Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Canada, Air Canada is the largest carrier and lots of people consider it the ultimate aviation job. The hiring process is long and involved - first you have to get a few thousand hours, then you have to get your application noticed by the hiring board - They will be hiring roughly 600 - 700 pilots in total over the next few years, and they have a resume pile of 5,000.

Once you get noticed, you get scheduled for an interview and extensive cognitive and personality testing. The interview panel is composed of training pilots at Air Canada and psychologists from the HR department. The personality and cog tests take half a day and are composed of more than 800 questions and individual tests. Yeah, that's right, more than 800. Then the hiring board gets the results from the interview panel and from the cog/personality tests, and they make the final decision. Most pilots will have been in the industry for 10 years or so before they get to this point.

And then they either get a phone call saying welcome to the mothership, or a single piece of paper in an envelope with a 51-cent stamp, saying "Thanks but no thanks".

My friend got a PFO letter from Air Canada yesterday. This is what it says:



Name and addy of victim


Dear victim:

Air Canada's Pilot Hiring Board has considered your application for the position of Pilot.

The Board has determined that we are unable to offer you employment at this time.

Please be advised, Air Canada does not provide an explanation for its decision.

All applicants are welcome to re-apply after six (6) months by keeping their online application up-to-date.

I wish you success in your aviation career and future endeavours.

Yours very truly,

Name of person in hiring department


Just a very few words to let him know his life will be profoundly different than he had thought when he first started to fly.

The note about applying again after 6 months is nice, but it is unlikely that they will consider his application again.

He has a decent job already, but nobody likes to be told they didn't make the cut, so he's kind of bummed.

And no, I haven't gotten a PFO letter from AC. Yet ;)

Monday, November 27, 2006

I read Sam's account of his last Saturday night when he had to pee in a cup to keep his job, and I wanted to respond a little.

Routine, random drug testing is a major part of aviation life in the USA, but it really doesn't come up a lot in Canada. I have never been drug-tested as a pilot, but then again I would certainly pass the test if someone held a cup out to me right now and told me to make like Niagra Falls.

I have flown dozens and dozens of really nasty alcohol-related medevacs and not a single marijuana-related one. No, that's not a scientific study, but I also happened to live with a police officer who shared my experience.

I firmly believe that pot is a lot less harmful than alcohol, and long as it didn't affect a person's ability to show up for work refreshed and alert, I could care less if they went home at the end of the day and smoked a joint rather than downing a few beers.

Of course I agree that Marijuana use is risky.

The single greatest risk is getting a criminal record and/or going to jail. That would mean no flights to the USA amongst other things, and that would put a serious hurt on your career with any major airline.

Attempting to smuggle it across the border might be lucrative, but if caught in the States, it's pretty much guaranteed jail-time. Not worth the risk, in my opinion, but I don't have any particularly serious financial pressures either.

The other main risk, obviously, is eating too many Doritos and growing a huge ass.

I would have a real problem with my employer making me pee in a jar to keep my job; beyond the obvious invasion of privacy it seems to me that my employer shouldn't be assuming I'm a criminal. I mean, I'm a grown up and I have a considerable responsibility at my job, which I take very seriously. I have never flown drunk and never flown stoned, and I wouldn't dream of doing so. But what I do on my time off is my business, and my employer doesn't own me.

I wouldn't have a problem with on-the-spot testing for pot, so as to weed out (heh get it?) the 0.001% of pilots who might attempt to show up for work stoned, but unfortunately that's not how urine testing works. Urine testing wouldn't necessarily tell you if I was currently impaired, it would only tell you if I have been impaired at any point up to a month ago, and that's not information that's particularly relevant to my ability to do my job.

Marijuana traces in the blood are only detectable for a very short time, as in 24 hours after you last sparked one up. But THC does linger in your fat, where is it slowly metabolized. While this is happening, the metabolites are detectable in your urine.

Marijuana metabolites can be found in the urine of heavy smokers (those who smoke at least once a day) for up to a month after the last time they got lit. If your indiscretions consist of getting drunk at the bar and then sharing a joint with 5 other people in the back alley before going back in for round 11, it will take less time before your pee tests as clean.

There are other risks besides failing the dreaded pee test though: If you are in an accident and the authorities think that drugs may have played a part in it, the cops can compel you to pee in a jar. Even if you merely smelled a doobie a week before the accident, if it shows up in your test, you can bet the TSB will list it as one of the causes and you can also bet that Transport Canada will be all over that.

In real life, what you do on your own time should be your own business, but if smoking pot (or eating mushrooms or snorting giraffe hypothalamuses) means that you ever show up for work in an altered state, then it's time to ground yourself, call Betty Ford and clean up your act.

I am grateful that in Canada we generally have the freedom to decide how willing we are to risk what we have been working toward all our lives and have spent tens of thousands of dollars on. Most of us view aviation as risk-management, and most of us will eventually determine that the risk simply isn't worth the reward, at least until we can retire and do whatever the hell we want.

But we have that choice, unlike Sam. And I think that's something very valuable.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lots of flying in the coming-up week, but I have the weekend off so I'm enjoying that. I have been fighting a vicious cold over the past week, but I have been sleeping like 12 hours a night and drinking gallons of fruit juice and I have it on the run.

Amongst my upcoming flights, I get to do some training next week, bringing a part-time pilot up to speed on our planes and that's going to be interesting.

