Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hi Strangers....

Well, its been awhile... a lot has happened since I last summoned up the courage to type out an entry and get over my embarrassment at not having posted for eight months.... But, what the Hay, lets see if I can make a run at this again....

  I guess a recap of the missing time period would be a good way to start.

  Last summer I left the coast and went up North for a seasonal flying job. My first " real " flying job. Aside from a little stint instructing on Ultralights and a season as a dock-hand. The dock-hand job was definitely not a flying job, the instructing a little more so, but still....not quite....

  I posted a little bit, so I won't go into all the details, but suffice to say, I added some time to the logbook, got my first PPC and even managed to get checked out on a turbine machine, the caravan, and log some time on that. Not too shabby for a 90-day gig.

  At the end of the summer, I talked over with the owners my plans for the future. They were very receptive to the idea of me coming back to fly for them and frankly, I have been looking for an opportunity to get out of the city. In broad strokes, at the end of the season, the plan was that I would return in the early spring, with worldly goods in tow, along with The Lovely Wife and The Wee One, and we'd try and make a go of it in the Great White North, year-round.

  So, short story shorter, here we are.

  We made the big move and found ourselves a cozy little place to buy and have spent the last few weeks getting settled in.

  I don't particularly like using this blog as a platform to tell people about my personal life, because, well, that's personal. Family that check in here from time to time may be disappointed not to see pictures of my incredibly cute and unbelievably smart little girl. I enjoy posting about aviation stuff...my job, the things I see in my job and connecting with others who like to post about their aviation jobs.

  So, I'm hoping to do a little better than last year and post some interesting stories and pictures of this summers adventures. Maybe in the winter when the flying " cools down ", I'll post some fridge-drawings or baby-birthday party photo's, who knows....

  This week was all about getting back in the saddle and all my paperwork in order to start flying this summer. My PPC is valid for a year and since I didnt get it till mid-last summer, its still good till mid-this-summer. I do have to refresh a bunch of exams and some refresher flying training as well to get current again, but thats coming along nicely.

  Last year, I did a " VFR PPC ", which allowed me to fly the multi-engine aircraft as PIC, during Visual Meteorological Conditions ( VMC ) and under Visual Flight Rules ( VFR ). I did however, have all the training, written exams and prerequisites in place to do an IFR rating, but haven't done a check-ride yet to complete the actual rating. We're hopefull that this year, when my PPC comes due for renewal, that I'll be ready to do an IFR ride and renew my PPC as an IFR PPC and, as an added bonus, add an IFR rating to my license in the process.

  I could have simply done some refresher training and booked a flight test with an examiner in the off season, but to be honest, we're talking anywhere from 2000-5000 dollars out of pocket...a little much for my budget these days, Especially seeing as there was no guarantee it would be of any use to me this season. It now appears it will be of use, and we can hopefully get it done as part of my company-PPC training and kill two birds with one stone.

  In the midst of training, I also went out and helped out on some other flights as a second pilot/swamper for some cargo-intensive loads and as a way to get back in the airplane and try and shake some rust off. Eight months out of the cockpit can be a long time.... Its surprising how fast it all comes back though. I feel pretty comfortable in the Caravan, but still need a few more flights and some refresher training on systems, limitations and emergency procedures before I'll get re-checked out on that. The smaller, multi-engine aircraft will come first and I only have a few hours of flight training flights to do and if everything goes smoothly, I should be back on line with that one anyway within the next week.

  Today was a long day of flying food, gear, gas and equipment out to a fishing lodge that is in the process of setting up for a season. First it was the crew, out to take down the plywood off the cabin and lodge windows and then all other jobs they have to get the place de-winterized and ready for guests. Then, the fuel and food to keep them going for the week or two they'll need to complete it. After that, its barrels of fuel for the boats and generators that they will need stockpiled to have in ample supply for most of the season. We'll do a few more runs over the season to top up the gasoline, mostly for the boats. In a week or two when they open up, it will be guests, both in and out, along with their gear and the occasional grocery run as well to keep the freezer stocked out there for workers and guests alike.

  It's nice going out to this lodge compared to the outpost lodges I went to out in NW Ontario. Out here, they have three or four guys down on the dock when you arrive, to catch the plane and do most of the offloading. Compared to the outpost lodges, where the pilot has to do all the work, or his trusty dock-hand sidekick who comes along to hold the plane straight and level in cruise and then bust his hump with weedwhackers, barrels of fuel and chainsaws while the guests pile in and out of the plane.

  Still a lot of Ice up here on the bigger lakes and a little on the rivers as well. This lodge is on a river, so most of the ice is out, but there is still a bit coming downstream that you have to watch out for on the water. It is after all, still pretty early in the season.

  Even went out the other day to take some officials from the local highways department up to have a look at some of the ice conditions on one of the local rivers. They wanted to go upstream a ways and have a look at what was left to come down the pipe before they gave the official all clear. Happily, this springs breakup and runoff has been very mild and uneventful. Which is a good thing, as we just bought a little house right in the middle of the flood plain....haha.

