing enough praise to our weather radar and our satellite radar.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

We are currently sitting in Newark NJ, KEWR, waiting for a passenger to arrive so we can head down to Bahamas. There's lots of weather around, and our pax is flying into EWR on a commercial flight which has been delayed twice already - I'm giving it 50/50 whether or not we end up scrubbing the flight for today, and 50/50 that if we end up going south today that we end up having to stay over in Bahamas due to duty day concerns - we started our day at noon today, so that gives us til 2am to get back to Toronto. It's 4pm already, and our passenger's commercial flight still hasn't departed from it's 90-minute-away location toward Newark.

Anyhoo, Kitsch flew us here and I took a video of the ILS down runway 4R as we were dodging thunderstorms and rain on the way in. I'll tell ya, the approach controller here was a true maestro - he vectored us in between some really bad-ass cels and was able to get us nicely lined up with the runway for our final approach - from the sounds of his transmissions, he was really enjoying himself, which was cool to hear.

The video is Hi-Def in 720p, so if your computer has the oomph, crank the resolution up and go full-screen. I didn't dub a song over the audio track, so there's likely lots of wind noise and whatnot.

Now we of the joys of charter flights :)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Checkride Post, Part II. Scroll down 2 posts for Part I.

I wanted to make a good impression on the 2 Transport Inspectors who would be accompanying me on the ride, so I printed out copies of the candidate's licence info, the company SOP's, the company flight profiles, the company training program, the company Ops Manual, and all the approach charts we would be using, both at Toronto Pearson and Hamilton, the nearby airport we'd be conducting most of the checkride at.

I put the twelve pounds of paper into a binder, and made a nice pretty cover on it, hopeful that a slick presentation might be an acceptable substitute for (lack of) professionalism and skill on my part :)

I was all prepared for the ride, and the weather forecast was actually threatening to cooperate, so all I had to do was wait until the next day, then drive to the airport and get it over with.

I slept really poorly the night before the ride, which surprised me, considering it was the candidate who really was under the gun - I found myself doing flying checklists and emergency drills in my sleep. When I'm the subject of a check-ride I usually have a lousy sleep the night before and end up doing checklists in my head all night, but at least I have the drills for my own airplane memorized - in this case, I had never flown up front before, and I wasn't overly familiar with the aircraft checklists, so my brain was simply inventing things, like "sleep on your side, then rotate pillow counterclockwise 1/2 turn, then clockwise 2 turns" etc. Finally 7am came, and I got ready, then drove to the airport. The weather turned out to be great (stupidly hot, but clear skies), so that was one less thing to worry about.

The candidate was already at the airport, checking weather, double-checking his weight and balance for the aircraft, and generally fretting. I did my best to console him.

"Dude, I totally understand where you are coming from. Checkrides $%#@ing suck - I have to do them too, and I can empathize. I will give you a fair evaluation, and I have no intent to make this more traumatizing than need be."

"Thanks Sully, but you gotta remember there will be 2 guys from Transport Canada looking at me the whole time, and I don't know what their mindset is."

"Oh yeah. Now I'm stressed, thanks for that."

He smiled a little, so that was nice.

After a little while, the copilot showed up, and so did the 2 Transport Guys. I recognized one of them from a previous training course - he was a good guy during the course, so that was good to see. The other guy was a fresh inspector who was attending this session to get up to speed on how monitored checkrides worked, and I introduced myself.

"Hi, I'm Sully. Nice to meet you, let's see if we can't survive this process."
He smiled.
"Hi Sully, I'm Inspector #2. I used to be in Transport Canada Enforcement, and I don't recognize your name so I guess that's a good thing. Oh, it says that the company you work for has just been assigned to me - I'm your new Principal Inspector, so I guess I'll be seeing you again when I audit you next month."
"Audit? Next month? Ack!"

So the new inspector was a guy I'd be dealing with soon when my own operation was on the line. I crossed my fingers and silently pleaded with my various deities to not let me have a meltdown during the ride, which would not bode well for future interactions with this fellow. At least I was wearing pants, so I was hoping I made a decent first impression.

