Sunday, December 28, 2008

Here's what happened in 2008 at my job:

- We moved into a new office at the airport and also started a friendly business relationship with a much larger scheduled carrier. The carrier now does our maintenance and we rent hangar space from them, and things are working out well - they are straightforward and honest and I trust them.

- The high price of fuel kicked our butts for the first half of the year. The insane prices we had to pay for Jet-A 6 months ago effectively raised our Direct Operating Cost (D.O.C.) by $200/hour for the entire year. In other words, we spent about $40,000 more on fuel for the same amount of flying. Not fun.

- The airplane behaved and we didn't have a single major unscheduled repair. One thing I absolutely love about this job is that my boss is a pilot too and he's not afraid to spend money where it's needed, like making sure the plane is in top condition at all times. We have a deferred defect system in place that allows us to put off fixing certain items if they break - we have never used it as we have never deferred a defect - we just get it fixed before we fly again.

- We went carbon-neutral, and I posted about it here and promptly got mugged for it, so I'll just shut up about that now and quit while I'm behind.

- We behaved and passed audits from Transport Canada (operations division), The Canadian Transportation Agency, The Canadian Business Aviation Association and one from the good folks at Transport Canada (maintenance division).

- The economic recession in the last half of the year has certainly affected charter flying, and we will finish the year with about 25% less charter hours than last year. Thank goodness our primary mission is to serve our company's management personnel on company flights - that means charter revenue is nice, but it doesn't make the difference between being able to put food on the table or not. Our parent company is in sound financial shape, and their business strategy is rock-solid, and I don't anticipate our paycheques bouncing in 2009.

In my personal life:

- Lisa and I celebrated 8 years together, and got married a few months later. My parents both attended, along with relatives from Ireland and all around Canada. I will remember walking with my mom and dad down the aisle until the day I croak.

- Lisa and I moved into a nice neighborhood, into a house with a back yard. It didn't take long to figure out that we are the bad neighbors with our parties and lax attitude toward mowing the lawn and refusing to put robotic blinking-LED-enhanced reindeer on our front lawn from November 1st to January 1st, so that's fun.

- My 21-year old brother came to live with us, and is currently surfing the web upstairs as I write this. It's good practice for when we have kids, and I'm learning new words every day.

- My best friend's dad passed away, only a few years after retiring from his job as Training Captain on the Boeing 747 for Air Canada. That really sucks, and my heart goes out to my friend for his loss - my mind short-circuits at the thought. I'm halfway done a post about the average lifespan of retired pilots - contrary to what you might think, retired commercial pilots actually live longer than the general population - there's a little more to the story of course, but again, that's a subject for another upcoming post.

- I went to my high school 20th anniversary reunion and was amazed at how people change when you drop 20 years on them. I'm 37 but feel 15.

- I lost 15 pounds. I'm sure I'll find them again, I just have to retrace my steps.

Here's what I intend to do better in 2009:

1. Donate at least 10% of my take-home income or 10% of my free time to charity. I have it pretty good, and I will try to never forget that I enjoy a level of privilege that the vast majority of people do not.

2. Quit drinking energy drinks. Why am I paying $3/can to feel nervous and irritable? I can do that just by turning on Fox news and watching Neocons explain the need for more war.

3. Grow a garden in our back yard. My mother has an incredible green thumb and I'd like to see if I can at least get a green pinkie going.

4. I really have to quit giving people the finger in traffic. I don't want to end up running into someone even crazier than myself and getting on the wrong end of a baseball bat because I flipped someone off for cutting me off.

5. Knock Lisa up. Don't worry, she knows about this plan. Lisa is very organized, and she says we are having our first kid in May 2010. Doing the math, that tells me that July 2009 is going to be a productive month. Mom, if you are reading this, I'm sorry for oversharing :)

6. Fly an airplane I have never flown before. In 2008 I flew the Citation 550 and a Cessna 172, and that was it (I flew a Gulfstream IV also, but it was in the simulator, and even though the simulator was a 20 million dollar one, it's not the same as the real plane.) They are both great machines, but I want to spread my wings a little further, variety being the spice of life and all that. That doesn't mean I want to quit my job - I love my job and fully intend to stay there until I retire or get fired - it just means I will likely end up paying some outrageous amount of money to rent a plane I have never flown before.