  The first little bits of new grass are just starting to poke out from under the snow-flattened grass and the trees are only just starting to show signs of budding, no leaves yet though. On the coast, its pretty much moved past spring and into early summer....With the short summer season up here though, things move pretty quick though. I'll bet I see green grass lawns and trees full of leaves inside of two weeks.


   I also just realized that since I don't work at the FBO anymore, I could post a few pictures from the CENSORED pile that might have got me in trouble before....  Since I haven't had a chance to take many pictures yet, expect some random aviation pics from the past....







Sunday, August 14, 2011

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Went out the other day on a flight to Fort Liard, and ended up holding for most of the day in the community.

It was hot, like 30 degrees hot, and I had dressed for a relatively cool morning and still in bug-protection mode. ( pants and at best, a long sleeve shirt wit the sleeves rolled up )

I did get the opportunity to hang out a little bit with the husband of a husband-and-wife team that manned the Fort Liard Community Aerodrome Radio Station. They had an interesting story of getting on during a hirinjg blitz for the 2010 Olympics and after it was over, their pick of a few interesting spots in the North. ( My suspicion is that if you are the type of person who finds places like these in the north interesting, you probably get your pick of the litter. I tend to agree, but I'm sure the vast majority most likely feels otherwise...

It was a nice little airport setup, with all the basic airport-things you need. A little building, a parking lot, some radio gear, maybe a nav-aid and some runway lighting. A bathroom, a few chairs and magazines in a waiting room, a run-up pad and a hangar.



From left to right, the instruments and radio gear are;

A Wind Direction indicator
A Wind Speed Indicator
Dual Altimeters ( For giving out Altimeter settings )


The wind direction/intensity indocators are the two big black dials on the far left. I always thought that the wind information they gave you was averaged out, but apparently not in a place like this, as I asked him after watching him give out an advisory to a helicopter. Maybe thats an ATIS thing?

The CARs operators get a fair bit of downtime while on shift and manning their posts, so these places are usually pretty clean and this one was no exception. Its the unattended ones that tend to be a little on the grotty side...

I got the grand tour and was surprised to find this bad boy lurking in the closet.



This is the NDB, the electronic guts of the airports only functioning nav-aid.

a Non-Directional Beacon is typically a fairly low-power AM transmitter, usually located at the airport or a short distance away and I've always been told is the most common up here, mostly due to the low-maintenance and low-cost to setup. Imagine my surprise when I found the W.O.P.R in the closet, pumping out random 1974 computer noises and a vicious amount of BTU's that their poor little window-mounted air conditioner couldn't even pretend to keep up with.

In my mind, I had always imagined a little box, about the size of a portable radio!

We live in interesting times in the field of Air Navigation. The use of GPS as a primary aid is quickly catching on. Costs for certified installations are dropping and the number of approaches available to those who choose to invest in the hardware and the training, get the comfort of an approach more accurate by a factor of ten than what you can do with this one.

In fact, I probably shouldn't say this out loud, but I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of aircraft and pilots, flying around with un-certified GPS setups in their aircraft, to an airport with an NDB, are using the GPS to tell them where the beacon is as opposed to the ADF ( radio reception gear for the NDB ) and maybe sparing a glance over at the poor little ADF needle bobbing and weaving around from time time as a back-up.




After hanging out at the airport for a few hours, I decided to brave the heat and go for a little stroll around the village. I managed to find a route that followed mostly the shady side of the street and made my way down to the river to have a peek. Its a nice little town, lots of old-school log cabin type structures, right in the middle of the village, and right alongside modern stucco-sided ranchers.

One woman had a food-stand type of mobile trailer set up on her front lawn. It wasn't open, but looked like the "mobile" part of the setup had long since stopped being an option and she had hunkered down to sell burgers and fries off her front lawn. Great idea, but good luck trying to float something like this with the zoning folks down south!

Thanks are due to my Mother, who gave me the tip of reducing file size to try and get photos posted on here. I went from an avewrage of a meg or two per picture and a good five or ten minute wait on the upload, to a couple hundred kilobytes and a 10 second upload time!

Back in business.

Its kind of too bad, I really looked forward to doing a bit more posting this summer, but a couple things have conspired against me.

One was the photo issue. I love posting pics, even just to look back at myself. The upload time made posting a bit of a drag and I stopped altogether for awhile.

The other issue is that now that I am flying passengers around, and living and working in such a small community, I'm a lot more aware of how posting details that could identify my customers or my employer, might not be such a good idea in the general business sense. Or not, I might just be a little paranoid or self conscious...

Anyhow, to try an catch up, here are a few pics and a few littler adventures of late;

Went fishing a few weeks ago. Had a weekend off and nothing to do, so I threw my fishing stuff in the car, packed a little cooler with lunch and drinks and hit the road. I'd seen a decent lake a couple hours drive away and a river that connected to it that was purported to have a set of waterfalls on it.

Fishing was pretty goo, a lot more fishing jumping then biting it seemed. The dragon-fly's were out in abundance and were doing their clumsy mating flying down close to the surface of the river and I suspect thats what the fish were feeding on. When they mate, they are joined together but still manage to fly around, just not with very much precision. I imagine from below the waters surface a pair of conjoined dragonflys buzzing the rivers surface and/or occasionally getting stuck in the water, is a decent target.

