Tuesday, April 20, 2010

This is what all the fuss is about - you know, that volcano that I can't pronounce the name of. Footage was taken yesterday. There's a cool shockwave about 45 seconds into the vid.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A quick tour of our back yard and the occupants of said yard. Charlie lives indoors, Barfington is an outdoor kitty. Barfy is half-wild but will let me pet him from time to time, and certainly let me feed him. He gets most of his nutrition from field mice, but I figure the occasional (ie daily) bowl of Meow Mix helps round out his diet.
Pepper's Nassau approach in my previous post is nice, smooth, and low-risk. That's absolutely fine - our passengers expect that, and that's what we deliver. Some other folks like to amp up the difficulty level a little bit when they are airborne, and that can be fun to watch too...

This is the Red Bull air team pulling off a truly spectacular / insane stunt in Styria, Austria. I only drink regular Red Bull, I'm guessing these folks must drink the bootleg, distilled, overproof version :)

You don't need to be bilingual to appreciate this, trust me - you'll get the idea about what they are attempting pretty quickly through the video.

More info here, as well as some amazing pics.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pepper is a pilot on the Citation 550 for another company, but we have good relations with them and we tend to fly the same aircraft from time to time. He saved me considerable inconvenience a while back by landing the airplane when I couldn't see out my side of the window.

He took a cool video with his new videocam, it's a visual approach into Nassau. I haven't been to Nassau in a couple of months, but it appears it's just as I left it :)

Here's his video, I find it really relaxing:

You can play it in 1080p HD if your computer has the horsepower, just click on the 360p tab and change it upwards.

He did another video of a jetliner (an American Airlines 737-800 to be precise) passing below them on the way to Nassau, which I'll share because the zoom on his camera is better than mine:

Corporate jets tend to cruise at a higher altitude than most commercial jets, with a few exceptions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Aight, let's go through our checklist in painful and boring detail :)
Scroll down one post for an example of the checklist we use.

Ima skip some of the ones that are obvious to me, but if you have any questions I'll be happy to blather on about any missed items.

1. customs/canpass - did we do the paperwork before attempting a crossborder flight? This is all done electronically now when we go to the US, via the Eapis system. On the way back to Canada, we just make a phone call to CANPASS.

2. oxygen system - we check our masks to make sure they are plugged in and there is pressure in the lines - there is a little indicator in each mask that shows a green stripe if there is pressure in the line, and a red stripe if there is no pressure. Oxygen control valves are switches that dump the emergency oxygen masks in the passenger cabin if we want to completely freak them out, or if the cabin altitude exceeds 13,000'.

3. circuit breakers all in, switches switched appropriately - we double-check these because our maintenance guys could have done routine maintenance on the airplane and left c/b's pulled or switches in unusual positions as part of their maintenance checks. They are, ahem, strongly encouraged to leave the cockpit as they found it, but as we all know, sometimes stuff happens.

4. we fire up our standby attitude indicator (we actually have 2 standby AI's) to make sure it has spun up before flight. It has its own little battery pack and doesn't need main bus power or main battery power to spool up.

5. If we are doing a ground-power-unit (GPU / battery cart) start, then we leave our generators off, but if we are doing an engine start from our own battery we leave our gens on - that way once we start one engine, the generator on it will help provide electrical power to start the second engine - so much so, that a GPU or cross-generator start only counts as 1/3 of a battery start for logging purposes.

6. Battery emer check - we check that our vital systems will still be powered by the emergency battery bus in the event of a complete electrical failure. If we somehow were to lose our main electrical system, the emergency battery bus will power our #1 communications radio, our #2 navigation radio, and the copilot's HSI (navigation thingy), along with a few cockpit lights. That means that if we lose electrics, the copilot will have control of the plane as the Captain's HSI will be toast.

7. We check our various warning systems - that's an easy one - there's a circular switch with about a dozen positions we rotate to in order to check all our various warning systems, like thrust reversers, landing gear lights, windshield bleed air heat, engine fire indicators, TCAS etc. That means the cockpit gets lit up with bells and lights and buzzers for a few minutes, but again it's important to make sure the bells and lights and buzzers will operate correctly if they need to.

8. We check our fuel crossfeed valves and indicators to make sure we can use fuel from either tank to feed either engine. Our fuel burns are pretty amazingly even on both engines, and we generally don't have to crossfeed from one tank to another, but if we were to lose an engine and have to fly around for a while before landing, it's nice to know we can burn fuel out of either tank to feed the remaining fan.

9. Inverters - we have dual inverters (they change the electricity provided by our generators from DC to AC for those systems that run on AC power), and we make sure they are both working - one inverter can easily provide enough power for the entire airplane, but we have two of them as a backup and we make sure both are happy and purring before we blast off.