7. I want to spend some time on this blog and gather and clean up some posts for eventual publication. I don't know about a book, maybe just a magazine article or two. But I want some sort of ink-on-paper record of some of the stories, in case the internet gets unplugged by accident.

8. I want to travel to another continent in 2009, I don't care which one. Well, maybe not Antarctica, maybe I'll save Antarctica for 2010.

9. I want a freakin' cat already. Who said all resolutions have to be onerous? :)

10. I want to show more kindness, both to my loved ones and to strangers, because that's really what life is all about.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A friend of mine by the name of 'sky's the limit' is in Afghanistan right now, writing and taking pictures. He's actually staying in a house that Osama Bin Laden owned and lived in. In STL's own words..."Talk about a theme room.... It's actually quite difficult to believe it, but I'm staring at the same ceiling he did, just used the same bathtub he did, and I can only wonder what thoughts he had while in here. I have issues with time and space sometimes, but to know he was in here at one point in history, or several actually, sure has a way of playing with one's mind."

He has made a detailed post on AvCanada, and I encourage you to read the text for an interesting take on the conditions there.

Clicking makes the pictures bigger.

This is 20 miles Northeast of Bagram

A Chinook helicopter that will shortly be transferred from the US Army to the Canadian Forces.

The business end of an Apache attack helicopter.

An A-10 tank killer departing Bagram at sunrise

A Sikorsky HH60 Pavehawk search and rescue chopper, ready to go on a night medevac.

The night medevac flight was for an Afghan National Police officer hit by an improvised explosive device.

An amazing shot out the back of a Chinook

STL, looking brave and not scared.

What's the number 1 rule of armed conflict? Don't die. I hope and pray STL will obey this rule and post more pics soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's video day today!

First we have a go-around in a large jet. I have posted other go-arounds before, but this one is a new one so I'm gonna add it to the collection. The one-line description says "SATA aborted crosswind landing in Ponta Delgada airport, Sao Miguel Island, Azores"

Now this one is a recent landing by a Cessna 310 with bad nose gear. The video quality is great, so that's cool too. I don't know if I would have feathered both engines before touching down - you never know if you'll need to go-around - but once the pilot has feathered the engines, watch as he/she hits the starter motor a few times to move the propellors to a horizontal position, where they are less likely to be damaged by the gear-up landing. I thought that being able to do that while in the flare was pretty slick.

The details on that one:

"AN NUYS AIRPORT, Calif. -- A small plane with a dangling nose gear glided to a safe landing today at Van Nuys Airport and both people aboard appear uninjured.
The twin-engine Cessna 310 was heading from the San Fernando Valley airport to Camarillo when the pilot realized the nose gear had only partially deployed and decided to turn back."

Whaddaya think? I'd personally rather sacrifice the engines to leave myself more options, but then again I don't pay the maintenance bills on our plane...

Monday, November 24, 2008

This is a new scam to me...we got this fax at our office an hour ago. I'm only bringing it up because it's an aviation-related scam, so that's kinda cool.

Some guy says we owe 80k for airspace fees in the UK from a few years ago. Interesting, as we have never been across the ocean in our planes. Also interesting that they don't seem to know our company name or contact info. To complete the awesomeness, this was faxed to us rather than emailed, and the FROM: name of Pietro Ferrara isn't even the same name as the person allegedly signing the notice, who goes by the made-up name of John Daniels.

Whaddaya think? Should we shoot them a cheque for 80k, just to be good neighbors?

I'm a trusting faun, but it is suspiciously similar to an email alert we got from Nav Canada a few days ago, which I'm cutting n' pasting here for your enjoyment.