The little spot where I was fishing had one other fisherman when I got there. He told me he had seen a bear across the river an hour earlier. A half hour or so after I showed up, we could hear it walking/ crashing its way through the bush on the other side of the river. I eventually did see him a little later on, as he came free of the trees and found a spot in the tall grass along the river to lie down in.



Also happened to turn my head and see a family of mink? weasels? crossing the river about forty feet behind me. They were pretty quiet, so I only noticed them by fluke.



After fishing for a few hours with moderate success ( 4 little Northern Pike and 1 decent sized Walleye ), I popped in to see the falls on my way back to town.

The falls were pretty spectacular to see. I think there are three sets of falls on two seperate rivers all close by up here and all worth a look.

Was a little nervous about wandering around the footpaths, as there were bear warning signs up and no one around but me. In my fishing tackle box I have a little bell that you can clip to the tip of your rod in case you are throwing out a baited hook and then sitting back waiting for the fish to bite. It also doubles as a good little bear-bell, clipped to my pants pocket and ringing away with each stride. Grizzly bears in the area can be readily identified by the presence of such bells in their spoor.

If you look closely at the top of the falls on the right hand side of the picture, there is a little rock just before the falls themselves.



Closer inspection reveals that it is a little inukshuk-type structire built by some pretty brave/stupid people.





The countdown is officially on, as I will be leaving to go home to the West Coast for the winter in less than two weeks. I've got a good little stockpile of pictures, so perhaps I'll get the motivation to post some more on here once I'm back in the land of unlimited high-speed internet.







Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Looks Okay.




Got up for my first revenue flight with passengers today for my new employer. I took a fellow up to a little northern community called Lutsel k'e as the
regional Dene organization is having it's annual general meeting. It's
held in a different community in the region every year and this year
it was Lutsel k'e's turn.




I am actually typing this on my Iphone sitting in the little terminal building as I am "holding" here for a couple hours while I await my passenger to finish up at the meeting and then bring him back to town.



Flight up was good, exactly an hour and a half. There was a little
bit of low cloud and rain on my departure and it started to look iffy,
but quickly cleared up and it was high cloud for the rest of the trip.

The direct route would have taken me out over the lake, a good 20 or
30 miles from shore but given the limited visibility and low ceilings
in the rain, I opted to stick to the shoreline so I would have a good
visual reference to the ground as I ducked under the first little bit
of clag.

On arrival near CYLK, I heard a medevac call on the radio from an Air
Tindi plane as he tried to get ahold of the local Community Aerodrome
Radio Service (CARS station). I thought they'd be open based on the
airport entry in the CFS, but he got no answer that I could hear.

( The CFS is the Canada Flight Supplement, a small book about the size of a brick and approximately the same weight. The pages are the super-thin newsprint variety that you might find in say, a bible. Published anew every 56 days, it lists the details of every Aerodrome in Canada. I've always thought it to be more than a bit silly in this day and age to being wasting so much paper, but hey, two expired CFS's make a great set of chocks for your planes tires, so its not like they cant be recycled.... )


Sometimes while flying, you only get to hear one side of the
conversation as an airborne transmitting radio has much greater range
than a ground station, since our radios are VHF and limited to line of
sight.

I got within 20 miles and made my own call to the CARS station and got silence from them as well, guess no ones home...

The Tindi aircraft called me up directly and gave me their ETA as only a
minute or two before mine, so I let him know I'd wait for him to land
before I started into the airport zone. He was using a Medevac call sign,
so he had priority over me as far as I was concerned. He was doing a
straight-in approach to the runway I expected to be the active based
on the winds reported at the field before I left. I stayed about four
miles away from the airport on the "dead" side and waited till I saw
him on the runway before I turned in to start my own straight in
approach for runway 08.

For an airport with no ground station (since they were apparently
closed), an arriving aircraft will usually cross overhead the field to
have a look at the windsock and determine the runway is clear and
which runway is more into wind for the landing. Since the Tindi pilot
had established that for me, and given me a wind report once he
landed, I simply followed him in instead of crossing goer and circling
back around for the landing. Its always appreciated to pass it on to anyone else coming in as it saves a lot of unnecessary maneuvering at low altitude and airspeed.

Taxiied in and conveniently there was two sets of concrete pads.




Most airports of this size that I have been to, only have one pad, so
that was a bonus. Since most of he airports up here are gravel runways
and taxiways, they usually have at least one concrete pad that we can
park with our props over top of so that on start up we don't pick up
little rocks and beat little dents into our props. You still have to
have a look at the pad before start up as you will often have to sweep
the area just under and ahead of your prop as there is usually a couple
little rocks hanging around.

Once we landed and my passenger went off to town I went into the
little terminal building, called back to head office to report my
arrival and had a little of my lunch I brought.

The Tindi medavacs patient showed up along with a nurse from the
health station. After she was done loading up she drove up to where I
was standing and let me know that if I was sentenced to hang out for
the whole day here, I was more than welcome to come down to the health
centre and watch TV.

