Friday, May 28, 2010

Thunderstorm season, hooray!

Pepper and I went west on a charter flight a few days ago (Kitsch was still jet-lagged from doing an LA - Toronto redeye the night before, so Pepper pinch-hitted), taking some people to do some business in the midwestern US. For those of you who aren't familiar, summer in the great plains of the United States = thunderstorms.

I took a few vids to demonstrate some of them, let's have a quick boo!

We landed, and hung out for the day at a local Marriott - I collect hotel points and currently I'm concentrating on them - I have enough to last Lisa and I through our entire next vacation, even if we pick a classy hotel. Hotel / Gas card points are a perk of corporate travel that I really enjoy.

It was a 14-hour day, so we made sure we both had naps in the afternoon, so that we'd be fully alert for the return ride. A cold front was passing through, and the heat of the day was building some truly spectacular weather monsters.

Now I wasn't able to video this next part, mostly because Pepper and I were busy little beavers at the time. At Rogers, thunderstorms were building to the point that some of them in the distance were green, like dull emeralds. You know, booming emeralds with lightning. Most of us are used to seeing thunderstorms with black clouds, but green ones are more rare, and they usually indicate something far more apocalyptic, like hail and/or tornadoes, or perhaps clouds of winged monkeys come to take us to Oz. Either way, they were building all around the airport and it became clear that we had a limited amount of time to depart before they cut off all routes in and out of our destination. Now visualize this with me: Our home in Toronto was east of the airport, but the storms were such that 20 minutes before the pax showed up, I had amended our flight plan to head straight west, then north, then back east in order to go around one line, then head north, then mostly east to go around another line, then head south, then east to go around a third line.

Our pax showed up, we loaded up, and in those few minutes, the storms north and south of us had linked up to the west, creating an unbroken line of doom. There was a thin sliver east of us, and our on-board satellite weather system (may it live forever!) showed that some of the scary stuff had dissipated enough for us to be able to climb over it if we kept our groundspeed low and our rate of climb high.

We had already picked up our clearance to head west, but that wasn't going to happen so we had to negotiate with ground control for a new clearance that would keep us out of harm's way. It took a few minutes to get, presumably because the area air traffic controllers were very busy dealing with aircraft that were diverting all over the place in an effort to avoid the storms and keep their wings on, but we eventually got clearance to head straight east in an attempt to climb over the first line of thunderstorms.

Fortunately for us, the plane was relatively light and even in the heat of the day (it was about +30c, which is 86 in American heat units) she was capable of giving us a decent rate of climb if I reefed the nose back to 15 degrees nose-up - our climbout airspeed dropped by 40 knots, but that wasn't as important as getting up and over the smaller thunderstorms that were close-by the airport.

One of the fun things about lines of convective weather associated with frontal systems is that the thunderstorms are usually hidden by other clouds, so on the climb-out we are usually flying through clouds and can't see anything outside. Our weather radar shows us the bad stuff that's mixed in with the ordinary clouds, but I'm not gonna lie and say it's not disconcerting as hell for those few minutes that you are in solid cloud and it starts to get a little black outside, and rain on the starts to beat against the windshield and you wonder whether or not you made the right call, or whether you should be immediately turning 180 degrees to one side or another. We have lots of gadgets to assist us, but there is a reptilian part of our brains that softly whispers scary things for those few moments, and we really have to rely on our training and our experience and our technology to overcome that soft, nasty voice.

Anyway, I'm sitting here typing these words, so you can deduce that it worked out fine - we kept our eyes glued to our on-board weather radar as well as the satellite weather system, as well as looking outside and turning well away from any areas of cloud that looked particularly aggressive.

In cruise flight, in between dodging lines of storms, we watched a 757 pass by us at a closing speed of about a thousand miles per hour (1600km/hr). I admired the bird as it flew past, but then felt sorry for them because they were going to have to negotiate some of the strongest storms I had seen in a long, long time. I imagine that the conversations on the flight deck were similar to a recent post by Captain Dave - I assume you have already read it, but if you haven't, check it out.

One thing that I felt bad about was hearing the strain in the voices of the flight crews heading west, and hearing the stress in the voices of the air traffic controllers who were trying to keep them from hitting each other even as they diverted all around the countryside in an effort to avoid contact with the rumbling midwestern pilot-killers. It was a stressful day for a lot of people, and I was really glad that our flight was relatively uneventful.

Once we passed by the final line, the weather was great for the last few hundred miles all the way home. Due to our exceptional cunning and skill (read 'luck'), the air was smooth the entire flight, and the passengers remained blissfully oblivious to the amazing forces of nature we observed during our run. "Hey pilot, nice flight, I'm glad the weather was good" Oh, if they only knew the planning and plotting and scheming we had to do several times enroute to make it so - but I guess one of the things I get paid for is to attempt to bore the passengers to tears during the flight, even if I'm sweating a bit.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'm uploading some videos from a recent flight, but I'm absolutely exhausted so Ima go to bed and do up the actual flying post tomorrow. Until then, here's a pic of Charlie licking her own face. I reckon it's pretty flavorful, considering the things she finds on the ground and tries to eat during our walks.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This is a smoochy post, you are forewarned.