This is to inform you of a fraudulent billing scheme targeting our customers.
If you receive the following email notification about outstanding debt, please DO NOT reply.
Instead, disregard the message, which is NOT from NAV CANADA.
NAV CANADA has contacted the authorities and is investigating. If you would like to enquire about the status of your account, please contact Accounts Receivable at 1-800-209-0864 or Customer Service at 1-800-876-4693.
We would appreciate it if you could forward a copy of the fraudulent email that your company received, in order to assist us in our investigation. The fraudulent email should be forwarded to

The text of the fraudulent message follows.

From: Richard Vaughn []
Sent: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 1:46 PM

Dear Sir,

This is to notify you of an outstanding debt in the area of air
navigation service (ANS) Charges for the year 2007

If we do not receive payment within the next 48 hours, your flights will be grounded and cannot operate within Canadian domestic airspace and international airspace assigned to Canadian control.
If you have any questions relating to this warning feel free to contact
my desk. Your reference [Incident ID: 4962664].

John Daniels
Debt Collection/Unpaid Invoice Department
77 Metcalfe Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 5L6
phone: 1-866-954-6999


Man, good thing Lisa supervises me on the internet, otherwise we'd be 80k poorer...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

50 years ago, this was an ad for Pan Am's Boeing 707 jet service. This ad features rare footage of the -121 "short tail" series, and the original Pratt and Whitney JT3C straight turbojet engines.

It sure looks like a glamorous ride...

Things have changed somewhat since then.

I'm up early tomorrow - I'll post some night flying pics when we land at our destination tomorrow morning.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ahh, a pilot's life. Traveling all over the planet, staying in fine hotels and eating in fine restaurants, meeting beautiful people and having a 'friend-with-benefits' in every port. That's the cliche, but it ain't entirely a cliche.

So there's this pilot I know..

This pilot has an ongoing romantic relationship with 2 other people at the same time. Neither person is aware of the other one's existence. This tells me that my friend pilot is a bit of a sociopath, and is also well-organized. The pilot uses a spreadsheet to make up flight schedules, then shows the fake schedules to each partner, and the schedules are set up to explain the pilot's absence through work. This has been going on for some time, as in years.

This person isn't the first pilot I know who has run two relationships at the same time; the nature of our business is such that random, extended absences are pretty common, so it makes it easier for a cheater to come up with excuses for a liaison. For example, I nearly did a trip to Texas this morning, which would cause me to miss the Hallowe'en party that Lisa and I have been planning for a while. Lisa didn't even bat an eye when I told her last night - she knows it's a part of my occupation / career / passion.

I do admit that from a purely clinical perspective, running two simultaneous and separate romances takes some genius. It also fails a basic risk management test - failure is inevitable, and the consequences of failure will be spectacular but not in a good way.

The thing is, in this particular case, it's worked so far and it's been quite a while.

I couldn't handle a life like that. First of all, I'm not too big on betrayal - I would drink poison for Lisa anyway, and the thought of hurting her on purpose is horrifying. Second, eventually the jig will be up, and I don't have the energy or inclination to worry about whether every incoming phone call I get is a loved one, distraught and furious after having unraveled some small lie that caused the whole big lie to come apart. Lastly, I value my time alone, and a quick peek at this pilot's master schedule (detailing time allocated for work, and for each partner), shows this pilot has zero time alone. To me, it sounds like a private Hell, but clearly I'm missing something. It's gotta be the sex, right? I just wonder how satisfying it can be when it's all based around a lie.

When I think of my pilot friend, the word that comes up a lot is 'selfish' - to me that's doing something that hurts loved ones, but choosing to continue anyway because it gives some sort of gratification. The thing is...

I have had to no-show to lots of important events and occasions with friends and family due to flying, and it is extremely likely that when I have kids I will miss important moments in their lives because I'm away on a trip. Just thinking about it makes me really sad, but it's a price that I will pay, and make them pay, because it's what I want, and because I'm selfish. Really, the only major distinction I can make between my behavior and my pilot friends is that I am honest about my selfishness to my loved ones, while my pilot friend chooses to keep that information private. Is that actually enough? I really hope so.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Skip foward 60 seconds for an example of just how wild a rejected takeoff can be.