I handed the inspectors their shiny binders full of relevant information, and the 5 of us (2 Inspectors, the candidate Captain and his First Officer) sat down to chat for a bit.

Here's the cheat sheet I made up for this briefing, so that I wouldn't forget to cover all the important (ie required) points:


Company Check Pilot Briefing Guide

• Introductions

• How are you doing? Did you sleep okay? Are you feeling well?

• We are here today to renew your PPC/IFR. Once we are done the ground part, the flight should take about an hour and a half, depending on the mood of ATC. I imagine you are a bit nervous, but don’t be, this is going to be a walk in the park. The standards are no tougher than the ones you have already shown you can meet. The training you have been doing for the past few days is likely a lot more difficult than this ride, and it will probably be anticlimactic for you.

• In training you had multiple failures, one after the other. During the ride we will NOT have multiple unrelated failures, and we can go at a much slower pace. I will tell you if/when simulated equipment failures will arise. If some equipment stops working in real life, we will assess the situation and will either continue on with the ride or end the ride and return to a safe airport.

• During the ride, avoid the temptation to rush. If you find yourself feeling rushed during any part of the ride, ask for vectors or a hold to give you as much time as you need before moving on to the next phase.

• From time to time you may notice that I’m writing things down during the ride. My writing things down does NOT mean that you have screwed anything up; I could be writing good things as well as things to bring up during debriefing, or just simply writing down questions about the aircraft – I have only flown in a PC-12 once, so I might have some additional questions at the end of the flight just to satisfy my curiosity.

• During the ride you may think you have messed something up. As long as the ride is still going, the ride is still going, so try to put any perceived errors out of your mind and move on to the next phase.

• When we get to the plane assume it’s the first flight of the day, which means a black cockpit. Also, assume the weather is at IFR minimums, and you can expect the weather to be at or below minimums for the approaches being conducted. When you get to the DH or the MAP, I’ll tell you if you see the runway. If you see the runway, then land! Otherwise, conduct a missed approach.

• Now onto the ride sequences: As you are no doubt familiar, we have to demonstrate some required items, which we will quickly go over. We need to see a normal takeoff, a rejected takeoff, a hold, 2 approaches (one precision and one non-precision), at least 2 engine failures, and at least 2 landings. With your Ops Spec we will also need to see (circling) and a GPS approach, along with demonstrated single-pilot authority as well as multi-crew Captain authority. We will also have a few abnormal situations come up and will expect you to deal with them just like how you would in real life.

• During the ride, you will be evaluated in accordance with the Pilot Proficiency Check and Aircraft Type Rating Flight Test Guide (Aeroplane) TP 14727. Are you familiar with the standards? (heading, altitude tolerances etc)(If candidate is not, then provide candidate a copy of the flight test guide and allow candidate to become familiar with the standards)

• Fill out paperwork, consulting laminated “PRIOR TO CONDUCTING A FLIGHT TEST” card

• Do you have any questions so far?

• We will try to keep the ride as realistic as possible. The PF is generally expected to initiate the response to an emergency, but there are 2 crew on this ride, so help each other out as you would on a normal flight in real life. We want to see you work as a team, and operate according to ATC clearances, your company SOP’s, the AFM, the CARs, your emergency checklists and any and all other applicable publications. With 2 crew rides, this means that both crew’s licenses and qualifications are being evaluated, and a serious mistake on a ride could possibly affect the licences and qualifications of both crewmembers. You can use the automation in the airplane just as you would in real life, so don’t hesitate to use the autopilot when applicable to make your life easier.

• During the ride I may give you some instructions and ask you to relay them to ATC. If one of my instructions conflicts with a real ATC clearance, please follow the real ATC clearance but let me know. I will not attempt to trick you, and I will not intentionally give an illegal or bad instruction. That being said, you are responsible for any instructions and clearances that you choose to accept. Any situation caused by an incorrect action or response will not be corrected by me unless it affects the safety of flight.