Apparently, that's what all the pilots who hold
here do. Very nice of her to offer, but I brought my fishing rod and
was still thinking of walking down to the lake. After she left and I
started typing this out on my phone, I realized I had already killed
an hour and decided it might be better if I stuck around. My passenger
mentioned he would try and get done sooner rather than later and it
might even be less than a two hour hold.




Another Tindi plane, this time a dash-7 came in and I briefly worried
that he wouldn't have room to get around me. Once the medevac plane had
left, I ended up being parked in the middle of the ramp. He had lots
of room though and only stopped long enough to shut down two engines
on one side and let two people off and then they blasted off.

The CARS guy had shown up just before the dash-7, which I imagine is
the "sched", and as soon as they taxied onto the runway and he had let
them know that there was "no reported traffic ", I heard the radio
click off and off he went, back to town till the next scheduled flight
I bet... Haha. Actually, he ended up coming back fifteen minutes after I typed that and was there for the rest of the time, including my departure.

My coworker pointed out as well that this airport is in the Northern Domestic Airspace, and as such, its runway designation is in degrees True, as opposed to Magnetic.




The runway sign indicated that this is Runway 078T instead of the traditional 08. I also just realized, usually these signs depict BOTH runways, as in a runway designated as 08 ( magnetic heading somewhere between 075 and 085, I can't remember how they round up or down, so forgive me if this is wrong. ) will also be runway 26, as the opposite end of the runway can be used as a "different" runway if departing the other way. So these signs, usually say " 08 - 26 " or " 07 - 25 ", but this ine only indicates ONE runway, even though I know for a fact the other end is a perfectly useable and legal runway. Odd.

Lining up to land here, your magnetic compass would indicate a direction of about 053 degrees.

Back at base I had another flight of similar length waiting for me, but it ended up getting pushed over to tomorrow morning as the winds at my destination were starting to get a little hectic and there was little real urgency for the flight to happen that day.

We had about a 15 knot headwind on the way up here, and going home I snuck up a little higher and ended up picking up 25 knots directly on the tail to get home a lot faster than the trip up.

In good form as well, I traded fuel for speed on the way up so that I wasn't lingering too long in the headwind scenario and on the way back I throttled it back a little to get back the fuel I burnt on the way up and let the wind do more of the work.

Air Tindi was pretty busy today too it seems. I heard two Tindi palnes talking on their way to a Lodge outside of yellowknife, before they took their conversation " company" ( over to a private company frequency ). Got back to base and looking at the news, it would appear one of those planes was most likely carrying the Royals...cool.



I noticed this instrument right outside the terminal building as well. I've seen them in other places, but never hada chance to take a picture. I THINK it's used for measung the height of a cloud layer for their weather reports, but I'm not 100% on that. It kind of looks like an old sextant.



I got to fly this leg the other day, even though you might say we had a " passenger ". This fellow is known as a "hummer" as sometimes in commercial air cargo they will get a little sticker that says " HUMR "....that stands for Human Remains.

They always indicate somewhere on the box which side is the Head, as it is fairly important that it always be kept "head-up if there is any incline in loading / unloading or transport. I am told this is to keep the embalming fluids from pooling in the head.... In this case, we received the box with only two notations on it, one on each end and they both said " legs "...sigh..... We opened up a corner to see if there was any other way to tell, but everything is well wrapped up, and I was NOT opening things any further.





I took a few photos with my phone today, hoping the lower resolution pics would translate to faster upload times, but no dice. Its still pretty darn slow....

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I will call you Betty, and Betty, you can call me Captain.

Finally got my PPC Ride today.

We've been trying to book it for a little over two weeks and its been frustrating for everyone, my employer included. Its a fairly short season already and to be limited to freight runs and tagging along for empty legs has me feeling a little less than useful at some points.

But that's all out of the way as of this morning, I passed my PPC ride and can now fly the C337, aka The Push/Pull as pilot-in-command for both passengers and freight runs. admittedly, the work that they have for this plane is somewhat less than the Caravan, however, with my training and flight test out of the way on the C337, its on to the Caravan training now.

It's kind of funny in some respects, as the C208 Caravan only requires that I be trained to a PCC standard and no PPC ride is required to act as PIC with passengers under Day VFR.

Funny, because in my mind, the Caravan is a more complicated aircraft, is larger, and being on amphibious floats, has a couple more features that require some training on.

I'll back it up a little for the non-aviation folks reading along.

A PPC is a Pilot Proficiency Check. Its a Flight Test ( A " Ride ", abbreviated slang for CheckRide ), conducted by either a Transport Canada Inspector or an Authorized Check Pilot. In larger companies, you may have one of your own pilots conducting the Ride as an ACP, but for most people ( I think ), you'll consult the list of available ACP's in your area and work your way through the list till you find one who is available and qualified for the particular ride you are after. Quite often, the person will be an employee of one of your competitors.

I don't know if it happens or not ,but I suspect, that one might be a little hesitant to look at ACP's in your immediate locale, as they will be your competitor and the perception of bias would be hard to avoid... I'm sure 99% of them are objective and fair, but I can't help but think the perception might be enough..

A PPC is sort of like a license for a particular aircraft, but not quite a type rating. If you hold a valid PPC, say, for the Space Shuttle, you could, in theory, go over to the other Space Shuttle operators in your neighborhood and get a job with them. The fact that you have passed aircraft-specific training and a flight test, allows them to greatly abbreviate your training program and save a bucket load of money.