A rejected takeoff is one of the most dangerous situations you might encounter in aviation - it's not easy to slow a large heavy object from over a hundred mph to zero in a few thousand feet. We use thrust reversers which help a little, and we use speedbrakes to increase our drag and slow down faster, but the job mostly falls upon the aircraft brakes, which are usually made with all sorts of high-tech expensive materials like carbon fiber ceramic and Kevlar (same stuff they use in bullet-proof vests), but can still be completely demolished in a single rejected takeoff. Brake temperatures can reach 1,800 degrees Farenheit due to friction, which which is on the high end of the temperature found in a cremation oven at a funeral home (thanks to Google for that morbid little search result).

Anyway, when we push the throttles forward in our jet, we have already computed and marked several airspeeds on our airspeed indicators. One of them is V1, which is also known as "Decision speed". On the take-off roll, once we accelerate past V1, even if an engine blows it's safer to continue the takeoff than it is to stomp on the brakes and attempt to stop on the remaining runway. If our plane is heavy or if it's hot outside then it will take more runway to come to a complete stop. Before we attempt any takeoff we have done the math (actually a computer program does the math, but you get the point) and made sure that the runway we will be using is longer than the runway we actually need. If we are doing a charter flight, we need a 60% distance buffer on top of the minimum distance calculated by the computer program.

There are some things the calculations can't take into account, the main one being if the pilot decides to reject the takeoff at a speed above V1. If that happens, then there is no data out there that tells us how much runway it will take to slow down, or if we will slow down at all - at a certain speed our kinetic energy is such that the brakes will fail before they absorb enough forward motion to keep us from going off the end of the runway. In our training, we get it pounded into our heads that after we reach the V1 speed on takeoff, we are going flying unless a wing comes off. But I have heard more than a few accounts from pilots of them rejecting takeoffs well above V1 for various reasons, and most of the time the runway is still long enough. Most of the time.

Now, this accident happened a couple of weeks ago in Cabinda, Angola. We don't know the details, but from an accident-investigation or "armchair quarterback" point of view, I can see several things that *might* have resulted in the calculated accelerate-stop distance appearing less than the distance it actually took them. How many factors do you see at work here?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A night flight to Montreal recently. I have flown roughly as much at night as I have during the day, thanks to a stint flying night cargo and another stint flying medevacs. I like night flying - the air is usually calmer, and the airspace is less busy. The major downsides are fatigue and the fact that you can't see bad weather as clearly at night, but overall I prefer night flying.

Hanging out at the Starlink FBO, keeping the electrics on and warm. I love the Starlink FBO - the crew car is a BMW and the FBO staff make a wicked cappucino. Oh, and fuel is cheaper than in Toronto, so what's not to love?

A nice big green light on our right wingtip will protect us from other airplanes running into us, in theory.

After a nice supper at Le Biftheque, I am ready for the trip home. Thanks to a large can of Diet Red Bull, I am fully alert, like a puma if pumas drank Red Bull.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There is nothing like travelling for a living to make a person feel lonely. I'm sitting in Boston as I write these words, and I miss Lisa but that's not what I mean so I'm gonna try to explain it a little better.

I mean that it's easy to end up driving aimlessly around a strange neighborhood in a rental car because I don't know where the locals go for fun, but I do know I don't want to sit in my hotel room all day.

Try driving aimlessly around in a strange city and you'll see what I mean about feeling lonely. Maybe that's the wrong word - I feel like I'm just skimming the surface, like I'm most likely missing out on the uniqueness of the place I go to, and that if I only lived my life in more depth, I would be able to somehow absorb more of my environment.

I try to get out and about in our destinations, and for the most part I succeed - when we check into the hotel my first words to the desk clerk are usually "Where would you go if you were hungry" or "What do you do for fun on your time off". When I have overnights with Kitsch he has usually already scoped out the best restaurants in the area, and we are pretty proactive when it comes to exploring, and that helps.

But getting out and about isn't the same thing as feeling like part of the community, or like part of the same species. There are lots of times I feel like an astronaut in my little rental car bubble - I feel outside in some strange way, like I'm a reporter from another planet come to do a story on the bizarre customs and habits of the locals.