• If you have any questions about anything, feel free to ask. During the ride, if you have any questions about a clearance, a ride sequence, or want to clarify anything I have said that might be confusing, please ask.

• I know it’s easy to say, but do your best to relax, and take your time.

• Any final questions before we head into the plane?


• This was a pass / fail, and I have a few items I’d like to go over before we are done here.
• How do you think you did (don’t let candidate only focus on errors, also highlight positive things)
• I think overall you did very well, especially (highlight above-average performance)
• Identify major / minor errors, attempt to advise not criticize
• Do you have any questions before I sign your licence?

If Pass: - Endorse Licence or issue temp licence privileges
- Complete Application for Endorsement

If Fail: - advise reasons for fail
- advise regarding re-test
- advise right to appeal to TATC
- suspend IFR rating


You may notice that I never mention the word "failure" during my little speech. That's on purpose. I figure it's a scary enough experience for the candidate and it would just add to the stress level - everyone who has done a checkride is acutely aware that it's possible to fail one, so why emphasize that?

After I gave my speech, we talked about the airplane for a while, with me asking various technical questions (detailed a little in my previous checkride post) and the Captain answering them. He got them all right, and on the ones he didn't have memorized, he knew exactly where to look for the answers (ie, the aircraft flight manual, or the CAP Gen section, or his company Operations manual etc).

Having satisfied our requirement to conduct a ground briefing, we then headed to the airplane. The Inspectors sat behind me and wired themselves into the audio system so they could hear the crew and Air Traffic Control. They had copies of my planned ride script, so they knew in advance what emergencies I was going to introduce on the ride. I wedged myself in between the Captain and Copilot, plugged myself into the intercom and watched as they fired up and taxiied out toward an active runway at Toronto Pearson.

I watched as they followed their checklist, and as the Captain carefully taxiied down the exact middle of the taxiways. The crew had flown together before, and they were clearly comfortable with each other, so that made the checklists flow quickly and easily.

I de-wedged myself from the cockpit and took a passenger seat for the takeoff, then went back up front to observe. We flew toward Hamilton and found a nice clear patch of sky to get our steep turns out of the way. The candidate did just fine, so we got a clearance to hold at a navigation beacon right by Hamilton. Again, the candidate did just fine. After the hold, we set up for a GPS approach to a runway, circling for a different runway. No problems there at all, the candidate circled and set himself up for a nice landing. I had other plans though - when we were 50' in the air about to land, I told him that a moose had strayed onto the runway, so the candidate did a low-energy goaround, (a mandatory requirement since an Air Canada crash in Fredericton a few years ago). He was smooth, calm and collected, and we climbed skyward. I then asked him to do a visual circuit for the original runway, and when we were downwind for landing, I asked him to simulate an engine failure. This is the part I was most curious about, and it turns out the PC-12 can glide a pretty great distance with a failed engine, so that was cool. On a single-engine ride it's not a mandatory requirement to be able to glide to a runway after an engine failure - the candidate just needs to be able to demonstrate the proper emergency drills and maintain control of the aircraft to touchdown - but in this case we had more than enough altitude to set up for a gliding arrival onto the runway in Hamilton. That was all the multi-crew stuff done, so I told him that the First Officer had eaten some bad salmon for lunch, and the Captain was on his own for the final leg back from Hamilton to Toronto. No sweat, he did all the checklists by himself and we blasted off from Hamilton back home.

This is the part that got a little interesting.

We were about 10 minutes from Toronto when ATC came on the radio and said "Trainer 1, Pearson is closed due to an aircraft emergency. Say your intentions." I pointed at the f/o and did the finger across the throat sign, indicating that he was to remain silent and let the Captain figure all this out - this sort of thing could conceivably happen when the Captain was flying single-pilot and it would provide me an unexpected but good source of additional information to help evaluate the Captain in the performance of his duties.