It's interesting to watch how people usually react to a new airplane, how tightly they grip the controls and how their scan is essentially based entirely on the attitude indicator, and only gradually widens out to encompass the whole panel and eventually maybe even out the windows. From the way the part-timer talks, it seems like he'll do well, but as we all know it's a crap-shoot until you actually see a person fly.

I have flown with lots of people who are total ozone rangers in 'real life' but manage to be cool, calm and collected in the cockpit in any situation. I have flown with people who ooze competency and charisma on the ground, but when airborne consistently make stupid mistakes, and then either give up entirely or get enraged and focus on the wrong thing, eventually getting completely behind the aircraft and screwing up basic control and situational awareness.

I'm going to enjoy the experiences next week because I am comfortable enough in the airplane that I will have the 'big' picture, and it should be relatively easy to spot areas in the part-timer that might have room for improvement, if any.

I am definitely not a hard-ass training guy; I know that there are lots of minor differences in the way that people like to do things, and if he keeps me in the loop and it doesn't affect safety then I'll be more than happy to let the part-timer show me different techniques for completing the flight successfully, without insisting that he rigidly conform to my way of doing things.

Now I want to be clear; I don't mean that I would do anything that wasn't within our SOP's, which are the Standard Operating Procedures that we learn when flying an aircraft with more than one pilot. SOP's are great and provide a framework for doing things, and they are especially useful in an emergency when you really need to have both crew members on the same page in a hurry, but due to the huge number of variables in any particular trip, SOP's can't encompass every aspect of a flight.

For example, one pilot I fly with likes to do the approach checklist when we are 25 miles out, and another prefers to do it when we descend below 10,000' altitude. It doesn't really matter to me as long as the checklist gets done, and however the part-timer wants to do it, I'm fine with that. Or maybe he will want to use the autopilot more or less than I do (I still really enjoy hand-flying and I generally don't let 'otto' take over until I'm above 25,000', and I usually click it off once I'm below 18,000'). As long as it doesn't affect safety and as long as he tells me his thought process for whatever he's doing, then I'm happily along for the ride.

As a captain I have the luxury of establishing a baseline set of standards, and I get to make the ultimate decision regarding the aircraft. That was one of my only complaints as a first officer on the MU-2; For the first year I had to be a chameleon and adapt to many different captain's versions of how to fly the airplane each one insisting that his way was the only correct way. It was only in my last 8 months there that my captains trusted me enough to let me develop my own flying style, the set of habits and methods that felt most comfortable to me. I want to give the part-timer the benefit of the doubt and give him enough freedom so that he doesn't feel like he's on an IFR checkride each time we fly together. The guy has lots of experience, just not a lot of recent experience on the 550, so I have the benefit of knowing he's got a few thousand hours under his belt and is hopefully unlikely to get us into a spiral dive should we enter cloud. That being said, it's still up to me to make sure we don't break the airplane so I have to be vigilant. I'm up to it, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Friday, November 24, 2006

This man is a smart guy. Even if you don't agree with him, please just listen to what he has to say.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I have no idea why this pic appears black in the thumbnail. Click on it to make it bigger, and to make it appear.

This is a pic from last Saturday night, when Lisa took me to a lingerie fashion show. Hey, the proceeds all went to charity and I would have been rude to decline it. Anyway, here I am, zombie-style. About to feast on Lisa's brains. I can't remember what I was doing when that pic was taken, which is strange as I was sober that night.

Anyhoo, yesterday I flew to Quebec, and then to northern Quebec, then finally to Most Northern Quebec evar. We hung out there for the day, then flew down to northern Quebec, then Quebec, then home. All in all a long day.

I really had no idea that there were places in Canada where people didn't speak English at all. I wonder what their world must be like, and how different their experience of life is from my own. The ladies at the terminal where I spent the day were nice, and we managed to communicate through basic gestures - for the hard stuff I loaded up bablelfish on my crackberry and used it to translate stuff like "Is it okay if I use a credit card to pay for my landing fee".

The only word I really know how to say in French is pamplemousse. It's a pretty big word so I save it for special occasions when I just know the French person I'm talking to will be impressed by it.

I guess the biggest eye-opener for me was speaking to some people who made no effort to speak English, and who just spoke to me in French and assumed I'd be the person to try to jump across the language gap. Like, say, the servers at the resturants I went to. I certainly wasn't upset or resentful, as I realize that us English speakers are almost imperialist in our world-view; everyone should learn how to speak our language instead of vice-versa. Maybe imperialist isn't the right word, perhaps we are more Borg-like. And I happened to meet a whole whack of people who weren't interested in joining the English collective.

Anyway, yesterday was a full day, flying-wise. Our first trip was an hour flight, then our second one was only about 20 minutes, and our final trip was another half-hour. That really isn't a long time when we are doing back-to-back legs, and it doesn't give much time to get prepared for the next leg.

We have a lot to do for each leg, like getting our air traffic control clearance, calculating our take-off speeds and thrust settings, entering our route into our GPS, getting the latest weather reports, finding out what runway they are using, figuring out what our approach speed will be, figuring out what our go-around thrust setting will be and whatnot. We also have to make sure the pax are fed and watered, and that the plane is reasonably clean after every leg so they don't have to wallow in filth, whether self-generated or not. Oh, and of course there's the actual flying part too.

All in all, I was a tired puppy when we landed back home, nearly 15 hours after we started our day. But on the up-side, I'm current for night takeoffs and landings for another 6 months :)

Today was all about the office, trying to catch up with the endless backlog of paperwork this operation requires.