There are lots of times I see things at my job and think "Man, I wish Lisa was here to see that" which somehow actually makes things better - it would be a lot more lonely if I wasn't able to go home and tell Lisa all the minute and pointless details of my trips, so I am grateful for that. Sharing it with someone else makes it real, and I guess I must need to do that more than most.

Don't get me wrong - the occasional feeling of loneliness is a tiny price to pay for the incredible satisfaction I get out of my job, and I certainly wouldn't give up flying as a result of it.

...I just wonder if other pilots feel like ghosts once in a while as they are walking down the streets of a layover town, waiting for the next flight to take them back home so they can become people again, with friends and families.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The conga-line of hurricanes and tropical storms is bringing moisture to a whole lot of the continent this week. That's fine by me - the plane could use a wash.

We flew mostly east today, ahead of the worst of the rain. It's a great day outside, and I'm enjoying the last few days of warmth before the leaves turn color and I feel the first icy wind blow down my back. The flight was uneventful and the US Customs guy was pleasant, so all in all the morning was a complete success.

We head back home later on, and will be flying through a whole pile of the aforementioned rain. It's nothing serious - no thunderstorms are predicted or observed - but it's still a spooky feeling when we fly into a dark cloud and start to hear the rain hitting the windshield at a few hundred knots. Depending on the airplane, a wet windshield can be really hard to see out of due to the water streaking all about. In my car I use Rain-X to clear the windshield, but I am worried it would eat the plexiglass in the plane, so I mostly use furniture polish (lemon-scented Pledge, actually) in an effort to keep the windshield slick and the water beading nicely.

Not much else is new here - Lisa and I have been married for over a month now, and I think it's going to take, so that's nice. We also are moving into a house at the end of the month, with a real back yard and a fence and everything, so that's cool. We haven't bought a house, it's just a rental, but it will let us know if we are up to the challenge of mowing lawns and shovelling snow, things we haven't had to do at our previous apartments.

Gas prices are starting to lower, which is a welcome change and also bodes a little better for my job security ;)

Oh, I do have something to mention actually. My parent company has said they will pay for me to obtain a non-aviation qualification, in case I stick a salad fork into my eye one day and lose my medical, or in case the price of fuel goes up to $20/gallon and I lose my airplane.

That in itself is an amazing offer, and this only reaffirms that I am really lucky to be working for them. Kitsch is going to work on his MBA, but I'm sort of stuck for ideas.

What should I study? What do I want to be if I can't be a flyin' guy? My parent company is involved with alternative energy sources, so I'm thinking maybe something to do with wind turbines or hydro dams, or maybe engineering, or maybe accounting or something. What do you do at your current job that gives you satisfaction? Anything I should avoid? I'm still in the very early planning stages and am open to any suggestions.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wedding pix in the post below this one.

And now a few honeymoon pics. We went to Nice, France.

After an overnight flight I got to watch the sun come up as we started our approach into Nice.

A shot of the beach by our hotel.

I really love this shot - It was night and Lisa was getting her portrait done, so she was holding still. Everyone else wasn't holding still, hence the ghosts.

Second angle, watching the portrait take hold.

There were lots of street performers, including these guys. Watch the last 30 seconds for all kinds of awesome. Apologies for the sound quality.

More street performers, these ones of the "hold really still, then move suddenly and scare passersby" variety. The one on the left took a hankerin' to Lisa, while the one on the right held me at bay.

We walked to the top of a medieval fort to take a pic of the beaches below.

At night, the streets light up.

We had a great time swimming

We stopped to smell the roses a lot.

And had lots of awesome meals.

It was such a relief after the wedding frenzy and pressure - I swear I came back from honeymoon at least an inch taller, and certainly more relaxed.

Next, back to flying posts :)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sweet Jebus, I'm getting married in 3 hours. Wish us luck! It's absolutely mindblowing and humbling to see so many friends and loved ones in one location for this. We are flattered that so many people are making such a fuss over us on this special day. We have people coming in from Europe, from the other side of Canada, and from the wilds of Mississauga so that's pretty cool.

