Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Things have been quiet on the blogosphere for me lately - we have 3 audits coming up in the next 3 weeks. We want to make a good impression on our inspectors, so Kitsch and I are polishing up our office desks, chroming our flight envelopes, buffing and waxing our approach charts and so forth.

Every Tuesday night, a pile of pilots from the corporate / charter niche in Toronto meet a pub by Pearson to swap stories and gossip. Last night was such an evening, and it was a good time as always. If you happen to be on an overnight in Toronto on a Tuesday, drop me an email and I'd be happy to provide specifics. Anyone is welcome as long as you don't mind sitting with a bunch of people who drink beer and talk about airplanes all night long.

Some interesting and good (as opposed to interesting and bad, like discovering that the strange rash you got yesterday has doubled in size) developments are coming up soon also; I'm trying to figure out how to post about them without revealing any possibly confidential details. Once I figure an angle, you'll be the first to know.

While I'm contemplating that, here is a huge list of spoilers for you, courtesy of Wired

Don't read these, they ruin everything :)

* Vader is Luke's dad -- The Empire Strikes Back
* Rosebud was his sled -- Citizen Kane
* She's her sister and her daughter -- Chinatown
* Norman is the killer (in drag) -- Psycho
* Verbal is Keyser Sze -- The Usual Suspects
* Doc is dead -- The Sixth Sense
* Earth, in the future -- Planet of the Apes
* Dog gets put down -- Old Yeller
* Soylent Green is people! -- Soylent Green
* He dumps her -- Gone With the Wind
* Life is a simulation (whoa) -- The Matrix
* Husband is in on it -- Rosemary's Baby
* She is a he -- The Crying Game
* Dave disconnects HAL -- 2001: A Space Odyssey
* Split personality -- Fight Club
* Citizens paint town red -- High Plains Drifter
* Wife's head in box -- Se7en
* Maggie shot Mr. Burns -- The Simpsons
* Mistress shot J. R. -- Dallas
* Laura Palmer's father did it -- Twin Peaks
* Double suicide -- Romeo and Juliet
* 42 -- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
* Boys are rescued -- Lord of the Flies
* Whale destroys boat, lives -- Moby-Dick
* Shark destroys boat, killed -- Jaws
* He buries himself -- The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
* Gatsby is murdered -- The Great Gatsby
* A-P-P-L-E -- The Da Vinci Code
* John commits suicide -- Brave New World
* Burned books are memorized -- Fahrenheit 451
* Mark Felt is Deep Throat -- Watergate
* Greek soldiers in horse -- The Trojan War
* Samus Aran is a woman -- Metroid
* Prisoner is saved -- The Pit and the Pendulum
* She's an actress -- Lonelygirl15
* They're all in on it -- Murder on the Orient Express
* There is no Santa -- Christmas

Sunday, February 25, 2007

the events of a previous post related from the newbie's perspective...

“Why are we going so slow?”

The question is rhetorical. There is no gear or flap hanging off the wings, nor is there any speed-robbing ice covering our airframe. I pretend not to have heard Sully’s question.

“What?” I reply hoping to buy myself some time to fumble around for an answer for my new boss. Considering this is the fastest I’ve ever flown while commanding an aircraft I don’t really have a good answer. The question bounces around my brain like a grain of hail in a thunderstorm picking up more and more and more ice until it finally flies out of the cloud under the inertia of its own weight.

“Why are we going so slow?”

The hail dribbles out miserably…

“Uhh, sorry...old habits.”

I grab a handful of power levers and advance them precisely one metric micron. We are presently a mile over the earth’s surface hurtling towards our destination airport at a frightening rate. “Going… so…. slow,” echoes in my head as the miles go by. Slow!?

It’s all relative.

Hitherto, I have made quite a humble living residing in the bottom half of the velocity spectrum known as the speed of sound. I was quite comfortable there but today I am pushed into the deep end of the scale. A stranger in a strange land! I ease the power up yet another smidgen; the action is devoid of resolve and not entirely unlike nudging away a foul smelling pair of old shoes. We tear through the air propelled by the round apparatus attached on either side of our airplane. Having flown only propeller-driven aircraft to date, it is a curious circumstance for me to reconcile…these two contained mini stars- collections of fire and fuel combining in mania which are able to propel us to speeds faster than I’ve been able to fly at before.

This plane has precisely double the number the engines of the ones I’ve previously flown, carries twice the fuel and flies at twice the altitude my previous one frequented …strangely, the paycheque here hasn’t doubled (a work in progress). When is the last time you doubled your threshold for anything? Was able to jump twice as high? Type twice as fast? Eat twice as much? See twice as far? It’s a big bite that’s doesn’t go down so easily. Imagine having your shoe size double overnight, then going to a dance competition, then having an examiner watch over your shoulder waiting for you to stumble so that he can amputate your feet when you mess up. Enjoy your new shoes.

Well…that may be a bit melodramatic but on this flight there is presently a Transport Canada inspector seated approximately one license-tearing-arm’s length away from me observing as I fling us through the air. He could, conceivably, revoke my flying privileges if I did manage to botch this flight up enough. And this flight is not an entirely benign proposition- since departing there have been simulated engine failures, emergency procedures and a gamut of other exercises that make pilots awake in the night drenched in cold sweats. These are required maneuvers because it is my first flight after obtaining a jet type rating. Thankfully, mostly due to Sulako’s help in the other seat, the flight has been quite enjoyable. As the non-flying crew member he is the one required to do most of the grunt work during these scenarios. He tunes the radios, coordinates with ATC, runs the emergency checklists, and briefs me on everything so the only thing I am left with is steering the ship. Engine failures be damned, it’s not everyday you get to strap on a jet, bore holes in the sky and make all sorts of noise plainly to see if you can do it.

And the truth is…I’m loving every minute of it.