There were a couple of interesting parts though:

We did some interviews today for a pilot position with my company. That was fun, and it was interesting to see different people's approaches to the process, and their answers to the questions we posed. We have a lot of qualified people, and what's even better is they are interesting to talk to, so I have high hopes for whomever we end up with.

Oh, and remember a post I made about 10 days ago regarding another company scooping my flight bag and not returning it? Well, I was contacted by some relevant parties and I got that all worked out today to my satisfaction, so that was pretty good too. I was genuinely impressed by the Captain of that flight - he contacted me and was open and honest, and genuinely wanted to work things out, which we have done.

Tomorrow I'm doing more paperwork, then heading up to the airport to wait for the phone/internet guy, so he installs our phones and interweb at the correct office.

Oh, and as far as my bet with Lisa - I have lost 8 pounds so I'm happy. But she hits the gym every day now, so I can't exactly rest on my laurels.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Today we did 6 legs over 14 hours; I'll talk more about it tomorrow, but right now it's bedtime; I'm beat like a dog.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I have only flown commercial once when there has been an incident. It was a couple of years ago. We used JetsGo, which was a controversial Canadian startup that ran old, cheap, gas-guzzling Fokker 100's.

A little background on JetsGo:

They offered impossibly low fares which made them popular, but which contributed to their decline. For example, they would offer Toronto - Vancouver for $149 and the return leg for $1. There is just no way to make money doing that, but apparently that message didn't reach the owner, Michel Leblanc.

Michel Leblanc was on his 7th airline when he started JetsGo, after selling Royal Airlines to Canada3000 and then watching the amalgamated airline go down in flames - there were rumors of bad accounting practices on his behalf which covered up the fact that Royal wasn't doing very well, and in fact several lawsuits are still before the courts to determine if any fraud was perpetrated, and if so, by whom.

Anyway, it's safe to describe JetsGo's owner as 'sketchy'.

They also got a bad rep amongst pilots for charging flight crews $30,000 up-front for training, which they repaid over a number of years.

There were repeated incidents of engine failures and mechanical emergencies, and lots of complaints by passengers

There was a well-publicized incident in Calgary near the end of JetsGo's life when a Fokker landed on a runway sign in bad weather, then skidded a thousand feet in the ditch before going around and landing (successfully) a second time, and there were a lot of rumors of poor maintenance and not enough mechanics to do the work required.

When JetsGo finally ceased operations on March 11, 2005, they did so without any warning to the public, leaving 16,000 stranded passengers all across their routes. In fact, they took reservations (and people's money) up until 11:59pm on the 10th, when the announced bankruptcy. Most of those people will never see the return of the money that JetsGo stole.

Oh, and the pilot training agreement was structured in such a way that the pilots were not repaid any of the money owed to them, including lots of new pilots who had paid their $30,000 and hadn't even started training. Nice.

Now to my story:

It happened when the lovely Lisa and I flew to visit my mom on Vancouver Island for her birthday. At the time, I was on the EI gravytrain after my departure from Thunder Airlines and before my present job. I did some jobhunting during the trip as well, but the main part of that was we flew on JetsGo. A roundtrip ticket was $290 compared to $480 on the next cheapest airline, so it was a financial no-brainer, and even though I have some problems with the way the company operates, I figured the trip would be kinda like a fact-finding mission for me. Or something. Mostly it was just cheap, and I am ashamed to say that was my priority. We'll get back to the term "no-brainer" shortly though, trust me.

The trip to Vancouver was uneventful; we were an hour late arriving, which is neither here nor there. One thing Lisa pointed out was that the flight crew didn't make any announcements over the first one, when we were still on the ground at our departure point. They said we were next in line for takeoff (behind the 9 a/c in front of us I guess), and that they'd be in touch in the air. We landed in Vancouver without hearing from them, but I totally understand they could have gotten busy in flight, so I won't make any judgement about that either.

It's the trip back I want to relate. It was a normal flight for the first hour, just the typical bumps going over the rockies. I was playing my Nintendo Gameboy (get one!) and Lisa was reading the latest copy of Cosmopolitain when we both noticed it was getting kinda hot inside the cabin. We also saw the the other passengers around us were fiddling with the overhead air nozzles, so we did the same. The result; no air coming from the nozzles.

We were sitting in one of the emergency exit rows, as is my habit, which meant we were right by the wing.

I noticed the speedbrakes deploy, then the flaps and leading edge slats. I thought that was pretty strange as we were over the Rockies still, and our next stop, Winnipeg was over an hour away. I also saw the ground, and by ground I mean "rocks" were getting a lot closer. I pushed the "bongbong" button and a flight attendant came over. I asked her what was going on, and she laughed and told us that we sometimes change altitude for traffic. Lisa and I had been battling the flu over the last few days, stuffy head and all that, and we were both pretty aware of the fact the pressurization had failed. I said "nuh-uh, we appear to be in an emergency descent" and she said in a quiet voice "I don't really know", then turned and walked to the back while I was in mid-sentence.

We levelled off at 10,000 feet as we came to the foothills of Alberta, heading east. The descent had taken only a few minutes; I was impressed. I bongbonged again and asked the flight attendant what was going on. She said there was a minor problem, but that it shouldn't affect our trip to Winnipeg. The pressurization then went completely sideways, and our overhead air jets alternated between jet blast and no air at all rapidly. Both Lisa and I were holding our ears and as I looked around, I saw the vast majority of the passengers were also. The flight attendants were all at the front, with the curtain drawn. I haven't felt anything like that before, and I hope to never again. The pressurization was cycling every few seconds, and the heat was alternating between volcanic and non-existent rapidly.