The Captain did all the right stuff - he knew that the weather was good so we could land at a few different airports if need be, but he still had a mission to accomplish (get us back to Pearson safe and sound), so he didn't want to give up just yet. He confirmed that we still had a couple of hours of gas in the tanks (a PC-12 with full tanks can go for about 7 bladderbusting hours if need be), so he asked for ATC to let us hold while they dealt with the aircraft mayday at Toronto. They gave him a hold clearance, and we headed toward the navigation fix, which happened to be out over Lake Ontario. He also climbed up so that we could glide to the shore in the unlikely event the engine failed during the hold, and that told me he had good situational awareness - he was able to think outside the box a little, and not just follow checklists, which is a sign of a good Captain. We did a few laps around the lake before ATC told us that the emergency had been dealt with. Once that was all good, we set up for an uneventful single-pilot ILS back into Toronto.

The Captain landed, taxiied back to our base and shut down, taking care not to knock the wingtip against the hangar door (people have actually passed a checkride only to fail at the very last minute by screwing up the aircraft parking and smoking a solid object with a wing). I told him he had passed the ride, and we all went inside to debrief.

The debriefing was uneventful - the Captain's performance was damn near flawless, so I really didn't have much to say. The Transport guys were also satisfied that he knew what he was doing, and that I knew what I was doing when I said that in my opinion that he knew what he was doing. I did the final bit of paperwork, the Captain got his license signed off, we shook hands, and that was that.

My new Principal Inspector seemed happy, so hopefully he at least won't be predisposed to put me in federal prison when my company audit comes up at the end of August. Hopefully.

Finally, here's a copy of the evaluation that I got from the Transport Canada Inspector who watched me. The marking scale is interesting - a mark of 3 indicated that I met the standard, while a mark of 4 indicates that I exceeded the standard in that particular field. I was happy with what I got - the only comment from TC was that I could have asked more questions during the ground briefing, so under "Scope of Flight Check" I got a bunch of 3's with extra bonus points for going above and beyond.

You'll see that the notes section says that the checkride was for the addition of SMEL, which means that now I can conduct PPC/IFR checkrides on just about any non-jet aircraft, and also conduct checkrides in the actual airplane rather than just in the simulator. This expands my authority, and will hopefully allow me to conduct a few more checkrides between now and this time next year, when my ACP renewal comes up again. I don't do it for the money, but I actually really enjoy the experience, and it's an interesting way to meet new people and see how other pilots fly.

Damn this was a long-winded post, but I hope I was able to peel the curtain back a little bit and give you a slightly better understanding of what goes on during a checkride from the perspective of the person doing the checking. Safe flights!

ps The emergency at Pearson turned out to be an aircraft that had an unsafe landing gear indication, but was eventually able to fix the problem and land uneventfully. We were only delayed about 15 minutes, so no huge deal.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I'll finish my previous post tomorrow, I got busy this weekend with sundry stuff. We are in New Jersey tonight, and I saw a famous person as we were driving away from the FBO! A famous person from New Jersey, actually. A famous person in track pants...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I had an interesting flight yesterday, but I wasn't sitting in the front. I was in fact squatting in the aisle for most of it. Nope, this wasn't in the simulator either.

Long story long: I'm an ACP (Approved Check Pilot) for the Citation 550, which means I can do checkrides on other pilots in that particular type of aircraft. I wanted to widen my scope a little bit, so I asked Transport Canada if I could get authority to do checkrides on all single-and-multiengine non-high-performance aircraft, which essentially means all non-jet aircraft. They responded with a letter saying that they would like to see me conduct a checkride on a small aircraft first before making up their minds. The letter pointed out that I have only conducted checkrides in the simulator before, and conducting one in an actual aircraft can be a quite different experience (I found out yesterday how very true that is, but I'm getting ahead of myself). Fair enough, that's entirely within their rights. I started looking about for someone who might need a checkride, and I ended up chatting with a friend I have known for a few years, a guy I flew with who later left the Citation 550 and went into management at a different charter company that operates turboprop (jet engines that spin propellors) aircraft. He mentioned that one of his pilots needed a renewal checkride, and the die was cast. I told him that a Transport Canada inspector would be riding along with us, watching me watch the candidate, and to his eternal credit he agreed to that scenario. Perhaps you're thinking "Sure he agreed, it wasn't him that was going to be flying", but that's only partially true. You see, the particular turboprop aircraft we flew on is certified for flight with one or two pilots, depending on the scenario, and my friend would be acting as the copilot on the checkride. The funny thing about being a copilot on a ride is that you don't necessarily get anything renewed at the end of the ordeal, but if you screw up you can have your license suspended. Now that I think about it, I guess that's not actually very funny, but whatever - it's how things are done in Canada.