Today marks 10 years since Lisa and I went on our first date. God I love this woman.

Here's Part 1 and Part 2 of that particular adventure, for some background info.

We are a demonstrative couple - I tell her I love her many times a day, and she kisses my face about as much as a face can possibly be kissed. "Sully, come here. I need a smooch for strength!" I'm only too happy to comply. I am not afraid to get all mushy on the phone or in public (despite the rolled eyes I get from my friends or coworkers who happen to overhear me) because I want her to know how profoundly she has changed my life, and because sometimes when I see her my heart feels like it's going to burst with joy and I need to let some of it out.

Anyway, ten years. Damn. It seems like I have known her all my life (more so for her I guess) but in another way it's been a single beat of a hummingbirds wings. I notice that time speeds up when we are together, but slows down considerably when I'm on the road. I guess it's because when I'm with her I feel complete, but when I'm away there's always this...longing...and I find myself scheming about how to return home just a few minutes quicker.

A few notable events / processes that we have shared in the past decade include:

Lisa endured a whole lot of outside pressure to end our relationship, and I experienced a whole lot of anger (lots of it was justified, I'm not making excuses) from a whole lot of people due to our age difference (detailed in the how-we-met posts).
Lisa went to university and got a degree, with honors.
I went up north to fly, then came back down south, to fly.
We made it through 4 years of long-distance relationship.
Lisa got a job working for the parent company who employs me.
We got engaged, then married.
We went to France, Bahamas, a few spots in the US, and toured British Columbia in a camper van.
We lived together in a condo, a couple of apartments and a house, then bought a house of our own.
We got a puppy, and were adopted by a feral cat.
Lisa changed her hair color and shoes a few hundred times; I shaved my head and wear the same shoe style I did in 2000(Black, shiny, cheap).
We discovered the joys of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
We discovered the joys of barbecuing.
Lisa's friends, while initially suspicious (I don't blame them one bit), warmed up to me and vice-versa.
We watched with amazement and sometimes amusement/horror as various friends and family conducted their lives in all sorts of scandalous ways. We are low-drama, but it's fun to live vicariously through others from time to time, though we both agree it gets tiring before too long.
I invented about a billion pet names for Lisa, some of which are: smoochy, scuppy, scoopy, scamperpants, floofy, angel, whizzler, and a whole pile of other ones that are considerably more silly. I'd post more of them but I suspect she's already going to plan my demise for even posting the few I just did.

We have been there for each other during lots of personal and professional ups and downs, and she has been my most trusted confidante and adviser - she's a hell of a smart woman and I'm lucky to have her in my corner when I need additional perspective and/or support. Like me, her B.S. detector is permanently set on 'high', and she's not afraid to call me out on things and kick my ass when it's required. I love her all the more for it.

Oh, and you may have noticed she's not too hard on the eyes either :) That's just icing in the cake, but I'm telling you it's some beautiful icing.

I can't thank her enough for enduring the past ten years with me, and I love her more than I could possibly express. I clearly married well out of my league, but every day I do my best to show her how grateful I am for every moment I spend with her.

Lisa, you are my life. Here's to the last ten years, and here's to the next hundred!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the simulator we are currently using, the GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System, pronounced Jeep-Whizz) doesn't have a forward-looking feature, so it only goes off when the radar altimeter starts to unwind at an alarming rate. In our actual airplane, our GPWS has a terrain database built-in and it can predict whether a mountain will be a problem a lot earlier than this system. Still, it's kinda fun to do this in the simulator, it shows us how little time we have to react in a case like this. A few seconds longer, and we would be a pancake on the side of a virtual hill.

This simulator is a Level C sim, with the full-motion and whatnot. Graphics are adequate, but my Xbox 360 totally pwns them. Too bad my 360 doesn't have a good flight sim program built around an actual airplane cockpit...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Taken earlier today, on the backhaul from Baltimore. Kitsch was on assignment in California today, so Pepper was drafted as Co-Captain for this particular run. In this particular niche of flying, most pilots are qualified as Captains - in fact I can only think of one person (out of the dozen or so I have flown with over the past 5 years) who is only qualified as a first officer, and that's more to do with internal politics (in the company he works for) rather than ability or qualifications.

Moving on: Thunderstorms can grow really fast, and this was a good day to observe said growth - we flew by this particular set of storms on the way into Baltimore around 1pm when it was basically a single cel, but by 3pm daytime heating had helped the line of thunderstorms grow into an unbroken line around 60 miles long, which is what is featured in the video. The tops were at 35,000' when we flew past them, but the tops have since climbed higher. As I'm typing these words, the small line has now grown and into a widespread system of thunderstorms that look kinda like this:

The good thing is that the line of thunderstorms has lots of gaps in it, which means that with some creative vectoring, most pilots won't have to get too close to them.