I’ve spent the past two weeks piling on layers of systems knowledge into my meager brain; motive flow bypass valves, thrust reverser isolation solenoids, low pressure sensing switches, current limiter values and lions and tigers and bears oh my. My cranium sags under the weight of its new occupants like wet laundry on a clothes line. They say these courses are akin to trying to drink from a firehose and my experience hasn’t been too far off. You spend five, ten-hour days hoovering up systems information, then you spend the remaining six days living in the full motion simulator doing your best to keep yourself alive as the instructors assail you with malfunction after malfunction. In all honesty I didn’t find the sim to be terribly challenging. It’s a matter of your brain firing synapses in order to move a variety of muscles a varying amount so as to manipulate the needles on the dials move a corresponding value; a largely clinical and detached experience. Flying the real plane, though, is several magnitudes more…visceral. The truth is I feel like this jet is an appendage of my body. A seven tonne, kerosene-powered, multi-million dollar aluminum phalange that happens to propel us to the edges of the stratosphere, mind you, but an extension of the body all the same. I don’t so much conceive to put more feet on the face of the altimeter by way of increasing the pitch angle to facilitate an increase in magnitude of the lift vector so much as- think it. Think up. Whoosh! Pinch me. I haven’t touched the autopilot because having too good a time and couldn’t bear to be so far removed from the actual experience. With this much power at one’s fingertips one cannot help but smile. I’m stirred from my little reverie when Sulako’s voice crackles through my headset.

“Why are we going so slow?”

The old adage is that “it all looks the same out the front”. Whether flying a small Cessna or a Boeing or the Concorde (RIP) the reductionist in me can’t help but reconcile that it is just a matter of numbers on a dial. I open the taps up a bit more and the numbers on the dials respond accordingly. We accelerate and the airplane doesn’t seem to care. Nary a shudder or thud as evidence of our speed. All it does, unfortunately, is get us back to base and on the ground…sooner. It’s only on the ground, after the hand shakes and congratulations I reconcile that this is what all the work, sweat and study to get to this point has been all about. And I don’t mean me getting to fly high and fast in a jet; I mean the decades of development and technological progress simply to get people where they’re going…sooner. But when given the means to travel faster all I wanted to do was slow down and relish every minute. Roses are hard to smell when you’re covering ten miles a minute.

“Why are we going so slow?”

In a lot of ways, these days we’re going too fast.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A really cool video of the Space Shuttle Mission STS-116, landing on Dec 22, 2006.

The last couple of minutes are the most interesting to me - you can see the heads-up display that the shuttle pilot is using. On the left side, you see airspeed, and on the right side you see altitude, measured in thousands of feet. Watch how fast the altitude unwinds; I count about 1,000 feet descent every 6 seconds, which works out to 10,000 fpm in the descent. The shuttle doesn't have jet engines, so on re-entry it is a glider with no chance of a go-around if the pilot screws up the approach.

I'd like to welcome Jennifer and kitsch:in:sync to the blog; they have graciously accepted my invitations to post here any time they wish. I am excited to share in their flying experiences and their thoughts and opinions on aviation and life.

I'll leave it to them to talk further about their backgrounds if they so choose.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I have listened to this song a half dozen times today and I'm still going strong.

A 'real' post coming up soon...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The mile high club evokes a certain something-something. Most pilots have attempted to join the club at one time or other, but I suspect that most have found that the reality is a lot less glamorous and a lot more clumsy than the movies suggest.

The founder of the mile high club is considered to be Lawrence Sperry. Notice the last name? That's right, he's the same guy who invented the aircraft autopilot in 1914. It's a hell of a coincidence eh ;) He put his autopilot to 'practical' use pretty soon after he invented it, but before (pardon the pun) all the kinks were worked out; in 1916 he reportedly was having sex with a woman aboard his flying boat over New York when the airplane flew into the water. Fortunately neither him nor his guest were injured, and they lived to fly another day.

Unfortunately, joining the club can be deadly if you insist on sitting up front.

A fatal accident occured in Florida in 1991, and an excerpt from the NTSB report clues us into what was going on in the cockpit.


The cause was listed as:


I guess if you have to go, you might as well go doing what you love.

For those who would prefer a lower-risk approach, there are lots of charter companies that offer specific mile high club flights, and I am pleased to see that Canada is represented on the list.

A typical listing goes like this:

"For only $299.00 plus applicable taxes and fees,
Visa, Mastercard, and American Express accepted.

Package Includes:

* 1 Hour Flight
* Private Curtained Aircraft
* Champagne
* Chocolates

As an aside, I think the worst job in the world would be the person who has to steam-clean the aircraft carpets after such a flight.

More recently, actor Ralph Fiennes had a tryst with a flight attendant aboard a Qantas flight about a week and a half ago, using the lavatory in business class in an even messier manner than the designers had intended. The flight attendant says they had a passionate, unprotected encounter, while Ralph has remained silent on the matter. The f/a was on duty at the time and Qantas promptly fired her for it. For Ralph's part, he was heading to Mumbai to promote AIDS awareness. Is that ironic or is he just a dumbass? I can't tell.

I wrote this as I look back at my logbook to an entry marked September 21st 1990 in a Piper Archer, which was incidentally the first plane I flew with a working autopilot. And no, I'm not saying whether I logged dual or solo on that flight ;)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Check out this hi-res video of a Cessna 182 accidentally landing with the gear up.

I saw this on FL350 and contacted the videographer, Paul Wingo, to get written permission to upload it to YouTube as FL350 doesn't allow video embedding and they have all sorts of scary warnings about how they'll sue the pants off anyone who uploads videos from their site to Youtube or Myspace etc. I repeat, I have written permission from the author, Paul Wingo, to upload this.

This is what Paul said about the flight:

"There was a snow storm approaching in about an hour and we were doing a check ride. Because of possible ice, we had been flying with the gear down the entire time. We started doing touch and goes after a while. Habit when you take off is to raise the gear. This is what happened. So, when we come around, they were conversing and what not and simply forgot the gear was up."