So... side-note here but worth mentioning, it would appear that some pilots, hell-bent on career progression, would abuse this process and have Company A train them, get their PPC and promptly quit to go work for Company B, now that Company B will actually deign to return their calls hiring them will save them thousands ( I'm not even joking here.. ) of dollars in training.

If you read AvCanada, you would come to the conclusion that this is the rule rather than the exception that I suspect it is. Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I tend to take things from that site more than a sprinkling or too of salt...

Because of the above, some companies have started demanding new-hires undertake a " bond " to ensure they stick around long enough to make training them worthwhile, or even have them cough up cash up front upon being hired and having it repaid to them slowly over the length of their indentured servitude.

In any case, that's a PPC, a notation on your license that says you can carry passengers, for hire, in a specific ( usually multi-engine ) aircraft, for hire.

A PCC, on the other hand is a Pilot Competency Check. Semantics you might think, but substantially less stringent training protocols and the flight test is usually at the end of your training where instead of sending you off to a date with a transport Canada Inspector for a flight test, the chief pilot fills out a piece of paper and says, ok, you're good to go. No Flight test, per se, although I'm sure most do a test of sorts. But mostly, training you to competency and then signing you off.

A PCC is non-transferable in the way a PPC is. If you walk over to a competitor, they still have to do all the same training to issue you a company-specific PCC, there is little advantage to hiring someone with a PCC. ( Other than the fact that they probably have some experience )

Most single engine aircraft do not not require a PPC, only a PCC, to fly under Day VFR conditions with passengers.

Enter the C208 Caravan. Legally, a single-engine plane. Although much larger than the little multi-engined C337. Turbine to boot as well, which is actually quite nice to operate. I guess easier too as well in most respects, but like engine heating/cooling for piston engined aircraft, a turbine has its own gotcha's that need to be monitored and handled as well.

In my mind, a much larger, more complicated aircraft. But legally, I've already done the hard part on the little C337. In theory, the training for the PCC on the Caravan, should be easier, if you read into it the apparent spirit of the regulations, having assigned it the less stringent regimen of PCC training instead of PPC.

My employer says I have it wrong, the Caravan is a much easier plane with much more docile handling attributes, is simple to operate and " just a big 172 ". I agree with him in some respects, my flying experiences on it so for, about a half dozen hours, have been pretty surprisingly easy. Hard to get over the size of the thing though, up a dozen feet in the air on the amphibious floats.

Even in the cockpit, the thing is big. Your own seat with plenty of legroom, no shoulder rubbing with your copilot and your own heating, ventilation, controls, instruments and even your own door, haha.

Amphibious, because it has floats that have a set of retractable landing gear hidden up inside them, allowing you to retract the wheels and land it on water as a float plane, or extend them and land on a runway. This part I like. Lots of water around here and very few runways, the floats definitely give you a few more options in the event of.

Anyhow, back to my story...

So we finally nail down an ACP to do my ride, it was booked a few days ago for early this monring in another town, about an hour and a bit flight away.

Two days of refreshing my head with the book stuff and I think there was a flight as well that I went along on for the empty leg home to keep fresh on flying the thing.

Up early this morning and I made myself eat breakfast, even though I often skip breakfast, particularly feeling a little nervous as I did this morning.

Not that the flight test was a " jeopardy event ", with failure bringing and immediate end to my employment, but the time, expense and delay in getting this test arranged was fairly substantial for my employer. To go home, do some remedial training, rebook and go back to do another one would be...uneconomical at best and a complete waste of time at worst, given the short length of the busy season up here.

Gather up all my current charts, maps and supplements. Check the plane out from head to toe and fuel it up and top off the oil. Double check I have all my training records, license, medical, lucky troll doll and am wearing clean underwear.

Check, check and roger that.

I did up and printed off a copy of our Operational Flight Plan ( OFP ) as it has navigation details, weight and balance information, fuel calculations, time enroute and a few other details. I'm hoping that if I am asked to do a Navigation Exercise, like planning a simulated trip with a simulated cargo/passenger load, I can forstall the drudgery of going through all the calculation minutiae by showing the examiner how we can simply and easily do it all with a spreadsheet, instead of a #2 pencil, a wizwheel a bunch of charts, graphs and performance calculations.

I know this sounds lazy, but here's the deal.

I know my aircraft can perform suitably well, tolerably even, with as little as 2000 feet of runway, fully loaded and a warm day.

So.

If I get sent somewhere that has 5000 feet of hard-surfaced runways to pick up one guy and the temperature isnt anything crazy... I probably will not get out the performance charts and graph it all out.

If the runway was 1500 feet, sure, you bet.

If it was 30 degrees out, yeah, absolutely.

Same goes for the navigation log. If I'm doing the same trip over and over to the same place, I know how long it takes. I know how much fuel I expect to burn. I know the track distance between a few major landmarks, and if my GPS went T/U, I could pull off a groundspeed check without too much trouble.

Block fuel burns and standard power settings eliminate the need for a lot of the foo-far-ah as well. I can calculate them in my head, revise as is necessary.