Anyhoo, I have only flown in this particular turboprop as a passenger before, so I got my grubby paws on some aircraft manuals and did some studying so I'd at least have some decent questions to ask the candidate during the ground briefing. I prefer to ask questions that have an operational slant to them - instead of asking stuff like "draw me a diagram of the fuel pump and explain how it works", I prefer to ask things like "If you land at an airport and they accidentally fuel you up with avgas (for piston-powered aircraft) instead of jet fuel, can you fly the airplane home?" or "You are stuck at an airport overnight in -40 temperatures. The only hangar that's available is 50 feet wide by 50 feet deep by 18 feet high. Will the plane fit?" or "On your walkaround you notice that one of your two aircraft batteries is dead, but the other one is fine. Can you still go flying?" You get the idea. So I cracked open a whole pile of reading material, including their company Ops Manual and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), which provide blueprints about how they operate the airplane and the specific duties and roles of the Captain and First Officer during the flight. For example, the SOP's will list the verbal callouts that each pilot is expected to make during the takeoff roll, like this:

Captain: Full power, engine gauges are green, airspeed is alive
First Officer: 70 knots
Captain: Crosscheck
First Officer: 84 knots, rotate
First Officer: Positive Rate
Captain: Gear up
First Officer: through 400 feet
Captain: Flaps up


That way I'd know what to listen for during the flight, and I'd have a better idea of what was going on. Every company has a slightly different way of operating, and differences in SOP's can be significant even if they are operating exactly the same type of aircraft - when I fly a Citation 550 for a friendly competitor I make different verbal calls and perform different actions than when I fly our Citation 550 - different strokes for different folks I guess.

Now getting back to the checkride - as it was going to be in the actual airplane, we would be departing Toronto Pearson and flying to a nearby airport to conduct our training exercises - Pearson is waaaay too busy for that sort of thing. When I do checkrides I like to make up a script that details the exercises we will be covering, along with the general order. In the simulator you can be totally specific about what's gonna happen, and I detailed a simulator script in a previous post. However in the real airplane, sometimes things happen - other aircraft are flying around the airport and you might not necessarily get the exact approach you were hoping for, or the exact runway, or the exact sequence of events you had planned out, so you have to be flexible and if you get a curveball, you might need to plan something else that covers the required items on the ride but in a different way.

On an IFR PPC checkride there are a number of different requirements, including:

- at least 2 takeoffs and landings
- a non-precision approach, and a precision approach
- a hold
- steep turns
- a rejected landing / missed approach
- at least 2 engine failures
- other emergencies as required (that part is fun because you get to decide what simulated emergencies the candidate has to deal with)
- a landing with at least 50% of the available engines failed (you can simulate the engine failures by pulling the power back on the affected engines, we never actually shut them off in the actual airplane)
- other requirements as dictated by the Company Operations Specifications

In this case, the company that operated the turboprop had a couple of addons - they did GPS approaches, they did circling approaches, and they wanted the pilot certified as a Captain in a multi-crew environment and as a single-pilot Captain.

It was time to earn my outrageous salary. I put on my thinking cap and made up a script that would cover the required items. It took me a few beers and some minor cursing but I managed to make it work in a fairly efficient way, at least on paper.

The script for the ground briefing looked something like this:

1. Explain procedures for Engine Failure in Flight, climbing through 1,000'
2. Explain procedures for Crew Incapacitation
3. Explain procedures for Engine Fire during takeoff roll
4. Discuss realistic scenario (like the questions I asked about the hangar width and aircraft misfuelling etc) and answer 5 questions relating to it.