I'm not gonna criticize the pilots at all, because if I do, I am guaranteeing that I'll forget to put the gear down on my next flight.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

This is a boring story, but it's what we did today.

We have hired a new pilot for our flight operation, and he completed his Citation 550 training course last Friday at FlightSafety in Toledo. His ride went well, thank Jebus, and the Transport inspector who conducted it said he was very impressed with our new pilot. however, as it's his first jet type rating, Transport said we had to do some training in the actual airplane before they would sign off on his PPC.

So that's what we did this morning, and it was pretty cool. Our Transport inspector expressed an interest in riding along for the airborne training, so the three of us hopped aboard one of our jets and got ready to blast off for an airport 40 miles away. I sat in the right seat, our new pilot sat in the left, and our Transport guy sat on the divan just behind us, with a headset splitter so we could all chat. I showed the new guy some of my techniques, like using the thrust reversers to slow the jet while taxiing rather than riding the brakes, and we agreed that it put less wear on the airplane, and that taxiing with our buckets our probably looked really cool to anyone who happened to be watching us.

//The thrust reversers in our airplane are essentially big pieces of metal that pop out of the engines and change the direction of our jet thrust. The engines don't stop and start spinning backwards or anything, it just changes the direction of the engine airflow toward the front of the airplane rather than the back of the airplane, which helps us to slow down when we land//

The skies were hazy but the weather was good otherwise, and I got to stare out the side windows as we covered the 40 miles to our destination in less than 9 minutes. We set up for an ILS approach, which the new guy did perfectly, and landed with a full-stop. Years ago I used to see Canadian Airlines 737 aircraft conducting training at this airport and they would do touch and goes, but our aircraft checklists really aren't set up for that so we finished each landing as a full stop.

Besides, we weren't in a rush or anything. Trying to rush through training is pretty counterproductive in a number of ways - the person receiving the training might get overloaded and not learn as much, and it also increases the chances of missing an important item on the checklist. I don't know about you, gentle reader, but I would feel pretty stupid if I forgot to put the gear down before landing, or if I tried to takeoff with full flaps because I was in a hurry to get onto the next exercise.

We turned around and launched off a different runway to get some experience with crosswinds, and as we leveled off and the new pilot set up for a localizer approach, I pulled one of the throttles back to flight idle, saying "pretend engine failure!", just so there was no mistaking my intentions. He did the memory items, and I told him the engine was toast, so we went through the shutdown checklist, simulating the various actions we would be taking. The new guy came in for a simulated single-engine landing, which was also uneventful. We both noted that a single-engine approach really doesn't require much more power than a dual-engine approach, and noted that operating single-engine in our jet is really not a big deal at all.

We touched down, stopped, configured the jet back to a normal setup, and launched off for a final time, heading about 20 miles away for some airwork. We set up the plane in the take-off configuration at 5,500' and the new guy pulled the throttles back to idle. We slowed, and once we were at 120 knots or so, we simulated a take-off. I pushed the throttles to take-off thrust, and after a second or two, I pulled one of them back in an effort to simulate an engine failure on take-off. The new guy handled that just fine also, and we climbed on one engine to 6,500'.

Man I love our little 550's. Even on one engine, we have enough thrust to climb at a fairly great rate, and engine failures are a real non-event. They are a lot easier than in a propellor aircraft as we don't have to feather any propellors, and we only have 1 lever per engine to worry about.

I gave the new guy back the second engine, and we headed home to Pearson. We got in line and were vectored for an ILS approach, which was also uneventful. We landed, and that was that - the Transport guy said he was satisfied that the new guy had his act together and was unlikely to accidentally put the jet into a farmer's field somewhere. He shook our hands and buggered off, leaving us to put the plane to bed.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Scroll down below this post for today's 'real' post...

Sully's Top Songs Of The Moment, with streaming goodness.

Special thanks to my friend MagicMaker for turning me on to Radioblog, which is a pretty cool site indeed - type in the name of an artist or song you like, and it will hook you up with similar artists, which is a great way to discover new tunes. Radioblog will let me make up an entire playlist and embed it, but I chose to split the songs up individually.

Tool - Lateralus, from the album by the same name. Tool is like math-metal, but what really gets me is Maynard James Keenan's voice. Simply amazing.

Skinny Puppy - Testure, from the album VIVIsectVI. Based in Vancouver, they are among the godfathers of Industrial / Gothic music. At least they were until one of the keyboard players overdosed in his parents bathroom a decade ago. Still my fav band; I have tattoos of their artwork.

Consolidated - The Sexual Politics of Meat. Consolidated were a hip-hop group composed of white folks. The twist is they are as far to the political left as humanly possible on every single topic they write about. Listen to this song to see what I mean. I mean, I'm fairly left-wing, but they are completely over-the-top, and I enjoy feeling like Rush Limbaugh when I listen to them. This song ain't their finest, but it's the best one I could find on this streaming service so it will have to do.

Nine Inch Nails - Just Like You Imagined. Good hard industrial / electronica from one of the grand masters of the genre. This song is also featured in the trailer for the upcoming movie "300".

Tupac Shakur - Changes. I sort of hate rap music, but this one has some pretty great lyrics, and the main riff is taken from a Bruce Hornsby song that everyone over the age of 25 has heard before. When Tupac was murdered, a particularly bright light was extinguished.

Delerium - Silence. This is another group based in Vancouver, and this song has Sarah McLachlan on vocals. It's ambient electronica, suitable for driving or maybe cleaning the house to. My fav song by them is "Flowers Become Screens" but I can't find it on the streamer, so this is the next-best thang.

Gary Jules - Mad World. You've probably heard this on tv in an ad for an Xbox360 game called Gears of War, or maybe in the soundtrack to the movie Donnie Darko. This is a cover of the original Tears For Fears song, and I'm not sick of it yet. The rest of Gary Jule's stuff sounds nothing like this, so before getting his full CD you might wanna have a listen to his other stuff.

Massive Attack - Angel. A British electronica band that's been around forever. Another one of their songs, Teardrop, is the theme song to the tv show "House". I like this song better.