10. Pressurization and environmental - basically we dial in our expected cruise altitude into the pressurization system, and we turn the air conditioning on if it's hot outside.

11. Trim / Flaps - we normally take off with 15 degrees of flap unless we are operating out of an airport that has a high altitude about sea level. We set the trim depending on the aircraft load - if we have some hefty passengers sitting up front, we'll trim the aircraft to be nose-up a little bit, so we don't have to reef on the controls as hard to pitch upward to take off.

12. CVR - we press a little green button on the cockpit voice recorder and if a little green light goes on in 5 seconds, it passes the test. If it doesn't go on, we get it fixed before flying. That's about all I know on that one.

13. Autopilot - we run it through a bunch of tests for the first flight of the day, but for all other flights that day we can do a quick-test by pressing a little red button and listening for the "you passed the test" buzzer.

14. Atis / GPS / Data / Takeoff Briefing / clocks and bugs - We find out the weather, write it down, find out our clearance, write it down, then enter our flight plan into our GPS. We then calculate our various speeds and thrust settings using a book I made up a few years ago - those are based on our weight, the airport altitude about sea level, and the temperature on the ground. Modern jets will automatically calculate all that stuff, but we do it manually. In the checklist under "Before Takeoff" you'll see a little section called 'simplified takeoff data' - we can use those numbers if the aircraft falls under the conditions set out in the table, which is handy on quick turnarounds - the thrust settings and speeds in the quicknumbers are conservative, so if we wanted to be extra-anal, umm, I mean precise, we could still look up the exact numbers for our temp/weight/altitude etc in the big book.

15. Pax advisory / coffee - we flip on the "fasten seat belts and stop smoking" lights, and we hit the switch that heats the onboard coffee pot. This is very important for pilot and passenger caffeination.

You'll notice there's a little black line on the checklist after these checks. We can do all the previous items hours before the flight, but we don't go below the line until everyone is on board and the main cabin door is closed.

Once everyone is on board, we make sure the doors are all closed and locked (the "door unlocked" light will go out). We turn our avionics off in case we get a power spike from a bad GPU or generator during start, we turn off our air conditioning because it's a total power hog and we want to use all available power to spool up the engines quickly, we do a quick check of the engine instruments to make sure they look normal, then we pick an engine and hit the start button on it. We will then monitor the engine instruments to make sure we get oil pressure / fan rotation / fuel flow / engine temperature indications at the right times, and once the engine is idling nicely, we flip the switch that extends the speed brakes. Each engine has a hydraulic pump that can power all our hydraulic systems, and our speedbrakes are one of those systems. If the speedbrakes operate normally, we know that the hydraulic pump on the spinning engine is working. We alternate which engine we start in order to test each hydraulic pump every other leg. Once we ascertain everything is tick-boo with the spinning engine, we fire up the other fan.

Phew, I have writers cramp now so Ima take a break - I'll talk about the rest of the checklist in painful detail shortly. The funny thing is, it takes about 5 minutes to do all these checks once you are familiar with the plane, far less time than it took me to write about them, or for you to read about them. Good thing too, otherwise we'd never get off the ground :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

This is the checklist we use for normal operations.

Thanks to the commenter on this post who showed me how to upload it without using screen-print! :)

I'm going flying shortly, but I'll do up another post soon that explains some of the items on the checklist.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fun with the macro focus on the camera! Our plane might be old-skool but she has character. I think some of these are really pretty.

Yow, it's been 20 years since I got my last tattoo done. They have faded somewhat in the past 2 decades, but they are still clear enough that I get enjoyment from them - a date with the laser is still some time off in the future. Lately I have been thinking a lot about getting a necklace, one that could be hidden by a pilot shirt of course. I don't know many other pilots with tattoos - I wonder why that is? Tattoos are pretty personal - I don't expect anyone else to 'get' why I got mine done, and that's fine - honestly I didn't have any particularly traumatic life-even that prompted them, I just thought they looked pretty. The black ones are in homage to my favorite band of all time, Skinny Puppy. I guess I'm a goth at heart, I just don't look good in black lipstick so I forgo the fashion part. Lucky for my passengers! :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

2 posts in one day! I'm nothing if not erratic, a quality that is surely highly valued in a corporate pilot :) The previous post is funnier, but these look cool so there you go. It's important to watch them in order, otherwise chaos will ensue.