Anyhoo, I guess I should go put on some socks or something and get ready.

See you when I'm a married man! I hope I don't make a fool out of myself, or maybe I kind of hope I do.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

First things first: I haven't been blogging much as I have been busy flying, and also helping with wedding planning. Lisa and I are getting hitched on Saturday July 26th, so we are in the final stretch of things. I suppose I should get fitted for a tux or something...

And now a flying post...

When I went to flight school at Selkirk College in Castlegar BC, we had access to 3 different FRASCA flight simulators for free. I lived in the simulators during the 2 years I was there, as I wanted as much IFR time as I could possibly get before actually flying in cloud. I was glad I did - I noticed that early in my career I was a lot more comfortable when flying in cloud than other low-time pilots who had started out flying floats first and then got their IFR, and presumably didn't have access to hundreds of hours of simulator time while getting their Instrument Ratings.

That being said, I vividly recall my first 100 hours of actual IMC experience, sitting alone in a 58 Baron doing a night cargo run. It was just me, the airplane, a couple of wingtip lights and a whole lot of cloud. I was excited, but it was also pretty spooky.

I helped calm my nerves by planning the approach well before I arrived at the initial fix. I read over the plate and made absolutely sure I knew exactly what was expected of me. I also wasn't afraid to ignore ATC for a few seconds in order to keep control of the airplane - I was never yelled at for taking a little extra time to make sure I had all my ducks in a row before allowing the radio to distract me.

Fortunately for me, I also had a working autopilot and wasn't afraid to use it for those first 100 hours or so. Once I got used to just being in cloud, I started to handfly the airplane a lot more, and that in turn greatly increased my self-confidence.

I accepted that being a little jittery was totally natural for the first few hours flying alone in cloud, but I worked hard to keep my scan going, and consciously avoided 'tunnel vision', where your scan breaks down and you end up focusing on one single instrument (usually the attitude indicator) and neglecting the other ones.

//After a thousand approaches or so, the nervous feeling morphs a little into general excitement, but my adrenaline still starts racing a little bit when shooting an approach down to minimums. That's not a bad thing.

I told myself that if I wasn't comfortable at any time during the approach, I would go around and decide whether or not to try again. If the weather was down, I wouldn't bother doing a second approach if I missed the first one - it seems to me that one of the main times people crash planes is after trying an approach multiple times.

Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.

That was pounded into my thick skull over and over during my time at Selkirk College, and it's a great rule of thumb.

I tuned my navaids and briefed myself on the approach well beforehand, and also went over the missed approach procedure until I was comfortable with exactly what was expected of me. I wasn't afraid to pull the pin if things started to look strange; this is one industry where "bravery" is generally NOT rewarded.

Flying an approach is fairly routine now, with the exception of the occasional strange one (check out Castlegar, BC or Terrace, BC for a couple of examples of weird n' wonderful approaches), but even on the routine ones I keep those basic rules in the back of my head:

Fly the plane.
Plan the approach.
Fly the plane.
Talk on the radio.
Fly the plane.

In that order has always worked for me. Safe flights!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

This is a helicopter tour of Rio De Janeiro. After the first 40 seconds, I'm thinking you'll agree that the pilot is clearly insane. But it looks like a hell of a fun ride.

Friday, June 27, 2008

We went south, then west over the past couple of days. How far south? How far west? Well, let the pic be a clue...

Friday, June 20, 2008

A while ago, Kitsch and I went east. All praise to Kitsch for these pics btw. Click on the pics to make 'em bigger.

We were there for a few days, and decided to take a trip down the east coast.

Pretty spectacular views around here.

You can tell which way the prevailing winds blow by looking at the vaguely creepy trees.

Oh, what's this? An island you say?

To be precise...The Island Of The Damned!

Click on the pic for a closer look. Note that all the trees are dead, and there are lots of large black birds nesting in the withered stumps. This would be a perfect location for some romancing. Perhaps some local high-school kids could get drunk, climb up to the top and spend the night there having premarital sex and consuming drugs. I'm sure nothing terrible and horrifying would happen to them.