Tool - The Grudge. Yeah, Lateralus is already at the top of my list, but Tool is good enough to have 2 mentions. That voice...

and lastly...

(dis?)honorable mention: Justin Timberlake - What Goes Around Comes Around. Yeah, I'm embarassed to even say I have heard his stuff, but this track is pretty good even though he really should have gotten over Britney by now.

Part of the cockpit panel of an MU-2 I used to fly.

Pressure to do a flight is pretty common in aviation. When you are working for a charter company, if you don't do the flight, you don't get paid. I am incredibly fortunate that my current situation as a corporate pilot allows me to focus on safety more than some other jobs might, and I have had absolutely zero pressure to complete flights when anything indicates that it might not be safe to do so. The people at my parent company who board my jet really 'get', at a fundamental level, that there are no situations where it's acceptable to risk safety to complete a trip in bad weather or with a broken airplane. Meetings can be rescheduled, and the weather will usually be better in a day or two.

But in some niches of aviation, some flights can actually be life-and-death. If a person is really sick and stuck in a northern community with no road access, the stakes are a little higher for them, and the pressure increases on the flight crew to do the trip. When I flew medevacs and the Captain got a phone call from MEDCOM to do a trip, the Captain wouldn't be provided any information on the condition of the patient which theoretically was supposed to reduce the pressure on the Captain to complete the trip - for all they know it could be a broken leg instead of an unstable heart condition, and they were told to concentrate on the weather conditions rather than how the person in the back might be doing.

That's great, except that we hardly did any medevac flights for broken legs, but we did a whole lot of heart patients. The patient would usually have to be fairly time-critical before the health care system could justify spending thousands of dollars on sending a turboprop aircraft on a trip just to collect them. So even though we didn't know the details of the patient until after the Captain accepted the trip, it was generally assumed that a long delay in pickup might affect the outcome for the patient. The dispatchers at MEDCOM had to report to their superiors too, and I imagine they felt some pressure also.

Now before I launch into my stories, I want to say that my experience with MEDCOM has been overwhelmingly positive. The people who work there are professionals and do a great job under difficult circumstances. Like anyone though, sometimes pressure causes us to do things we might not otherwise do.

I also want to say that in relating this next story, keep in mind that I wasn't actually there for the events described, so treat it like a rumor instead of fact.

My roommate's partner is a flight paramedic and she over here a while back. She mentioned that one of her airplane Captains, who was a new hire and fairly 'fresh' on the aircraft, had gotten a call from MEDCOM. MEDCOM was/is Ontario's centralized dispatch service for all medevac flights. They asked him to do a flight to a northern strip. MEDCOM had previously called another company to do the flight, and they had attempted to land at the destination airport to pick up the patient but hadn't been able to see the destination runway due to the low clouds and bad visibility. They tried twice but eventually had to return to their home base, unsuccessful. MEDCOM had promptly called the Captain for this paramedic's company and asked him if he would try to get into the airport. When the Captain mentioned that he knew another plane had tried to land and failed, MEDCOM said they figured that as this Captain was relatively inexeperienced, they thought he might be able to get in where the previous, experienced crew had failed.

Think about that for a second.

It reminded me of a story that I was there for...

I was in Timmins, Ontario in March 2004, flying the MU-2.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and it was only -5c or so, which is positively tropical for winter in northern Ontario. A hundred miles north, it was an entirely different situation; there were multiple low pressure regions over the northern edge of the province, bringing low cloud, high winds, snow, and most importantly, freezing rain.

We were at the Broadway cafe for breakfast with a group of other pilots from another medevac carrier when another pilot's phone rang. It was MEDCOM. They asked him to weather-check a trip up to Attawapiskat, then to Moosonee. We munched on eggs and bacon while the other Captain called Canada Flight Service and got a weather briefing.

It was as he suspected; lots of freezing rain was predicted along the entire route of flight, and there had already been a couple of pilot reports confirming the predictions.

Very few aircraft can handle heavy freezing rain - perhaps some military jets, but that's about it - not even large airliners will knowingly fly into an area of freezing rain. It can easily coat the flying surfaces of the aircraft too quickly for the on-board anti-icing systems to cope, screwing up the airflow over the wings and tail, and in extreme cases, causing the aircraft to stop flying. That's a bad thing if you happen to be airborne at the time.

Anyway, the captain called MEDCOM back and said that due to the freezing rain along the entire route of flight, it was unsafe to even attempt a trip at the moment, and that the conditions were expected to last at least another 18 hours. He said thanks but no thanks, and hung up.

We continued our breakfast and story-telling.

Five minutes later, my Captain's phone rang. It was MEDCOM, asking him if he wanted to do the same trip. My Captain's eyes widened.

"Did you call another company to do this trip already?"

muffled voice on his phone.

"And did they tell you it wasn't going to be doable for the next 18 hours due to heavy freezing rain?"

again, a muffled voice.

"So if it wasn't safe for them, what makes you think it would be safe for us?"

I didn't hear a reply.

"I'm declining the trip for the next 18 hours. If you still need us then, call us and we'll be happy to re-check the weather"

He hung up and we talked for a while about what might have happened if an unwary, eager Captain hadn't checked the route before accepting the trip. Then we left, walking to our cars and soaking up the sunshine.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

When I flew medevacs on the MU-2 and we had an especially gooey, infectious patient, we would have to wear the gown, gloves and mask while flying. During the SARS scare of Summer 2003 in Ontario, we had to suit up for all our patients. If a patient had a weak immune system, sometimes we'd have to get suited up to protect them from our germs.

It might not look like it, but that gown is really, really hot. My shirt and pants would frequently be soaked through with sweat; I can remember running my finger down my arm and watching an actual stream of sweat drip from my arm hair onto the aircraft seats.

I'll leave you to imagine the smell of the plane after a 15-hour duty day.