It was all a moot point however, as the examiner wasn't interested in much of that stuff at all.

The ground portion was an oral exam on the aircraft itself and our companies operations manual and company-specific policies and procedures. I knew the majority of the aircraft stuff off the top of my head, but looked up two items in the book ( I'm allowed to do that ) that I had even the slightest doubt about.

A couple quick calculations to show I actually knew how to use the performance charts and we were off for the air portion.

Again, this was mostly demonstrating proficiency with this specific aircraft. Little time was wasted on testing me on things that frankly, I have already been tested on, several times.

I made a couple errors, notably;

In my steep turns, I gained a bit of airspeed on the first one and my altitude control was sloppy in the second. I eyeballed a power increase for the first steep turn purely out of habit. I've had no trouble with steep turns, even up to 360 degrees around with little or no power increase and losing negligible airspeed, with this airplane.

On the altitude, I was a bit flustered by what looked like a fatal 10 mph airspeed increase on the first one that I sloppily dove into the second one, starting out 50 feet higher than I should been.

Then the Single-engine overshoot, that is, a simulated approach to landing, conducted at altitude, the examiner calls for an overshoot or go-around at a couple hundred feet above your simulated runway altitude and then fails an engine mid-overshoot, close to the ground. I managed to get the engine failure and feathering drill down in a timely fashion, but let my airspeed increase away from best-rate and ended up leveling off at a pretty low altitude while I got the engine feathered and then noticed I wasn't climbing due to wasting airspeed on forward motion instead of using it to climb my wounded bird away from the simulated trees. I got it done within limits, barely.

A couple other small items and the examiner commented that the ride was well done and I had passed.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I felt with the ride and the lack of busy-work, that, as I mentioned before, I have already been tested on and could do again if required, but were not all that applicable to an aircraft-specific proficiency check.

All of this being done during the " Debrief " session after the flight of course. Or as my Chief Pilot who sat in on the debrief called it " the ass-reaming ".

I flew us home and that was that. Glad that's out of the way, looking forward to heading out on my own for a few trips now.

We have a " Court Party " trip tomorrow, where we fly an entire courtroom, judge, prosecutor, crown defender, sheriff and court stenographer out to a remote community to conduct a few trials in the local community hall.

In the afternoon, we get started on a large project freight-haul where have a dozen or more loads staged in our yard for transport to another remote community. A good chunk of the load is steel plates that are stupid-heavy and a full load will look comical, being just a single inch-thick layer on the floor of the plane. The plane will look completely empty at maximum gross weight. These will be in the caravan so hopefully I'll get some stick time towards my PCC training over the next week as well.

Sorry I am not able to post much for pictures these days. My internet connection is limited to tethering my PC to my iphone and piggybacking on the 3G signal. Fine for internet browsing, but uploading and downloading things are incredibly slow and frequently crash or time-out.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Fathers Day




Fathers day today, first one for me as a new Dad. A little melancholy as I'm away from my baby girl and my Lovely Wife. My wife made a great little video for me with TWO wearing an I (Heart) Daddy shirt and we had a nice little chat this morning.

Also a little melancholy as my own Father passed away a few years ago and I'm sure he'd find my present situation entertaining as well. I was actually born not too far from where I am presently employed, up here in Canada's north. During the couple years before and after my birth, he made the trip up here to find work. He was most definitely of the "enlightened" generation, to put it delicately and I always thought it a strange place to go to find work back in the sixties and seventies. He ended up mostly driving a cab, but made at least one foray back here a few years after my birth to do it again and make some income. I guess cab driving paid fairly well back then, who knows.



It was always an interesting conversation point when I was a kid, as to where I was born. Even though we moved away when I was only a few months old, I used to use my birthplace as a bit of a badge of uniqueness. Not so unique now, EVERYONE here is born where I was born...haha.



Was a day off for me as well, as it seems most sundays are around here. More because we dont have a lot of work on sundays than anything else.

First I thought I might go hit up the driving range and hit a bucket of balls. I realized its probably been almost two years since I swung a club. Not that I was any good to begin with, but I'm not going to get any better by not golfing.



I enjoy golfing in much the same way as I do fishing. Its a reasonable excuse to get outside and enjoy the outdoors for a long period of time. If I simply walked back and forth in a park for three hours, people might think it a little odd, same as if I sat on a riverbank and stared at the water for three hours. Luckily, all I have to do is swing a club at a little tiny ball and then go looking for it in the bushes for three hours and people think thats entirely acceptable.

I did in fact, change my mind and went fishing instead. There are a ton of places around here to go fishing, but everyone keeps telling me to go to the same spot. Every time I've been to that spot as well, theres always four or five other people there as well. I've tried a few other spots, with limited success, but have always found good results at "the spot". Not a bad location either, just off the end of the runway. Got to watch the water tankers and bird dogs take off and land a couple times too. Oddly, downwind as well....( the plane in the picture is back-tracking and about to turn downwind for the takeoff. )



Apologies for the crap quality, its an iphone picture, at full zoom, but I was trying to get a shot with the windsock as well.