On the positive side, my underwear is fresh, and so are my socks and t-shirt. The rest of my stuff, not so much. I blame myself entirely - after flying for 22 years, I know better than to depart on a quick daytrip without my overnight bag. Oh well, I'm sure the Walmart in Miami Lakes was happy for the extra business as Kitsch and I bought our overnight sundries, so I guess we are doing our part to help out the economy in these harsh economic times.

A sample of our schedule this recent past:

Day 1: Toronto - Raleigh NC - Augusta GA - Toronto
Day 2: Toronto - Miami - Augusta - Toronto
Day 3: Toronto - Raleigh - Augusta - Miami
Day 4: Miami - Nassau - Miami
Day 5: Miami - Toronto - Raleigh - Augusta - Toronto
Days 6 and 7: Toronto - New York - Montreal - Toronto

Lots of Augusta stuff, apparently there's some sports event going on there - I dunno, I don't follow soccer or football or whatever :p

Anyway, on Days 1 and 2, you'll note that we end up back at Toronto. I packed my bag for Day 1, but on Day 2 I left it in our front porch, too lazy to clean it out and repack fresh socks and underwear and company golf shirts. You can facepalm now, but let's build it up a little:

The weather was mostly uneventful, but as we flew south toward Miami we could see a nasty system heading east from the south-central US. No big deal - if we didn't dillydally in Miami we could beat the storms into Augusta, wait them out and then head back home in time for a late supper before starting our next day's flights. We landed in Miami, dropped our pax off, got fuelled up, and Kitsch went out to the plane to get our clearance. He came back a few minutes later, with 4 words. "Ground stop in Augusta". Curses! Expletives! Obscene gerund! It wasn't even the weather that was causing it, it was all the traffic inbound to drop off rich folk for the Masters Golf tourney, which was causing gridlock at the airport. Even though we have to get arrival slots for Augusta during the Masters, apparently the system still has a few kinks in it.

The ground stop lasted a few hours, just enough to let the storm system really build up in intensity. Once the ground stop was cancelled (would that be called a ground go?) we looked at the radar, and it was then that I really, really wished I had brought my overnight bag.

All that red stuff on radar is the juicy center in lines of thunderstorms up to 55,000' with hail and lightning and all sorts of things that will twist your airplane's tail. Oh yeah, by this time, we were also 10 hours into our duty day. If you look at the picture, you'll see there was no real practical way to get into Augusta from southern Florida - the storm system may appear to end in the Gulf of Mexico, but it didn't - there are just no radar stations out there so it gets cut off - the satellite images showed it extended all the way to the southern tip of Florida, a few hundred miles west of the state. Oh, and as an added bonus, the storm systems were moving slowly, and it would be hours before they passed east of Augusta.

So Kitsch and I made a call we haven't had to do in a few years - we called up our Augusta pax and told them we wouldn't be making it in that night, we'd have to wait out the storms and pick them up early the next morning. I felt bad for our pax - hotel prices are insane in Augusta during Masters week (if you can even find them), like $500 for a single room at a one-star Super 8. I'm not even making that up, that's what we were quoted.

Anyway, that set off a whole cascade of scheduling events, which isn't a whole lot of fun for us, especially as our flight department is small and Kitsch and I don't have a person in the office to help out with stuff like this.

We rearranged our schedule, booked rooms at the local Marriott and went in search of fresh underthings, razors, contact lens solution and everything else that we had in our overnight bags. Yup, Kitsch normally carries a bag on every trip too, but inexplicably he chose not to on this one - at least I didn't have to endure his laughter at my wrinkled shirt and pants because he was in the same boat.

Once we got stocked, we rushed back to the hotel to start our duty rest because we had to be up extra-early to get from Miami to Augusta to pick up our pax, drop them off in Toronto, then take another group of pax to Augusta (via Raleigh for US Customs), then back to Miami for another group of pax. Yup, we did nearly 9 hours in the air and I don't mind telling you I was absolutely wiped at the end of it.

Fortunately for me, Lisa was able to drop my bag off at our FBO in Toronto the night we were stuck in Miami. I picked it up on the backhaul and I am now stocked for the rest of the schedule. Like most lessons learned, I'm now more bitter and more wiserer. I have decided to be proactive to make sure I never make this mistake again, no matter my level of laziness: In addition to strengthening my resolve to never hit the engine start buttons unless I have my regular overnight bag, I'm making a small bag up with overnight gear that will never leave the airplane. My laziness might be a powerful force, but my self-disgust at falling for the ol' "It's just a quick trip, you'll be back home before you know it" is even more powerful.

ps: the stuff I blacked out on my Firefox screen cap isn't very interesting - it's related to a hobby of mine I like to call 'sharing' but others like to call 'downloading pirated video games'. I figure no need to self-incriminate any further...