During the SARS scare I was based in Thunder Bay. We would fly to Winnipeg on a regular basis, and the FBO there banned us from coming inside while wearing our gowns as it totally freaked out the 'normal' people who were sitting inside, waiting for their own aircraft to arrive.

Try putting a surgical mask on and then putting an aviation headset on, then talking on the radio.

I assume you've seen the latest skydiving video where the guy's chutes fail and he figures he's catfood and actually waves goodbye to the camera, only to land in some blackberry bushes and survive the landing. If you haven't, it's HERE.

On a completely unrelated note, here's a clip that I found adorable. I'm not going to make the obvious joke here, it's too easy.

Some original content coming up tomorrow...

Friday, February 16, 2007

I saw this at Cynical-C Blog.

It shows a couple of booster rockets falling to earth after they detach from the space shuttle. There's a video camera on one of the boosters, and you get to watch it fall all the way down to the ocean.

If you can get past the first minute of pretty dizzying footage, it's quite remarkable. I especially like the final few seconds before / during touchdown in the ocean.

It kind of reminds me of a previous clip.

From the YouTube upload:

"Nasa released a compilation of footage from various cameras attatched to both solid rocket boosters. Nasa TV showed all views from accention to decention. But this compilation shows the most dramatic and interesting views captured. It is still primarily a single shot from low earth orbit down to earths oceans surface."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I'm the happiest man on the planet tonight. Lisa said yes. For real.

Yow. I found this at the Uncontrolled Airspace blog.

"The pilot of N1312R has a slightly dodgy landing at Alton Bay in NH Feb 10 2007. Alton Bay is actually a sea plane base, but in the winter it freezes over and the operator ploughs a runway."

Slightly dodgy doesn't really cover it. Any runway with ice on it requires some fairly serious concentration, let alone runways that are made of ice.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My real post for today is the one below this one. This second post is because I saw something awesome on eBay and had to share:

For $799 you could buy a Playstation 3 (not particularly cool) or this turbine-powered go-kart WITH AFTERBURNER (incredibly cool).

A quote from the eBay page:

"This is a custom made Turbine with afterburner which is mounted on a stretched Trick Go kart frame. Engine will turn approx. 60,000 rpm's. Motor is very easy to operate. Runs on gas or diesel fuel. I have run the engine on the stand only. I started this project about a year ago, but just don't have the time to finish it. I have bought everything you need to finish it, fuel pumps, coils, fuel line, capacitors, oil tank... the only thing you will need to buy for the cart is a fuel cell and a battery.I have approx 2500.00 invested in this kart. The first time I started the engine in my garage almost every neighbor came out of there house, you will be the talk of the town with this. I also have a vhs tape of how the engine starts and shuts down... and yes it does sound just like a real jet engine..."

The link to the eBay auction page is here

To prepare for our flight this morning, I called customs, filed flight plans, checked weather (snowy and challenging, but safe), arranged arrival and departure slot times for both airports, called the FBO at our destination, picked up catering (okay, I just bought muffins, but still), had the plane fuelled, set up the cockpit, put hot coffee on board, chilled the cold drinks, ran through the "BEFORE ENGINE START" checklists and completed the other thousand tasks required to make the flight go smoothly and the passengers feel happy.

Then I called clearance delivery to get our clearance. I was given a full route, which I entered into our GPS system, and was about to head back inside our FBO to wait for my pax when I got a call on the radio.

"Your destination has a ground stop in effect at the moment, they aren't accepting any inbound airplanes for an hour."

So I waited for an hour. Fortunately my passengers didn't show up until 5 minutes before the hour was up, so they didn't have to wait long.

I called on the radio and talked to Pearson Clearance Delivery.

"Things are moving now, it should be another 5 or 10 minutes"

We loaded up the pax and I was about to start the engines when I got another call on the radio.

"You aren't going to believe this, but your 10 minute delay just turned into a 3 1/2 hour delay."

The snow at my destination, one of the world's busiest airports, was wreaking havoc with airline schedules, and everything was starting to go to hell.

I enquired about nearby airports and was told the same thing.

"The entire area is saturated with traffic, and controllers aren't accepting any new traffic for the next 3 1/2 hours"

I thought about ways some people would cheat the system to get airborne, like asking for a visual departure and picking up my instrument clearance in the air, or filing another airport as my destination and filing my actual destination as our alternate, then asking to go to our alternate instead. They might get lucky and wind up being squeezed into the air traffic control system, but they might not, and attempting to cheat like that would reduce the safety margin, which is unacceptable. I value my passengers, my job and my pilot's licence too much to intentionally do anything stupid.

I told my pax that it would be another 3 1/2 hours before we would be given clearance to depart, and they elected to cancel the trip.

So the pax deplaned and I got their bags from the aircraft belly so they could head back to their offices. I then called up customs and cancelled, then called the slot reservation people and cancelled my inbound and outbound slots for both airports, then cancelled my flight plan, then called the FBO at our destination to let them know we wouldn't be coming, then emptied the coffee / ice / newspapers / muffin boxes, then shut down the airplane and got the ramp attendants to remove the ground power unit (a generator on wheels that plugs into our airplane so we can turn on electrical power without draining our battery) and had them tow my plane back into the hangar.

This is only the second time in a year and a half that I haven't been able to complete a flight, and even though there was really nothing I could have done, I still felt bad.

I spent the rest of the day paying bills and doing paperwork before heading home to write this.

As I write this, the same snow system that affected our flight this morning is moving into my neighborhood. At least 5cm of snow has fallen in the last hour, and estimates for our overnight snowfall range from 10 - 50cm, depending on who you believe.

What do I believe? I believe I'll have some hot chocolate now, and sit and watch the flakes fall. They really are quite beautiful.

