Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bob Heath

 Bob at Anderson River, NWT.  July 2009. Photo by Marcel Siegenthaler, used with permission.

Today is a really sad day.  The New Zealand SAR people have made contact with the site, and confirmed that the crash was not survivable.  My heart goes out to the family and friends of the all crew members on board, Bob Heath, Mike Denton and Perry Andersen.

 That's Bob at the South Pole.  He'd commute from Inuvik, which is an amazing adventure on its own. I think this was maybe his 8th season down there, and he was scheduled to return to his family in Inuvik this week.  Such a loss.

Bob was also a moderator on an internet aviation forum called AvCanada - he went by the online name of Just Curious.  I do that too, and along with a bunch of other dedicated folks, we try to keep the forums running smoothly, which can be tough when wrangling pilots.  About a decade ago I asked some of the moderators to say a little something about themselves in order to become better acquainted with a crop of new moderators who had just come online.

Here's what Bob said about himself on April 17th, 2004:

My name's Just Curious and I'm an..... oooops! Wrong Meeting :oops:

I call myself just curious, because for the most part, I am not particularly interested in jumping ship, since the only game in town with any stability above where I am now would be to fly seasonally for Conair (Mrs Curious worries about bombers) or WestJet (and I haven't ruled that out. :wink: ). In any case, I get to wear a leather jacket to work in the summer, so it's not all bad.

I'm sitting at about 22,000 hours right now. Lots and lots of time on Beeches (90, 10, 99) and the Mighty Twin Otter. About 15,000 between the two. I fly for Kenn Borek in both the Arctic, and Antarctic. This does not necessarily mean that I am bi-polar. Periodically, when I'm not at one end or the other, I will ferry one of our machines from Calgary to Asia, South America, or across Canada.

For the most part my job is flying to one of a dozen Inuit villages in my part of the Arctic, carrying everything you need to keep a small town running. Or tourists to pristine remote locations to raft kayak canoe or climb them. Or... mad scientists to the sea ice, the top of Mt Logan. Everyday is different. Wheels, tundra tires, floats, skis, sometimes all on the same day.

I flew for quite some time in North Western Ontario, doing much the same with more medevacs, only the passengers were predominantly Cree instead of Inuit. Met my wife on a medevac. Turns out customer service skills are useful after all!

I was in New Brunswick running a really small charter/flying school for five years, living on generic kraft dinner. I was introducing an Flying Scholarship course to the wonderful world of 172's when Les Maike roared down the runway in YCH, spewing bits of an R2800 as the TBM rolled along at 300 knots. I manage to apply the skills of an instructor every day at work. Odd for a bush pilot I know.

I did my commercial and instructor rating at Moncton, before the College programs, aside from Seneca, Con, and Sault. I was a year into university, when I realized I couldn't wait four years to start flying for a living. Of course, I was flying 1000 hours a year when I realized that to do the job of a pilot manager, I had to go back to school. Doing a BComm while flying full-tilt wasn't the easiest thing, but it's something I can apply.

I was an Air Cadet from the time I was 12 (lied about my age.) Did the Tech Training Glider and Power Scholarship, taught gliding for two summers, towed gliders for one summer, and taught the Powered Scholarship for 4 summers. Sadly in the Western Arctic, there are no Air Cadets, only Jr. Rangers...

For the most part, I do training and line indoc of new hires, as well as upgrade training for senior co-pilots, as well as the training and tricks of the trade for captains to be able to fly "off-strip" ie... no runway. Sadly, a lot of the people I flew with over the last decade have gone off to WJ, and I'm too old to try to match drinks with the people I fly with these days.

...In the last 18,000 two crew hours, I've only had two F/Os not really work out, and with both, it was a matter of them maturing, which they finally did, since both are WJ captains now...Come to think of it, I've always had great Nurses Paramedics and Bird-dog officers as well. Musta been lucky.

It's been easy for me to be objective about a lot of the posts on the board. I've got a good job, and I'm home every night when I'm home. If I can help someone else get a good job, or a better one, why not? In the end, when I'm eating my bowl of mush at the Old Folks Home (hopefully in Mexico, or someplace warm :wink: ) I won't remember the airplanes as much as the crews I've flown with.

Flying can be a drudgery. I suppose. But flying with a narcoleptic who kept falling asleep on approach to landing atop Mt. Logan, having someone give birth in the back of a Navajo, bailing out an engineer who got arrested in South America (missing passport, woman, alcohol, much screaming, you get the idea) Flying in the Arctic on Monday Golfing in Scotland on Wednesday, and seeing the Pyramids two days later, with a co-pilot who has basically never been out of a small island village in his life... It hasn't been boring. Even today, we did a rescue of a mad scientist and a helicopter pilot who had been out counting polar bears. Oil pressure indication problems had sat them down on the sea ice, with a dozen pissed off bears around when we came in to get'em.