After a few minutes the captain came on the speaker. "Hello folks, we sure hope you are enjoying your flight. We have had a problem with the pressurization, but it's all under control and we'll be arriving in Winnipeg on schedule. I'm sorry about the ear troubles, and we hope you continue to enjoy the flight."

Fair enough. The only problem was that the pressurization continued to cycle very quickly and that our eardrums were in mortal danger. I took a stroll to the back and I saw a flight attendant, a pleasant hispanic woman, holding her ears and crying. No, I'm not kidding.

We continued on like this for about 40 minutes, cruising over the icy fields of Saskatchewan at 10,000'. I wonder what the fuel bill for that leg came to? Eventually we noticed the aircraft in a climb attitude and that the fields were getting somewhat smaller. The F/o came on and said "Everything is under control. We are at 12,000 feet now and the problem has been resolved. Once again, everything is under control."

We started our descent for Winnipeg and landed uneventfully.

The disembarking passengers left the airplane, and as Lisa and I were still scheduled to continue on, I went up front for a quick chat with the flight crew.
I talked to the F/o as the captain was on a cel phone talking to dispatch presumably.

"So. what happened?"

"Well, it was just one of those things. We lost pressurization, so we had to descend. We ran our checklists and couldn't isolate the problem. Then the problem went away. It was just one of those things, a Murphy's Law thing."

"I'm a little concerned that the problem hasn't been looked at. It seems like we are getting ready to leave again. Has maintenance looked at the problem?"

"Yup, he's right here. He said there's nothing wrong with the plane"

The f/o pointed to a guy standing in the cockpit with a flashlight and a reflective vest.

"Has he swapped out any parts?"

"He didn't need to, the problem is gone. It was just one of those Murphy's Law things."

"Ummm. So let me get this straight. The plane has healed itself? If nothing has been done on the airplane, and troubleshooting proved inconclusive, what's to prevent us losing pressurization again?"

"We wouldn't go if it wasn't safe."

His smile was strained and he was done talking to me.

I don't think the flight was delayed by much when we disembarked right then and there, even though it took a few minutes for them to offload our baggage. We were fortunate enough to grab a connecting flight on another carrier home with little effort. I didn't ask for a credit on the unused portion of our JetsGo ticket, as I woouldn't be needing it. Ever again.

Yeah, I fly for a living and I know stuff happens. In and of itself, losing pressurization is no big deal. I also know how important it is to keep the passengers in the loop, but my main point is what I thought was a no-brainer before 2 nights ago. Planes don't heal themselves. Maintenance is more important that keeping a schedule. And you get what you pay for.

Monday, November 20, 2006

This is one of the reasons I was so quiet this past weekend.

Click on the scan to make it big.

Now I get to go to Federal Prison if we blow an audit! :)
Wow, I missed 3 days in a row on my posts. That's a new record. This weekend was great, I saw Lisa and we had a busy couple of days. Today I write an exam at Transport Canada, so wish me luck.

I have to go to Hamilton now to write the exam, so I'll fill up the remaining post space with embarassing photos of me wearing ridiculous headgear.

Okay, the last pic isn't me, it's just some pic I found on the net. But it's disturbing enough that I felt it needed posting ;)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I got the original video from a link through AvCanada.

The original youtube link wouldn't allow embedding, so I ripped it and fixed that.

This seems to be a case of poor risk management for no good reason, though it sure is exciting to watch. If I was the owner of said helicopter, my perspective might be a little different.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It's 9:20 am and I am in Delaware, which is apparently a state and not a city.

There is a nice trough of low pressure sitting in the area, which is serving up generous helpings of low clouds, mist, drizzle, fog and rain. We shot the ILS down to minimums today, fully expecting to go around until the last second when we saw the runway lights. I enjoy the adrenaline of the final few minutes on an ils, when we are genuinely wondering if we'll be able to see the runway or if we'll have to go around and then figure out where to go to next - keep in mind that the nearest airport doesn't necessarily have customs service, and we need customs if we are arriving from Canada.

This next story happened when we were coming back into Pearson one recent afternoon, when the weather was crap. I think it was 400' overcast or so, with a couple of miles visibility in rain. It was my flying leg, and I was lined up with runway 06L in Pearson, riding the ils down. We wanted runway 05 because it's about 2 miles closer to our hangar than 06L, but the controllers were jammed due to the bad weather, and 06L was what we were offered.

Anyway, we set up for the approach and we saw the runway at around 800' above ground, so we relaxed and headed down. We were over the runway lights and the foxy lady who lives in our Ground Proximity Warning System had just called "50 feet". I was pulling the throttles back to idle when the tower said "Pull up and go around immeditately, climb to three thousand and contact approach".

I was in disbelief. "Did she just say go around?"
"But I see the runway and it's clear. Do you see the runway?"
"Ahh crap. Go Around. Set go-around thrust, set flaps to approach"

I pushed the Go-around button on the throttles and pushed them forward. I pitched the nose up and was pressed into my seat when the engines quickly spooled up to 100%, inhaling huge parcels of air and pushing us skyward at a great rate of climb.

We quickly climbed to 3,000' and cleaned up the airplane, then pulled back the throttles so we didn't overspeed. At low altitudes even a little jet such as ours has so much extra power, we have to pull the engines back to around 60% so we don't blow the 250 knot limit below 10,000'.