Monday, February 12, 2007

This is the weather forecast for tomorrow morning's destination:

FM1400 06020G32KT 1SM -SN BLSN OVC005
FM2000 04020G30KT 3SM BLSN OVC003

What that tells me is that from 9am (Toronto time) the winds will be out of the east at 20 mph gusting to 35 mph with light snow and blowing snow, reducing the visibility to 1 mile and lowering the height of the clouds to 500 feet above ground. From 11am - 3pm (Toronto time) there will be temporary periods when the snow gets moderately heavy and the visibility is reduced to 1/2 a mile, with the cloud bases only 200 feet above ground. When we leave my destination back to Toronto, the weather is predicted to be pretty much the same, with relatively strong winds, blowing snow, visibilities 1 - 3 miles, and a cloud layer around 300 feet above ground. When we are scheduled to arrive back in Toronto, the weather is also predicted to be snowy and blizzard-y, with similar weather.

If the forecast turns out correct and we get dumped on, it certainly doesn't mean the trip would be unsafe. If it's not safe, we won't go - it's that simple. My passengers trust me to get them from point A to point B in one piece and I take that responsibility very, very seriously. Fortunately, snow isn't dangerous to a business jet while in flight, it's just a pain in the ass to have to look through a heavy snowshower while lining up to land on a runway. Equally fortunately, my employers are great about not pressing the weather, and when tomorrow morning rolls around if it looks like safety would be an issue, I will not hesitate to pull the plug on the trip.

1/2 mile visibility and a cloud ceiling of 200 feet above ground is really no big deal when you're in a corporate jet with decent avionics and using the autopilot to land at a major airport, but it still looks like I'm gonna earn my money.

Having said this, when I wake up tomorrow morning the forecast will have changed, either a little or a lot - it's pretty much impossible to predict exactly how the weather will be 24 hours in advance. But I believe the fine people in the Canadian and US weather centers when they say we are gonna get some serious snow tomorrow.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I have put Google Adsense ads on my blog, in the top left corner.
100% of the proceeds, if any, will go directly to the Halton Women's Place, which is a nearby shelter.

I'm not going to encourage you to click on the ads, as Dave Starr has pointed out it would be in direct violation of my agreement with Google to do so, and I don't want to do anything inappropriate.

More aviation stuff tomorrow.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This is the Beriev BE-200 amphibious jet. Pretty cool stuff; in the clip they have it configured for water bombing, and for marine rescue. Or you can just put up to 64 seats inside the jet and use it for a passenger transport.

I want one with a barbequeue in the back so I can take it up to some northern lakes this summer and go fishing!

Friday, February 09, 2007

It was the middle of January '99 and I was in Goderich, flying a B-58 Baron for Western Air Services. Western Air was owned by a parent company, involved in grain handling, and we had to take the president to Toronto for a meeting. That task fell to myself and Scurvydog, a pilot/friend who I worked with at Western Air for a few years.

Now in the background was the "Storm of the Century". From January 2nd to January 15th, a series of snowstorms stalked the city, dumping nearly a year's amount of snow in less than two weeks. In all, the city recorded the greatest January snowfall total ever with 118.4 cm and the greatest snow on the ground at any one time with 65 cm. The mayor of Toronto even called in the Canadian Forces for emergency help, asking them to rescue stranded motorists and people immobilized by the huge snowfall.

But before the snow could be removed from the ground, it had to fall through the air.

Anyway, we planned to fly from Goderich to Toronto Buttonville, which is a general aviation airport about 15 miles away from Pearson. We'd hang out there for a few hours while the boss attended his meeting, then we'd come back to Goderich.

A few words about the Beech Baron...The B-58 is unpressurized and has no turbochargers, so the most efficient cruise altitude is fairly low, around 5,000 - 8,000 feet above sea level. Any higher than that and the engines really started to run out of jam due to the thinner air, but with no reduction in fuel consumption, so we generally flew the airplane fairly low.

The flight to Buttonville was unremarkable, with one exception: I thought it was interesting that the temperature at 7,000 feet was higher than the temperature on the ground, and that was caused by an inversion due to whatever storm system we were flying through. On the ground it was like -8c, but at 7,000 feet, the temperature was +1c. We had encountered moderate mixed icing on the way to Buttonville, but the de-ice boots had removed it efficiently and it hadn't really been a consideration. When we landed, Scurvydog and myself had chipped all the residual ice off the wings and tail, and the plane was entirely uncontaminated.

Once the plane was cleaned, we hung out at the airport restaurant, had a nap, and voila, it was time to go home. Our boss showed up around 3pm, and we departed Buttonville back for Goderich. We were in solid cloud from the time we lifted off, which is not unusual for winter around the Great Lakes region.

We planned for a cruising altitude of 4,000 feet for the return leg, and that's what we climbed to. We cruised for about twenty minutes in solid cloud but smooth air, occupying ourselves with talk of the beers we would drink at the local pub once we were done our mission.

And then the most remarkable thing happened.

Ice began to form on the wings and on the windshield. But it wasn't rime ice, with large milky frozen drops, nor was it clear ice, with smaller, clear drops. It was more like soft sculpture all along the entire surface of the wings, not just the front couple of feet. After a very few seconds of this, the ice on our wings looked like frozen waves crashing on a shoreline. The ice was a few inches thick in no time at all. I could tell this by looking out our side windows - our windshield had been completely coated in ice within a few moments.

We cycled the de-ice boots, but they only removed a small amount of ice on the front of the wings and did nothing about the 5 feet of ice forming aft of the boots.

For those of you who aren't familiar, if ice forms on an airplane wing (or tail), it seriously screws up the airflow over the wing, reducing lift and increasing drag. In Canada it's illegal to take off in a plane that has *any* ice on any lifting surface of the plane. It only takes a bit of ice to affect performance in a big way, so having 3 - 4 inches of it hanging off our airplane meant we weren't in a good situation.

Our airspeed decreased by 30 knots nearly instantly, and putting the engines to full power didn't improve the performance at all. The plane was loading up and getting ready to descend whether or not we were at an airport.

I knew there weren't any airports near our position, and all the local airports had the same problem anyway - at small airports like the Goderich airport, you have to visually align yourself with the runways for landing, and as I couldn't see out the windshield at all, this would be a tough task.