The script for the flight looked something like this:

1. Engine start with simulated malfunction (Hung Start)
2. Area Departure, track to nearby airport
3. Steep turns
4. Hold at a nearby airport beacon
5. Engine Chip light illumination
6. GPS approach for a runway, circling for a different runway
7. Rejected Landing / Missed Approach
8. Visual circuit back to original runway with engine failure on downwind leg
9. Land
10. Single-pilot flight back to Toronto with ILS approach runway 23
11. Land, kiss the ground and endorse the candidate's license

Oh, here's a pic of a typical interior that this type of airplane might have. Pretty nice, eh. This turboprop is not small.

Now here's a pic of a what this type of aircraft looks like:

You may notice a couple of things. First, whomever painted this particular airplane (not the one we flew) probably needs a seeing-eye dog. Second, it has but a single engine. I haven't flown in a single-engine airplane for years, and as part of our checkride, I was going to ask the pilot to simulate an engine failure. Let's hope this puppy can glide better than a brick...

Oh, one last thing before I continue this post tomorrow...Transport called a few days ago and said that the TC Inspector who was assigned to monitor me was also going to bring a junior inspector along to show him how to monitor people conducting checkrides. That means there would be a guy watching the guy watching me watch the candidates. No pressure.

More tomorrow :)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

If your computer has the horsepower, the vid is most impressive if you click on the video, then go full-screen, then change the 360p icon to hi-def 720p.

It was a nice day a few days ago, and I managed to wedge the hi-def camera into the windshield to capture a visual / ILS approach onto runway 23 at Toronto Pearson. I talked all the way through the approach but the noise of the wind on the windshield completely overwhelmed the audio, so I added a music track instead. Hopefully the copyright police won't sue me into oblivion, I think it adds a little bit of fun to the otherwise fairly routine video. The band is Underworld btw. The video is 10 minutes long, and I won't be offended if you decide to skip it, I just like the combo of dreamy music with an unobstructed view out the front :)

The wind was a direct crosswind at 20 knots, but I lucked out on the landing, so overall it was a good day :)

We are in Quebec City at the moment and I have taken a bunch of vids of that too, which I'll post later.

Have a most excellent Canada Day / Independence Day / Summer day weekend!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lots of different layers of cloud and some morning valley-fog. Such a beautiful day today!

We got up crazy early this morning, heading east. The sky was beautiful, and because the longest day of the year was yesterday, the sun came up and kissed the plane about halfway through the flight. It was really neat to see the different layers of cloud, so I took a video. It's mostly boring, but skip forward about 1 minute to see an unexpected surprise - an Embraer commercial airliner 2,000' below us, heading in the same direction. It was a whole lot faster than us, and it was also right in the cloud layer, so it looks pretty cool, like a shark cruising just below the surface of the ocean.

The morning fog was lining some of the valleys along our way, it also looks pretty cool.

The skyline of New York off in the distance as we start our approach into Teterboro.

I took a video the ILS for runway 06 into KTEB, Teterboro New Jersey. Teterboro is where all the corporate jets go to get their pax into downtown New York.

Monday, June 07, 2010

We have been in Miami for the past couple of days, and today we went to Dallas. On the way, we flew over the oil rig. You know the one. I took pics, but the windshield glare screwed them up - maybe that's for the best, you probably wouldn't sleep too soundly tonight if you saw what we saw today. The oil slick is huge, and it's everywhere. There are clouds all around the rig, but they aren't real clouds, it's smoke. The rig itself is on fire, presumably burning some of the gas that's being funneled to the top. The scale of the oil slick is terrifying to see from the air - from 36,000' we can theoretically see 233 miles until the curvature of the earth cuts off our view, and from 36,000' I could see a ribbon of oil all the way to the horizon. And that's only the stuff we can see - I have read that most of the oil is still underwater, being taken by various currents all around the coast. I saw a computer simulation yesterday that says the oil will be up the east coast of the US and Canada by the fall.

I don't have anything funny to say about this - not even gallows humor. It's just too awful.