Another place that the Island Monster could store the bodies...

I briefly overcame my fear to pose for a quick shot.

I am pretty sure I shouldn't have taken that last gulp of water from the pump. My face has been numb ever since, and the walls of my apartment keep bleeding.

After escaping The Island Of The Damned, we headed back, loaded the plane with 25 lobsters, and waited for our passengers. This job is a great job, and I am a lucky guy. Except for the whole numb-faced, bleeding-wall thing :)

*Pictures taken between Bathurst and Caraquet, NB*

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I saw this on Digg, and wanted to share. The author is Patrick Smith, and it was published in Reader's Digest. I don't particularly care for the author's hating on corporate jets, but perhaps I am a wee bit biased.

Welcome aboard. Our flying time this afternoon, not counting ground delays and holding patterns, will be two hours and thirty minutes.

Before we take off, I would like to apologize on behalf of this and every airline for the hassle you just endured at the security checkpoint. As is patently obvious to any reasonable person, the humiliating shoe removals, liquids ban, and pointy-object confiscations do little to make us safer.

Unfortunately, the government insists that security theater, and not actual security, is in the nation's best interest. If it makes you feel any better, our crew had to endure the same screening as the passengers. Never mind that the baggage loaders, cleaners, caterers, and refuelers receive only occasional random screening. You can rest easy knowing that I do not have a pair of scissors or an oversize shampoo bottle anywhere in my carry-on luggage.

Just a moment.

Okay, well, as expected, we've received word of a ground stop. Our new estimated departure time is 90 minutes from now, subject to change arbitrarily, without warning.

And while we're waiting, let me explain that these sorts of delays (and it's not your imagination -- late arrivals and departures have doubled since 1995) result not only from our antiquated air traffic control system but also from too many planes flying into and out of overcrowded airports. Passengers demand frequency-you want lots of flights flying to lots of cities. But this can be self-defeating, because many of these flights will be late -- in some cases, very late. At airports near major cities like New York and Washington, D.C., the proliferation of small jets has added to the congestion. They make up nearly 50 percent of planes at some of our busiest airports yet carry only a fraction of overall passengers. This inefficient use of air and ground space is one reason we will be sitting here for the next hour and a half.

Once we're airborne, flight attendants will be coming around with food and beverages for sale. I know many of you are irritated that an in-flight meal now costs $7 -- on top of the $25 you just paid for an extra checked bag. Unfortunately, with oil prices skyrocketing and jets requiring as much fuel as ever (a coast-to-coast flight takes 8,000 gallons), it's impossible for us to provide luxurious service and rock-bottom fares at the same time. We know that most of you are miserable and that you long ago learned to despise every aspect of air travel. But try, if you can, not to take your frustrations out on other passengers or the crew. The overall surly vibe is unpleasant for us too. And ridiculous as this might sound, look on the bright side.

Yes, there is a bright side: more choices and surprisingly reasonable fares. Domestically, you can now fly between almost any two airports in the country with, at worst, a single stopover. Internationally, transoceanic routes have fragmented, allowing people to fly direct from smaller hubs in the United States to points in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. Nobody enjoys holding patterns or sitting on a tarmac, but in earlier days, the overall journey would have taken longer-and cost more.

It's true that fares have risen sharply of late, but if they seem especially pricey, that's partly because they remained so cheap for so long, with many carriers selling tickets below cost. Fares in 2006 were averaging 12 percent lower than in 2000, despite a 150 percent rise in jet-fuel costs.

Current fares cost about what they did in the 1980s. And let's not forget that flying is much safer than it was in the past. Globally, there are twice as many planes carrying twice as many people as there were a quarter century ago. Although the raw total of crashes has risen, accidents are way down as a percentage of total flights.

I am well aware that airlines have become pariahs of the postindustrial economy. But it's rarely acknowledged that despite recurrent fiscal crises, major staffing and technology problems, and constant criticism from the public, our carriers have managed to maintain a mostly reliable, affordable, and safe transportation system.