The speed kept decreasing, the ice sculpture on our wings thickened, and I was starting to seriously think about an off-airport landing, maybe yawing the airplane and looking out one of the side windows so try to dodge power lines or trees or whatever.

Then I had one of the few brainwaves I have been lucky enough to be struck by. At 4,000', it was -3, which is an idea temperature for the formation of ice. But I remembered that at 7,000' the temperature had been above zero.

Our airspeed was back to around 130 knots and in ice the Baron stalls at 100 knots or more, so we didn't have a lot of extra performance play with. I wasn't sure if the plane would climb any more but we really didn't have any other options so I got Scurvydog to call ATC and ask for higher. The engines were already at full power, so I just pulled the nose of the airplane up and waited to see what would happen.

We started to climb, thank Jebus.

It took a few minutes to reach 5,000' with the ice accumulating and our airspeed dropping all the while. At the lowest, I seem to remember us indicating 120 knots, which is 60 knots slower than normal, and probably fairly close to the stall speed on an iced-up Baron. At 5,000' we were getting maybe 200 feet per minute in the climb, which is pretty damn low for a twin-engine plane with both engines running. But the temperature was slowly rising, and at 5,000' it went to 0c. As we slowly headed back up to 6,000', the sculpture started to melt and fall off the wings. Our airspeed started to increase, and I was eventually able to reduce the power on the engines, saving a little wear and tear on them, and decreasing our cabin noise level by at least half - the Baron is a loud little beast when the engines are running at full gallop.

At 6,000', we were climbing at 600 feet per minute and the temperature was at +3c, so life was getting a little easier on us. We still couldn't see out the windshield, but we'd poke that cat when we got to it. We had a plan now, and Scurvydog and myself were both a lot happier. Our boss in the back remained oblivious to the whole thing; he read his magazine and napped.

We arrived over Goderich airport at 6,000' with almost no ice left on the wings and a nice big open patch on the windshield that I could see out of. We extended our flaps and our landing gear, then cut the power and dropped like a stone toward the runway, descending through the 'bad' air as fast as we possibly could.

In a small twin-engined piston airplane it's normal procedure to 'baby' the engines, and to reduce power slowly when coming in to land so the engines don't cool too fast and possibly crack cylinders. I didn't care about that at all, I just wanted us to get on the ground - a mechanic could replace the cylinders easily, and I wasn't about to spend 10 minutes slowly descending through the ice clouds and arriving back in the same situation I started out in.

The landing was uneventful also, but it was kinda funny when we touched down - Scurvydog and myself both audibly sighed with relief, which prompted our boss to make his only comment during the flight

"Wow, I didn't think you guys would be so happy to get back to Goderich. Is there a big party going on tonight?"
"Yes sir, it's a celebration. We've been planning it for some time now"
"How long?"
"For about half an hour"

He looked puzzled, then opened the door to the Baron and left us to sit, shaky and giggly, and really, really glad to be on the ground, safe and sound.

What our mechanic said to me the next day after he inspected the engines is another story entirely, one for another day.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

So whatever happened to my contest with Lisa?

We both exercised and watched our eating for more than 2 months, and our deal was that the winner would get to decide the theme to our wedding. Lisa's choice for a wedding theme was "traditional" while mine was "everyone dresses up like forest animals". Clearly the stakes were high.

We measured various body parts at the start of our wager, and at the end.

I went without McDonalds, chocolate bars and adult beverages for months in an effort to win, and Lisa hit the gym and cardio classes every day. We teased each other all the time "Baby, you know what I could go for? A single piece of hot cheese pizza. But I can't have it alone or I'll lose the bet, so how about we both have a slice? You go first..."

At the end, Lisa had lost substantial weight and inches, and so had I. I lost nearly 20 pounds in 10 weeks, as did Lisa. But there was a serious problem: We both lost the same amount of inches off our bellies and chests and legs and arms, and we couldn't come to an agreement on which inches mattered most, like does losing an inch off your belly count as more than losing an inch off your thigh, or hairline. So after a long afternoon of negotiating and mathematics ("I don't care if you lost 3 fingernails and a set of car keys, that doesn't count for anything" or "You look thirsty, are you sure you don't want to drink a few liters of water now? We can wait a few minutes for the weigh-in"), we decided to call it a draw.

As far as I can tell, this means Lisa will dress traditionally, I'll wear a bear suit, and the guests can chose which theme they wish to recognize. I plan on making a large furry wardrobe available to all guests, just in case anyone wishes to join me in plush celebration. Should that decision prove to be too much, we plan on getting married during warm weather, so the guests can dispense with clothes entirely if they choose.

It's important to say that Lisa still hits the gym every day, and I'm still forgoing chocolate bars; feeling good just feels good, but it was a hard enough habit to get into that I want to keep up the effort so my muscles don't completely atrophy and I wind up becoming absorbed by my couch.

On another note, this wedding party all grooves to Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Give it 40 seconds to get good.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I have been really busy over the last couple of days. I'll be back tomorrow with some original content.

Recently, a reader by the name of Luke sent in this video; it shows a jet in cruise with lots of passing aircraft overhead. We see this sort of thing all the time when we fly around the New York / Washington / Baltimore area, with aircraft filling the skies above and below us. Even though the aircraft are a minimum of a thousand feet vertically separate, it sure seems like a lot less in real life. In real life, a thousand foot separation looks more like a hundred feet apart, which makes for some pretty spectacular images.

It's kinda neat watching other aircraft fly right overhead in the opposite direction as the closing speed is usually over a thousand miles per hour and the other airplanes almost look like meteorites, trailing white tails of water vapor behind them.

I'll be flying again shortly and I'll see if I can get any decent pics of crossing traffic.

Thanks again Luke!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

It was a few weeks ago; we were flying through a thousand miles of really rough air.

A new airliner checked in with center and was duly greeted.