I'll always remember one of my instructors telling me how she remembered which direction the windsock was indicating. That was, The Tail of the sock, is where you want your tail to be. So the direction it is "pointing", where the pointy end is, is where you want your tail to be pointed. Sounds silly, but it stuck.

Actually, thats kind of funny too, I've met quite a few people over the years who misunderstand the whole taking-off-into-the-wind thing. Non-pilots of course and not an indication of their intelligence, but just kind of a funny assumption that your average person has about how an aircraft and a wing works.

For the non-pilots, we take off into wind as the wing of an aircraft does not give a hoot about the ground beneath it. To the wing, the ground does not exist. It exists only in its own medium, the air. The wing creates lift due to the airflow over it. How it gets that airflow, it also doesnt GARA where it comes from. You could design a giant hand to launch it, a-la paper airplane, you could lead it around by another aircraft that had an enormous fan mounted on it to blow air over its wings, or you could strap a couple engines to it and propel a large mass of air backwards creating a newtonian reaction of forward thrust. All of which are perfectly acceptable, only one of which is actually used, so far. ( there are other ways, like throwing kerosene into a tube with a little fan in it that spins at insane speeds and then light it on fire, but thats another story )

In any case, if an airplane is sitting stationary on the ground and a 10 mph wind is blowing on it ( from the front ), the wing thinks its moving through the air at 10 mph...becuase it is. Its not moving over the ground at 10mph, but remember, the wing doesn't care about the ground, its all about the air.

So, if your wing needs 100mph to generate enough lift to get the rest of the airplane off the ground, then you only need to generate 90 mph of forward motion with the engine(s) if you have a 10mph headwind. The opposite is true for a tailwind, you will need to go 110 mph (on the ground )to get that same 100mph relative airflow over the wing.

This all changes once you are actually in the air, but thats another story too.

In any case, I watched, curious, as the giant aircraft took off, with a tailwind. I think they were on a training flight as they returned pretty quickly, so who knows, maybe there was an operational reason.

It could also be that the tail wind was of little concern to them versus other concerns. Occasionally you might take off downwind as there are obstacles on the into wind end of the runway. Or noise-sensitive areas, or traffic considerations, or any number of other reasons that might necessitate a decision to take off downwind. Particularly if the wind was a minor wind to begin with. Not judging, just noted with curiosity at the time.

I remember too at one point when I first started flying, and noting that the winds aloft can be routinely 40 Kmh at even low altitudes, why do those little fluffy clouds not get ripped apart by the howling windstorm going on up there?? Why do they float along and rarely seem disturbed by all this commotion?

It was explained to me once and it always stuck with me. If you are floating down a river in a Canoe, just hanging out and having a cold beverage, letting the current whip you downstream at 10 mph, its not too crazy. If you look at the shore, its really cruising by, but if you ( irresponsibly, shame on you ) throw your cold beverage can in the river, it will float alongside you peaceful as can be. Like the wing, it GARA what the ground ( shore ) is doing ,while it is in its own medium, doing its own thing. Its all relative.

Did some emergency procedure and single-engine maneuvering training in the push/pull yesterday as well. With one engine out, its actually quite a nice little plane to handle.

Unlike the conventional twin, there is no yaw or controllability issue, only a loss of power. In fact, it can be tricky to determine which engine has done the failing...

In a conventional twin, its usually fairly obvious, the nose is pulling hard to one side and you have to actively work at it to keep it straight with the rudder. The lack of activity on one foot/rudder pedal tells you that is is the side generating zero-thrust. Dead Foot = Dead Engine.

You can check the engine instruments in a conventional twin and they will give you some indication, but they can be a little too subtle. Since the engine is still turning,( because the propeller is spinning in the relative airflow ), the oil pressure might still be up ( ish ) and the engine is still fulfilling its duties as an air pump, so the manifold pressure will not change very much, the alternator might still be generating some electricity, the vacuum pump might still be pumping vacuum. But the prop isn't generating thrust, its actually generating drag, using that relative air to turn the engine. And turning that dead engine is a lot of work. Work that your good engine is now doing and you'd rather dedicate to other tasks, like keeping you in the air.

On the push/pull, since there is no adverse yaw ( that pulling-to-one-side ), the best indicators are the fuel flow gauge and the propeller RPM. The fuel flow gauge is the better of the two as a failed engine eats no fuel, so one engine will register zero fuel flow. ( I know, I'm glossing over partial-power-loss, bear with me )The RPM gauge will still indicate something as the propeller is still spinning, but it should be less than the operating engine. In our training, it was about 300 RPM lower, which isn't much and requires a concerted "look" at the gauge, a glance could easily miss the difference.

That wrapped up my training flights on this aircraft as well, next stop is PPC ride and then I can fly passengers for hire. All I have to do is pass...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Flying in the North



I wanted to call this, "flying in the arctic ", but then I started thinking it might be a bit pretentious. We didn't really go all THAT far north and frankly, there were still trees around, so I'm not sure it really counts as The Arctic.

It was however, my first time flying into the Northern Domestic Airspace.

Canada of course, is separated into several different types of Airspace and Air Traffic Control Areas. Blanket "Airspace" separations are the Southern Domestic and Northern Domestic varieties. Control Areas are Southern, Northern and Arctic.