Hang in there, and our crew will let you know if and when our plane might actually take off. In the meantime, those $7 sandwiches are actually pretty good.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My grandfather's name was Bill Sealey, also known as Flight Lieutenant William James Sealey. He flew in the Royal Canadian Air Force, on the C-47 Dakota, which was the military version of the DC-3.

Here's a sample pic of a C-47, for those of you who aren't familiar.

On January 19, 1946, my grandfather's C-47 left Comox, British Columbia on a flight to Greenwood, Nova Scotia. It and its crew of seven were reported missing shortly afterwards.

Around the Crowsnest Pass, people noticed smoke coming from a nearby mountain, Mt. Ptolemy, which straddles the border of British Columbia and Alberta. Though they were guided by the smoke of the burning wreckage, it took five days for the Crowsnest Pass Forest Rangers to snowshoe to the crash site because of bad weather.

The plane had collided with Mt. Ptolemy, and fallen into the valley below. There were no survivors, so the rescue team brought the bodies out on toboggans.

The men who lost their lives were: Flying Officer Robert Huycke Watt, Flying Officer James Leonard Norris, Flight Lieutenant William Joesph Woods, Flight Lieutenant William James Sealy, Sergeant Vernon Rupert Ducklow, Leading Aircraftsman Daniel Levy and Leading Aircraftsman Richard Brockwell Lowe.

The crash left my grandmother a widow with 2 small children. She didn't even qualify for a widow's pension from the DVA (Dep't of Veterans Affairs) because Grandpa Sealey had joined as a volunteer rather than being drafted. She survived by doing housekeeping for neighbors while bringing my mother and uncle along with her. Tough times, but grandma was a tough woman and she made a go of it. She remarried a few years later and had 2 more children, and together with her second husband, the man I knew as grandpa, they built a good life together on the shore of Vancouver island, near Comox. When my mother and uncle grew older, the DVA did pay for their university tuition, along with an extra $94/month to live on while attending school. They both made the most of it, and are among the smartest people out there, so thanks to the DVA for that.

Here's a link to a youtube video made by some hikers who went to check out the site, and the wreckage. Since then, a plaque has been posted to commemorate the place where my grandfather and his flying companions lost their lives.

The part I'm interested in doesn't start until 5 minutes in.

I did a google search on "Mt. Ptolemy crash" and came up with a few links from hikers who have visited the area.

Here's a link to some hi-res photos on a guy's Flickr account.

So what happened? Unfortunately, we don't really know.

I'm taking the following quote from an email from my uncle, who has done a fair amount of research on the accident.

"On the face of it -- It seems to me there was 1) a fire or mechanical failure on board; there have been a few engine or fuel line fires in the Dakota model or similar DC-3 model of planes, and this plane did in fact burn -- possibly both before and after the hit -- or perhaps more likely 2) there was icing (according to a Environment Canada weatherman who reviewed and interpreted historical weather records for that day and for several days before and after); or 3) possibly the navigator entered a false setting on the Altimeter, which although is a common error I think is unlikely but can't be ruled out, particularly because there doesn't seem to have been an emergency call, say to Calgary, before the crash.

There was likely no suffering after the crash, as the coroner's report on the crew indicated that they hit the ridge at high speed."

It's also frustrating because the crash investigation report is missing from the official files - likely filed in another binder by mistake. The trouble is, we don't know which binder and there are thousands of them.

Ever since I was a little kid I have always wanted to be a pilot, and I like to think I get my passion for aviation from my grandfather. I wish I could have met him so we could have shot the breeze, and compared flying stories. I sometimes think about what he'd make of my corporate pilot job, with all the differences and similarities from his. The technology certainly has changed, but I bet we would have found a lot of common themes, and shared a few good laughs. I would have loved to take him up for a trip in our baby jet, to show him my world, and the earth below from 40,000 feet.

But my biggest wish is this: I hope that in the giant bucket of karma that comprises the universe, his spirit somehow knows that I am following in his contrails as I burn holes through the sky. I hope he'd approve, and every time I push the throttles forward, I hope I do him proud.