"Approach, we are on the go-around. Not sure why we are going around, but here we are"
"Yeah, tower was worried you might have been lined up on runway 06R. The visibility was poor and they were departing an aircraft on 06R, so they didn't want to take any chances"

We looked at each other, then looked at the radio frequencies we had dialed in. They were all correctly set. We looked at the magic tablet PC and it too showed us as having been lined up on the correct runway. Had we done something wrong? We both started to second guess what had happened.

"We were lined up with the runway that had the approach lights on, and I'm pretty sure it was 06L"

"The lights are turned off for 06R, the only lights are for 06L"

"We are 100% positive we were correctly aligned"

"I'll pass that along to tower"

So we shot the approach to minimums a second time, and we quadruple-checked our radios and gps and adf and every possible way of determining our location. As we were handed over to tower on the second final, we heard the controller again.

"You are cleared to land. I think that last go-around might have been my mistake. Sorry."

"No worries. Who do we send the bill for fuel to?"

There was silence for a second.

"I'm just kidding ma'am."

"Oh good. I was thinking about how much overtime I'd have to put in"

"I think we'd bother rather you erred on the side of caution. No problem."

She handed us over to ground and that was that.

Hmm, now that I read this, it's not nearly as exciting as it was in my head at the time. I guess I should have put in a disclaimer at the beginning ;)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Not much to write about today; I was in the office and attempted to catch up on paperwork, then organized a trip for tomorrow.

My alarm is set for 4:30 tomorrow morning, so it's time for me to say g'night.

I have a few good stories from today, and a story from my past has been percolating through my brain, so when I have a few minutes tomorrow I'll put 'em online. But not now; now I have to sleep.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The title of this post would be "Mainlining" if I knew how to title my posts ;)

Life has been insanely busy lately.

Yesterday we went to New York, Maryland, Florida, then back to New Jersey. We did 8.0 flight time, a figure I haven't matched for a few years since I flew the sick and elderly from small towns to big towns with accompanying sweet, sweet chemical release. I have grown fat and weak flying corporate, so 8 hours in the air really kicked my ass; fortunately the last 3 hours back to Teterboro was an empty leg so I sat in the back and ate teriyaki salad and napped while my fellow pilot (who was on oxygen, as per CAR regs) aimed us in the general direction of the east coast. Apparently my snores are poundin' like a freight train soundin', but clearly that's false as snoring is a working-class habit and I'm a classy biatch.

But life is good; the purpose behind our flight yesterday was to check out a new plane. A new plane, you say? Yeah, a new plane; a fairly bad-ass corporate jet. More details to follow, assuming everything works out the way I hope.

So here's my current life dilemna - corporate is really interesting to me at the moment, and I see no reason for that to let up. I honestly enjoy the challenge of making the trip work, and making our pax happy no matter the circumstance, like if they show up early or they suddenly decide they want an exotic foodstuff, or they call to tell me they are 2 hours away, then call back 10 minutes later to say they are 5 minutes out (it happened to me last week). Or if they decide they need to make a meeting in a city that's being disassembled by tornadoes. Or whatever.

To be honest, I love it. I love the challenge and I love knowing that I am up to it. Between myself and the little man in my head, we get the job done, and I get immense satisfaction from the feeling of accomplishment that results. It's not just stupid passenger demands, it can be things like scheduling multiple concurrent trips in the most efficient manner while still turning a profit (or at least not a loss) for my parent company, or making it so we still maintain our (currently) hectic flying schedule and find the time to pay our bills, or move to our new location (we are moving to Pearson airport as soon as I find a free day to drag all our stuff from our world HQ to the north end) or planning for a new addition to our aircraft family. Or 2 additions.

That's not the dilemna part though, that's like the job satisfaction part. This is the dilemna: What do I do if Air Canada says they want me to fly for them? The difficulty of this question is that I want you to answer in a certain way; I want you to tell me it's okay to decline AC and stick with corporate because I find it more stimulating. I want to hear that following the path that challenges me is better than the path that will eventually be worth more money, assuming AC still exists in a decade.

Do me a favor and say that it's okay to decline the airlines, even if you don't believe it. Because I think I do.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Testing LSD on British troops. Pretty funny.

Friday, November 10, 2006

We have a tablet PC on board the aircraft which is hooked into our GPS system as well as a WSI weather reporting satellite system.
Here's a quick example of what it can do:

We headed back from a dropoff in New York this morning. It also shows the metars and tafs, and color-codes the reporting stations so we can get a good idea of what the weather is like at a glance.

The little red triangle is us, and the red line behind it is our path, heading back from Teterboro.

Blue = good
Green = okay, marginal vfr
Yellow = not so good, we'll prolly have to do an approach
Red = Cat 1 ILS minimums
Pink = Below Cat 1 ILS mins

It also shows satellite radar and lightning, in addition to a whole pile of cool other things, like pireps, upper winds, and surface winds.

I can tap on the screen and bring up the metars and tafs for any place that reports weather in North America. Here we see Toronto, which has an overcast layer well above our approach minimums, so I know in advance it should be a smooth approach.

You'll notice that the dot on Toronto is Green, which means the weather is decent, but not totally clear. The dots nearby that are blue indicate that the weather there is even better than in Toronto.

You can see the little red triangle that is us on the bottom right corner of the pic.

Now we pan a little further west to check out an area of bad weather. The tablet PC shows us satellite radar with a range that stretches well beyond the capability of our aircraft - we have decent weather radar to about 200 miles, but with this, I can see radar in California if I choose.