Yay for summer! I like the extended daylight hours, but I'm not a huge fan of the apocalyptic weather that accompanies them.

Random babble ensues:

It was a charter flight, so we had to dress up in full regalia. Seriously, wearing a tie around my neck is the worst part of this job. Having said that, I also recognize that I'm a huge whiner.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The pics are part of a trip I just did, showing us on approach back into Pearson a couple of hours ago.

We just got back from Montreal, taking some nice folks to watch a hockey game. I flew with Pepper, and we figured we'd mix it up a little bit by taking one of his planes instead of my baby. On the return leg the air was smooth, the skies were clear, and the iphone was actually able to capture a nice night ILS down runway 05 at Pearson on the return leg. Pepper was flying, I was recording. I'm quite pleased with how the video turned out - you'll want to set the resolution to 480p for a little more detail. You'll hear a horn near the beginning, it's the "remember to put the landing gear down" horn. We remembered, so I guess it did a good job :)

Things look quite pretty at night, if you can keep your eyes open :) Thank jebus for Red Bull, it really comes in handy on flights like these - I find it's like 2 cups of coffee without the gut-rot. Near the end of the video one of the pax says "Hey, let's go to Mexico now", and I reply "We need to get a bit of gas first", just to put it in the proper context in case you heard me saying that and were like "wtf!"

Monday, May 03, 2010

*NOTE* in one of the vids I posted yesterday, I show some nasty weather moving through Nashville. I checked the news last night and saw that more than 10 people died as a result of that storm system. That's awful, and it further underscores the power that some of these storm systems have, especially ones in the midwest.

Now lets document the trip back home. This one went faster - we did about 4.5 hours in the air as opposed to 7 hours getting to Scottsdale, which is directly a result of the 180 mph winds blowing from west to east during these past few days. The trip was pretty straightforward with the exception of hitting one hell of a bump on departure from Scottsdale - we were climbing through 16,000' when some mechanical turbulence off the mountains caused a single jolt during which everyone on board hit our heads on the ceiling (yes, we all had our seatbelts on, and no it didn't matter) and stuff to go flying all around the cabin - not fun at all for our pax, especially the one person who was a nervous flyer to begin with. Kitsch went back and talked to them for a while, calming the pax down and explaining that the plane was fine and the turbulence was unlikely to occur again during our trip home. Still, I haven't felt a bump like that in quite some time. Oh, and on arrival into Toronto the ATIS (automated weather information system) was calling for winds down the runway at 7 knots, but tower was more accurately calling them as mostly down the runway at 35 knots, so it was a wee bit bumpy coming in - again, that was a fun conversation with the nervous pax who had to be assured that light turbulence is a relatively routine, if irritating part of flying.

And now for some pics 'n vids!

I played with a tilt-shift app on the iphone in lots of these pics - when done well, it's supposed to make everything look like a model railway set. Clearly the software isn't perfect, but it still makes some stuff look pretty cool.

The last vid is of Kitsch's masterful landing in Toronto during our windy arrival.

A rather peaceful video - watching the clouds go by as we pass over Kansas.

Random babbling, again over Kansas. Apologies to Captain Dave for stealing his great tagline "Life on the line continues". You HAVE read Captain Dave's blog, right? It's in my top 3 all-time favorites.

Departing Wichita, pondering the thunderstorms off in the distance.

Closer to the T-storms, coming up on Kansas City MO, futher ponderousness.

Finally, Kitsch's masterful ILS into Toronto. Again, the actual winds were nearly 30 knots stronger than the ATIS was indicating, which added a bit of a thrill to an otherwise routine approach.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Epic trip to Scottsdale recently. I did a few vids to pass the time - nothing too exciting in them, but I was kinda pleased with some of the photos I snagged on approach into KSDL.

Vids first, then pics.

Playing with tilt-shift on the iphone

Now the cool stuff. I really like the landscape of Arizona, I think everyone should see it at least once.

We did CPR / AED training last week, here are a few highlights.

AED = Automated External Defibrillator - we carry one on board in case any of our passengers have 'the big jammer' while flying with us. Now we know how to use it!

I'll sum up what we learned in CPR - If it's an adult, call 911 first, then give 2 breaths via mouth-to-mouth, followed by 30 fast and hard chest thrusts (you are aiming for 100 thrusts per minute, timing-wise). Repeat until help arrives. If it's a kid, do 5 sets of 2-breaths and 30 chest thrusts, then call 911, then get back to CPR until help arrives. If it's a baby, only use 2 fingers for the chest thrusts instead of both hands.

Oh, and prepare for lots of barf.

To use the AED, follow the verbal instructions that the unit gives you, zap 'em if the unit says to zap 'em, but you'd better make sure nobody is touching the person when they get zapped.

Again, prepare for lots of barf.

The training went pretty well, as you can see from the pics and video.