Eventually, I'll retire or drive the big iron, but until then, I remain, just curious,

Godspeed, Bob. You will be missed by everyone who met you, flew with you, and had the benefit of your gentle, humorous wisdom.  And that's a whole lot of people.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I have known Bob for 15 years.  He's one of the most experienced and well-regarded Twin Otter drivers on the planet. He's been a mentor to dozens (if not hundreds) of pilots over the years, and he knows more than just about anybody when it comes to winter survival.  The plane is well-stocked with survival gear and winter tents, and at least it's currently Summer in Antarctica, meaning the conditions have improved from 'impossible' to only 'extreme'.  Bob can work with extreme - he's been doing it for decades and he's damn good at it.

So far whiteout conditions and 170 km/h winds (yeah, you read that right) at the site has made it impossible for rescue aircraft to see the airplane from above, let alone land nearby.  The weather is forecast to pick up enough in the next few hours to attempt another rescue.

Please send as much good karma as you can spare toward a safe return of all 3 crew members on board.

We're pulling hard for you Bob!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This is for the hardcore aviation nerds.  Yeah, you :)

This link is to our Company DropBox folder of all the manuals for our particular Citation Ultra.  Yep, all of them.

The summary version would likely be the  Cheat Sheets PDF.  That'll probably get you through a checkride, though it might not get you through an...umm...intense unscheduled event - quite as well as the full manuals would.

If you memorize all this stuff you'll know more than most Ultra pilots, including me.  If you memorize this stuff and then do 16 hours in an Ultra simulator, you can attempt a checkride to get your Citation 560 type rating.  Well, technically you still have to do the ground school as well, but I guarantee you'll have an edge :)

When I created the Policies and Procedures Manual for our company, I sent out draft copies to all the pilots.  I asked for their input, and if they saw anything that should be changed.  I guess nobody looked very closely at our Official Winter Headgear policy, because this is it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On Tuesday's flight home, we did something unusual, and I want to share it.

It was a pretty short leg home, about 400 nautical miles in total.  The winds were insane at our normal altitude though - basically 190 knots directly in our face at 35,000'. The computer model also showed that the winds died down at around 40,000'-  if it was a longer trip it would have been a consideration but as it was a short one, we knew there was zero chance that Air Traffic Control would let us climb that high.  For their own operational reasons, 35,000' is as high as ATC will let us fly on this particular leg.

At 35,000' we fly through the air in the Citation Ultra at about 430 knots. That would leave us with an average ground speed (airspeed - headwind) of 240 knots.  At 35,000' we burn about 1600 pounds of fuel per hour on average.  The 400 mile trip would take 1 hour 40 minutes, and we would burn 2660 lbs of fuel.

However, the winds at 22,000' was only blowing directly in our faces at 120 knots.  At 22,000' we can only fly at about 400 knots though. That left us with an average ground speed of 280 knots.  At 22,000' we burn about 2000 lbs of fuel per hour - our jet is pretty great, but the engines really suck gas down low.  The 400 mile trip would take 1 hour and 25 minutes, but we would only burn 200 more lbs of fuel despite the markedly higher fuel burn, because we would be burning fuel for less overall time.

Doing the math showed us that we'd save 15 minutes by flying at the lower altitude.  Each 6 minutes in our plane costs us roughly $210 (fuel, maintenance and money for the engine overhauls), so we'd save about $525 by going lower. We still have to factor in the extra fuel burn though.  Our gas costs us about $4.35 per gallon, or about 65 cents per pound.  The 200 lbs of extra fuel will cost us about $130, so our overall savings would be about $395 by flying at the lower altitude.

$395 isn't a whole lot in the world of jet travel, but it's more than zero dollars, and combined with the time savings, it made our decision a no-brainer. We only climbed to 22,000', and the lower true airspeed and extra fuel burn was more than offset by the lighter headwind and correspondingly shorter trip length.. We confirmed the stronger headwind by getting ATC to talk to people who were up that high, and it was exactly as the computer models predicted. We landed in Toronto 1 hour and 26 minutes after we departed, feeling quite pleased with ourselves, having saved both time and money (it's usually one or the other).

See, I'm not just a pretty face - I can do math too! Or at least I can read the math that the computer model displayed for me, and agree with it.

To be clear - these calculations are simplified, but I wanted you to get the general idea of one of the many things we did to earn our outrageous pilot salaries on Tuesday :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

To add to my previous post:  564 knots is 649mph :p

 This sign was outside my hotel in Windsor Locks CT.  I'm not kidding.  This view is a bit disturbing.

This was my view today, heading back to Toronto.  I like this view very much.

This was my view today, seeing my kid after daycare.  I absolutely love this view.

Monday, January 14, 2013

We did this on the way to Hartford CT today.  We had a nice push, and the 564 is the fastest documented groundspeed I have ever achieved in the front end of a plane.  We actually did 565, but didn't take a pic.  That works out to 1,044 km/h over the ground, weeeee! :)