Click on the pic to make it bigger. You'll see an area of precipitation with green, yellow and red shades, which changes to blue at the top. The blue indicates frozen precip such as snow and ice pellets, and the green, yellow and red indicate unfrozen precip, such as rain.

In this case, there is a storm system well west of us that is partly rain and partly snow.

Now if you notice, you'll see a pink box just to the left of the green/yellow/red radar image, around the cities marked KALO and KIUN That's a graphical representation of a SIGMET report, which is a report of hazardous weather. It looks like the SIGMET report has lagged a little, as the radar shows the heaviest precipitation just in front of the box.

Now one other thing to note (and you'll have to zoom in on the pic) is just south of KBDQ and where it says Sigmet 8C, and also south-west of the pink SIGMET box, you'll see about 4 white dots. Those are lightning strikes, so we know this is a storm system to be avoided.

If I'm flying along and I see an area of heavy precip, it might just be rain, but if I see the white dots in it that indicate lightning, then I know it's bad-ass and I will have nothing to do with it.

Now if I tap on the SIGMET box, it will bring up a field that lists exactly what the sigmet is. In this case, it talks about an area of thunderstorms moving from the west at about 40 miles an hour. The tops of the thunderstorms are at around 40,000 feet, but most of the tops are below 35,000 feet. In this case it's possible that we could climb above the entire weather system and fly over it with no harm, so if I was headed in that direction, I'd consider that option instead of diverting around it.

This system cost $15,000 installed, and it's worth it's weight in gold. For a relatively low cost, I have instant access to all the weather across North America. So when we depart the Bahamas for a 4 hour flight to Toronto, I can monitor the weather in Toronto frequently, and if I see storm systems moving in, or fog, or whatever, I can plan my course of action well in advance.

I really can't say enough good things about it.

This is the second function of our tablet PC, it will display a Jepp approach chart and then the GPS will overlay our aircraft position on it. It's awesome as a backup to make sure we are in the general vicinity of where we should be. If I'm in an unfamiliar airport I can also bring up the airport diagram and it'll show our position on the field, so I can make sure I'm taxiing in the right direction.
Turn off the sound, it's staticky as hell.

In this clip, we are crossing over Toronto, heading for a downwind left for an ILS approach onto Runway 5. You'll notice the computer draws a line ahead of the aircraft that predicts our track across the ground. This is very useful to see where exactly we are going to cross our final approach course.

We don't use this as a primary instrument, our ILS navigation system is still the #1 thing we refer to, but as you can see, it is a great backup to give us situational awareness and a graphical representation of exactly where the airplane is with reference to the airport.

Here's the last 6 minutes of my flight into Pearson yesterday morning. Turn off the sound.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My first solo:

I'm in a 152, approaching 15 hours total time...

Hmm, circuits are going well. I haven't bent the wingspar for at least 3 landings. Now if only I could get over my crippling fear of heights, I'd be set. The guy sitting next to me is saying something, so I'd best smile and nod. On final, I'll try to flare this time. Ahh, that was a nice touchdown, I bet I looked exactly like Tom Cruise if he flew a 152. Wait a minute, what did he just say? Let him out here? But we are in the middle of the runway. Umm, okay. I'll just shut down the airplane then. No?

Sweet zombie jebus, I'm alone in the airplane. Aight, remember the basics. Do I need carb heat on takeoff?! Push the red knob forward and steer with my feet. Ahh there I go, I'm already up to 20 knots. Now 30! This thing is a monster! 60 knots now, so I think I'm supposed to pull back. Yup, that did the trick, I'm now airborne and all alone! This is sa-weet! I now have the power of life and death over all those puny mortals walking and driving their cars below me! Wait, I'm supposed to do something now.

//(high-pitched, squeaky voice) "Zulu Charlie Tango, downwind for a full-stop, cleared to land"

Wait, was I supposed to say that last part? Whatever, I'm flying solo! Aight, I should do the downwind checklist 'cause this thing is pretty damn fast and it's a handful to fly, and I don't want to get behind the airplane at a critical moment. carb heat on, rpm back to 1,700. Aight, I'm set up for landing. I think I'll land without flaps, I don't want to overload myself. Damn, this runway is small. When I fly a jet I hope I don't have to land on any puny 8,000' ones like this, I'll go off the end for sure. Aight, here I go. All alone, I'm going to pull this off. The runway is coming up fast fast fast, I can barely react in time.

Nice, I think I only bounced once! The instructor said I should taxi in after one circuit, and I agree. I'm exhausted! Aight, here's the ramp area, so I guess I'll shut 'er down and walk in. I won't forget the parking brake this time.

Hey guys, thanks for having the confidence in me to let me go solo! Sure, I'll stand outside to get my picture taken. Captain Sully at your service! You want me to slowly back up against this wall while you get your camera in focus? Certainly, I'll think of a nice pose for the....egad! I can't breathe, icy cold water is all over me. Wtf? Oh, nice one guys. The old "bucket of cold water dropped from the hangar roof" trick. Ahh, what do I care. I may be damp, but I'm a 152 Captain!

18 years later, I can still remember it in minute detail.

So tell me about yours...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Boeing 777 loses a stove just after take-off at Sweden's Stockholm Arlanda airport a couple of days ago.

Click on the pic for the bigger version - you can see engine pieces falling out the back.

It climbed to 8,000 feet and dumped 120,000 lbs of fuel before returning for landing. At the price we pay for fuel, that's about $70,000 worth of gas.