"Good afternoon United, moderate chop from 23,000' and higher"
"Is it rough at 41,000?" said the United flight
"Only if 41,000 is above 23,000. Let me get my calculator and I'll check"

Saturday, February 03, 2007

We were airborne well before 6am. It was night, but the moon was really bright and it lit up the earth and sky for us as we flew south. The winds were from the west at more than 195 miles per hour, so we crabbed 30 degrees into the wind and lost 45 miles per hour of groundspeed as a result. Fortunately the air was smooth.

The moon was really bright.

After an hour in cruise, we started to see the faint light of daybreak. It was pretty striking with the moon in one side and the sunrise in the other side of the cockpit.

The night before we flew here, a series of thunderstorms and tornados passed through Florida, killing 19 people at last count. We flew over the same weather system a few hours later. The thunderstorms showed up as a relatively solid line on our radar. We wouldn't go through them, so we had to either divert around them or climb above them. We chose to climb, and at 38,000' we were just barely above the system.

For the pilot geeks, see how the radar image is all muddy just behind the line of storms? That's because the radar beams have been absorbed by the storms, which means it can't paint an accurate picture of what might be behind them. It could be clear, or it could be another squall line; it's impossible to tell and it's best to just avoid the whole thing altogether.

We painted this image from above the line, which explains why it's not painting red a whole lot - if we had been painting this at 17,000', I bet there would have been no shortage of red pixels dotting our radar.

And here's what they looked like from a few hundred feet above them.

We return to hot sand and the smell of the ocean.

It's +29 at the moment, with 90% humidity. Some local kids cool off by jumping off the docks.

I watch some cruise ships come in. Today is Saturday and that means a whole pile of tourists. Downtown will be swollen, so I'll head to the fish fry for lunch instead.

As I walk, I come upon a group of men standing together and praying.

There are seriously a lot of cruise ships today.

Another flight crew from Pearson is down in Nassau this weekend, so we are gonna go for supper with them and trade aviation stories over conch salad and steamed shrimp.

"There I was, downwind, missing a wing with my hair on fire. The fuel tanks had just exploded and it was looking pretty grim. But did I give up? NO! Like a true veteran I quickly decided that I was gonna..."

Ahh, flying stories :)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Heading south for a few days soon; more pics of palm trees and sunburns coming right up.

An old story now.

At the time, I wasn't sure if we had crashed or not.

We were still sitting upright in the cockpit; myself in the left seat and my instructor in the right seat. He turned to me and said "Turn everything off and get the hell out!". I flipped the main electrical switch off and undid my seatbelt while my instructor popped the door. We were out of the Seneca and a hundred feet away within seconds - we both knew how much energy is stored in aviation fuel and neither of us wanted to be anywhere near the plane if it decided to spark up.

The sirens of the emergency vehicles were already ear-stinging loud, and as I looked up I saw a firetruck drive up and start to spray foam on the airplane and the pavement around it. We waited and watched, and after a minute or two with no obvious fire coming from it, we started to walk toward our airplane, which was sitting right in the middle of the runway, but facing 90 degrees to the left of the runway.

"You confirmed we had three green, right?"
My mind was muddy with the recent events, but I could clearly remember the green lights on the gear.
"Yeah, we had three green"
"Well then I don't know what the hell happened"

A small pickup truck pulled alongside us and the fireman inside asked if we were okay.

"Yup, just nerves is all" I wasn't in shock or anything, but things no longer felt entirely real. I mean, no WAY was I in a plane crash just then; it was crazy to even consider.

"I think I may have taken a hunk out of the seat cushion at the end there"

The fireman in the pickup offered us a ride back to our flight training school, and we hopped in the back and hunkered down while he drove us up the ramp to my local flight school, the place where I got my private licence and where I was currently renewing my multi-IFR in anticipation of a Navajo position at Northern Dene.

I walked in the door and my instructor told the boss "The Seneca is down. We had a nose-gear failure. The props hit too."

"Oh great. And we just got the plane fixed. Damn it!"

In the background, another pickup truck slowly moved toward our ramp, with the nose of our poor Seneca in the back of the truck bed. The Seneca's main landing gear was extended, but the nose wheel was tucked up in the nose compartment of the airplane.

I was curious as to what had happened, so I waited an hour or so for the mechanics to take a look. They quickly found out the problem.

It was the overcenter downlock spring. What the hell is that? Well, in a Piper Seneca it holds the nosewheel locked in place when you extend the landing gear, but if the spring breaks it's entirely possible to push the nosewheel back up inside the airplane. A nice little side-effect is that the landing gear indicator system won't show any malfunction as the nose gear initially falls into place, it's just not locked in place.

This was in 1996 or 1997. I had just gotten a job up north, dispatching for a small air taxi service. I was on my days off, and I was doing some circuits in a Seneca to get familiar with aircraft again - I had been out of aviation for 5 years at the time, and I wanted to get some dual time in a twin before my boss at the air taxi service cut me loose in a Navajo to face the tender mercies of the Canadian North.

This was the final circuit of our session, and the landing was going great right up to the point where our nosewheel folded back, causing our nose to scrape down the runway, and our propellors to strike the pavement while the engines were running. We could see the skid marks on the runway where the nose had hit the asphalt, leaving bits of paint and metal skin behind and came to the conclusion that our total ground roll had been less than 300 feet. I could make a joke about being able to see the skid marks in the pilots' seat cushions, but, while accurate, it might be in poor taste.

The unfortunate part is that the propellors hit the pavement while under power. That meant they were all bent up, and it also meant that the crankshafts of both engines were probably bent also. When that happens to props and engines, you pretty much have to throw them away and get new ones. Engines are generally the most expensive pieces of equipment on aircraft, so repair bills quickly get crazy expensive. This would easily be a $60,000 repair job on a $120,000 airplane.

Anyway, as I gathered up my flight bag and got ready to head home, I heard a soft cough. I turned around and saw the owner, Janet, standing by their front counter.

"You still need to settle up for the flying lesson"

And I did. It cost me $212 for the privilege of having my first accident.