The 777 has been plagued with engine problems and failures, which appear to relate to the Rolls-Royce Trent engine degrading faster than expected over time.

My Citation II uses Pratt and Whitney engines :)

Monday, November 06, 2006

I was thinking today about how as my career progresses, certain things about the actual airplanes get easier. The big secret about corporate jets is they are really easy to fly. And to start.

Here are a few aircraft starting procedures, in order of my career progression.

To start a Cessna 152 or 172, I would make sure the fuel mixture was set to "rich", then turn the key in the ignition until the engine fired up. If the engine was cold, sometimes I'd add a little primer, which is essentially pushing on a little lever to pump a wee bit of raw gas into the engine.


The Beech Baron was fuel-injected. To start a Beech Baron, I'd make sure the fuel mixtures were set to "rich", then turn on the boost pumps for a few seconds, then turn the magneto switches to the "start" position until the engine caught. The engines would usually catch right away, which was good because if they didn't, sometimes the fuel pumped out by the boost pumps would drip out and form a big puddle of gasoline right under the engines, which seemed a little dangerous to me.


I kind of forget how to start a Navajo, but I think it was pretty much the same except that the throttles would be set to full throttle, the fuel mixtures would be in the "Cut-off" position, and as soon as the engine caught a little, I'd advance the mixtures to the "full rich" position while simultaneously pulling back on the throttle. I think. I'll be honest; I wasn't very good at starting the Navajos, especially when they were hot. I can remember more than 1 huge cloud of smoke billowing out the back of the engines as I sat on the ramp, draining the battery and causing the engine to backfire so hard I worried the exhaust system would blow off.


Starting the MU-2 was considerably more exciting. I had it written down for posterity, and I have reproduced it here:

1. Place your right hand on the condition lever in case it all goes to hell and you need to move it to "emergency stop". If you move your right hand at all during the process, you will be killed by the most senior pilot. If that's you, you are expected to commit suicide.
2. Take your left hand, and press the starter button, holding onto it until you get light-off, which is indicated by a rise in EGT and fine beads of sweat forming on your forehead.
3. Using your your third hand, hold the unfeathering pump button until the engine reaches roughly 40% and passes the NTS test.
4. Take your tail and use it to hold the fuel enrich button from start to light-off, then tap the fuel enrich button if the engine starts to hang, making sure you don't overtemp it in the process.
5. Take your left foot and use it to flick the batteries from parallel to series if the engine isn't accelerating quickly enough. Dont flick the switch the wrong way though, or you'll shear the starter motor, which is considered a 'bad thing' by most AME's.

You were expected to do all this simultaneously, and to also monitor critical engine parameters. If you messed up the order of any of these steps, or if you used the wrong appendages to do this, expect the engine to promptly melt, and you to enjoy a very, very extended holiday from work.


And now it's back to easy street. In the Citation II, to start the engines I have the throttles in the "cut-off position". I press the big white "start" button on the engine I want, and then I watch the rpm increase. When the rpm gets to around 10%, I move the throttle forward to the "Idle" position. When I do that, fuel is introduced into the engine, which turns and burns and quickly settles into a relaxed idle, terminating the start sequence. That's it.

I have never had an engine catch on fire while starting it, and I'm happy about that. I think it might also be due to the fact that I have never started a radial-engined aircraft. That's one regret I have in aviation but I can live without it in exchange for the simplicity and safety of my current setup.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

This video takes data of all the US flights over a 24-hour period and plots them in increasingly abstract ways. It's pretty cool.

A higher resolution movie can be found here:

Saturday, November 04, 2006

In February 2004 when I was flying the MU-2, the pager went off late one night. This night's duties involved taking a young woman Form 1 patient, a nurse and a cop escort from a small town to a psych center in a larger city. Form 1 is involuntary committal. According to our medic, she was psychotic, homicidal and suicidal, practically the full buffet of mental horrors. She had a psychotic break, and was currently crazy.

We landed and the ambulance pulled up, along with an RCMP cruiser.

Our patient was in her early twenties and very, very beautiful, which I was not expecting. We didn't get a whole lot of beautiful people on board; the various illnesses and accidents our patients suffered from usually meant they didn't look their best. She was different. Her eyes were swollen and red from crying, but she was stunningly gorgeous and had cheekbones to die for. No, I certainly wasn't perving on her, but it was impossible to ignore.

The police escort introduced himself and said the patient had been combative previously, and to not take any chances with safety. I agreed with him, then I told the cop to leave his pepper spray behind, and take his bullets out of his Glock and give them to me to carry for the flight. Just following the Air Ambulance act. The powers that be had decided it would be bad publicity if a firearm discharged during an ambulance flight, especially if it actually hit someone or an engine or fuel tank. He grumbled, then complied and I took his bullets. A clip of bullets is a lot heavier than I thought it would be. I guess they had a lot of action in the small town we were at, as he had 3 clips on him. I don't like guns. Even the bullets alone felt dangerous in my pocket, like a bag full of uncapped syringes or a box of snakes.

As we attempted to get the patient to walk from the ambulance to the airplane, she latched onto the side of the ambulance door and wouldn't let go. The cop and nurse talked slowly and gently to her, reassuring her she would be okay, even as they were prying her hands open. Once she was detached, she then had to be physically carried to the airplane as she refused to walk on her own. She didn't scream, but she was sobbing nonstop and the tears were rolling down her face like a river. The front of her sweatshirt was actually soaked. We placed her on a stretcher, then loaded her onto the airplane. As soon as she was loaded on board, she got a hand free and started working on the emergency exit window, right in front of us. That didn't last long, and soon she was strapped down tightly, with her hands both tied to the stretcher rails, and an extra dose of ativan in her bloodstream.

She moaned once, then was silent for the rest of the flight. "I just want to have my baby!"

I asked the medic and he whispered through his headset "She is convinced she's having Jesus Christ's child, though the pregnancy test is negative. She didn't take it very well when the nurse at the nursing station told her she wasn't pregnant"

The rest of the flight was uneventful, our patient didn't struggle or cause a fuss, I'm guessing mostly thanks to the Ativan the medic had immediately injected into her. After we landed, she again had to be carried from the aircraft and into the ambulance and the tears were still streaming down her face. I felt sorry for her; no one deserves to be that sad about anything, even if it was a chemical imbalance or whatever.

We waited for the cop and nurse to return, then flew them back to their town. Then we flew home, silent.

One of the nice things about flying medevac is that sometimes I genuinely felt like I was helping other people. I felt good taking people to the doctor when I knew they were going to get fixed up and be ready for more punishment soon. Broken legs were nice like that, even angioplasty, where they unclog a person's heart valves. Pregnant mothers were awesome for the warm fuzzies.

And then some people I know were beyond help, like the occasional person we took home to die, or the patient we had that night. According to our medic's charts, she had a long history of extreme mental illness and drug abuse and I understand that she won't ever be okay. It's a funny world; some people are doomed to be lost and alone even more than the rest of us.

When I got home after that flight I called Lisa at 3am and told her how much I loved her. She was half-asleep but she wasn't angry I had called and she said she loved me back, and that made me feel okay. Then I went to bed and slept a deep, dreamless sleep.
I saw Borat with Lisa last night. It lived up to the hype; it was one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. Note that on it's currently at a 96% positive rating, which is pretty-much unheard of.

That being said, it has lots of cussing, more male nudity than Jackass 2 did, and it features one HELL of a long, vigorous teabag scene. But it was hilarious, and very smart. He isn't mean-spirited at all, but he succeeds in creating really biting satire and social commentary, and I haven't seen that combination very much previously.

Go see it tonight.

Friday, November 03, 2006

This is an, ahem, short story.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I appreciate those members of our society who smoke cigarettes; they were responsible for the vast majority of the medevacs I flew. There was one smoking-related medevac I did that stuck in my mind though.

We did a medevac flight one night in the MU-2, bringing a new-born boy and his teenage mother from Toronto up to Sault St. Marie.

I asked our medic what was wrong with the week-old boy.

"His mother smoked during pregnancy and he has a micro-penis, so they are going to see a specialist and try to find out if they can grow it. The nearest specialist who deals with this is in Sault, so that's why we are heading there."

Poor little bugger, talk about having the deck stacked against you.

For the rest of the flight, from time to time I'd turn around and scowl at the mother. She seemed oblivious; she was probably jonesing for a cigarette.

So my question is: How small does it have to be in a week-old boy in order to justify a night medevac flight to see a specialist? It's a rhetorical question, I really don't want to know the answer.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gratuitous airplane pic!

Today was a New York trip - the weather was perfect except for a 120 knot wind which caused a few bumps in both directions. When we landed back in Toronto, it started to snow and by the time I made it home from the airport, there was a mini-blizzard going on. It's cleared now, but I was happy and sad that I have seen the first of this year's snow.

In other news:

I have been jogging every day and so far I have lost a pound. Hey, it's a start. I tell you though, it nearly killed me to go for breakfast in New York today and have a fruit salad with unbuttered toast and a mug of green tea. But it's worth it if I get to dress in a bear suit for my wedding.

Now to the point of today's post:

I did the return leg to Toronto this afternoon, and as we came in to land it was really windy and gusty. In fact, we got a taste of windshear - nothing too skeery, we just lost about 15 knots of airspeed on short final approach but I had already added 10 knots onto our normal approach speed due to the gusty winds, so it wasn't a huge deal and we weren't even close to stalling the plane or anything. As I watched the speed drop, I pushed the throttles forward in order to get more power from the engines, and after a couple of seconds they spooled up and gave me an extra boost, so I was able to make up the 10 knots of speed I lost in very short order. And I must say I had a sweet landing, even though it was in a 60 degree cross-wind of 12 knots, gusting to 28 knots. Hey, I get lucky once in a while :)

It was interesting though; in a piston engine or in a turboprop like the MU-2 (not in all turboprops though), the pilot has nearly instant access to engine power. If they need it, they just push the throttles forward and the engines will respond immediately.

In a jet, there is a bit of lag between the time you ask the engines for power and the time they actually deliver it - in our plane it seems to be a couple of seconds or so, and I have to take that into account when planning a difficult arrival. The lag is a result of the engines having to speed up considerably. In the MU-2 turboprop I flew, the engines essentially ran flat-out all the time, so power was constantly being generated, but in my jet, when I am close to landing, I will typically use a power setting of only 60% of the maximum engine speed. In a piston engine it's only a matter of a thousand rpm or so between a low power setting and a high power setting, but in a jet it's a matter of going from 20,000 rpm to 35,000 rpm and it just takes longer to do that.

End result: I have to anticipate some problems before they occur and be ready to deal with them very quickly, otherwise I could find myself needing power from the engines sooner than they are able to deliver it.

So I guess I have to pay attention.

And that's what I thought about today :)