The Airspace delineations are primarily due to the different type of navigation required in each. In the Southern, you use Magnetic Tracks and in the North, due to the proximity to the Magnetic north Pole, you use only True Tracks. The Control Area delineations are a little different, but have more to do with how IFR traffic is handled and who handles it. Arctic and Northern control areas see a lot of trans-polar long-haul flights that use our airspace due to great-circle routing between the USA and Europe/Asia.

In the picture above, the airplane is sitting on a small pad of concrete at an otherwise gravel/dirt runway and airport ramp. These are important, as it allows us to start up the engine and/or run it up, without sucking up rocks and beating our poor props to death. Once the aircraft is moving, most of the rocks that get sucked up, go back wards, but while stationary, they tend to take chunks out of the props. The pad should be swept off with a broom if there are rocks on it, but generally they are relatively clean.

In any case, our mission was to take a couple of Power Co. employees up to two different communities so they could do some testing of the local power distribution systems. Specifically, they had a special video camera that sensed heat and they had to take some film of every pole-mounted transformer in these communities. Apparently, when these things develop issues, they give off heat, so they can fix them before they pop. In the words of one of the technicians, " any electrical system having problems, will let you know by giving off heat. "

First leg was about 250 statute miles north and took us over/near the Yellowknife control zone. I talked to them on the radio and let them know we were there as a courtesy and was glad I did. There were several aircraft up in the area doing training flights and one of them was pretty close to us. I think it was a king-air and they were doing IFR training. Most likely, head-down and at high speed.

They weren't in the control zone, so had stopped talking to the tower and tower passed us their callsign and suggested we advise on 126.7 our position. We did, with no response, but stayed with Tower and they kept an eye on things and eventually let us know it looked like they were leaving the area and we could relax. Thats not really what he said, but thats what he meant.

Onto our first community and we held for about an hour and a half in the little airport building. Its actually pretty impressive, considering this town probably has a little over a hundred occupants.



Not much to do here, other than chat, read old fashion magazines littered around the terminal and go poke around and look at an old airplane that was derelict out in the back patch.



I thought it remarkable that this airplane was sitting there for so long and didn't look like it had been too badly vandalized or otherwise abused. I surmised it might have been because of this ancient sticker in the back window, threatening EVEN DEATH for such malfeasance.

Story was that the airplane had an accident here 12 or 15 years ago and had sat here ever since. Either the owner was offered an insurance pay-out to write it off and he accepted, or it had no insurance and the costs to fix it were not worth it.

If the insurance company did pay out on it, then they too decided it wasn't worth doing anything about either and there it sits. Considering what even small aircraft components are worth in their parts values, I'm surprised the insurance company didn't mount some kind of salvage operation. Even if it was to go in there and disassemble the thing, strip it for the most valuable parts and leave the rest.

The techs had a cab pre-arranged to take them into town, which was about three miles from the airport. We overheard the cab driver quoting them 50 bucks a head for the ride, so we decided it wasn't worth tagging along into town.



View from the airport, looking over the bay towards town.

They were only gone for about an hour and half and we loaded back up and blasted off for our next destination. This leg was a bit longer, at almost 350 statute miles.



Had to go around once at the next one as the strip is a little on the short-ish side ( 2000 feet ) and the approach was fudged a little, with a missed touchdown mark and too much speed. Next one was better and we held there for a little over an hour and half as well as the techs did their thing in town.



After that, we had to make a quick hop over to a nearby town ( 90 miles ) to fuel up before we made the final leg back home ( 190 miles ).

At the fuel stop, we fueled up quickly, with one eye kept on an approaching thunderstorm. Just after we finished, the Chief Pilot who was with me, got called into the terminal building and I let the guys know that if this delay was more than 5 minutes, that we would most likely be delayed, waiting for the storm to pass. He was out in less than a minute and we blasted off, leaving the approaching storm behind.

We actually were dodging thunderstorms for most of the second half of the trip, but they were easy to spot and we gave them a wide berth.

Back at base and its put the airplane to bed and do the paperwork for the flight. Almost 6 hours of flying!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On The Road Again



Well, I finally arrived in my new summer home. I left Vancouver on Monday morning at 0700 and arrived in the north around suppertime on Tuesday.

The first day actually started a few days ago with packing, sorting, cleaning and taking care of all manner of tasks before flying the coop for the summer.

This morning came early with my little girl deciding to get up a full hour before her usual rousing time. Perhaps she was as nervous as me. Unfortunately drinking a bottle of milk worked for her, but not me.



I switched cars with the wife and packed most of my stuff last night, to save ten trips to the parkade at 0600. I usually drive the nicer of our two cars, as I spend considerably more time on the road with my daily commute. For this trip , I took the "other" car. I want to call it our Beater, but it is actually the same year as the "good" car and was almost given to us by a relative, so don't want to risk offending anyone....

The 500 of the 1000 kilometres I drove today were very nice. Other than some fuzziness out the windshield due to what I suspect were my " allergies " acting up on departing my wife and daughter this morning, things were very pleasant. Some early clouds at 0700 leaving home turned to sunshine by 1000.

Just before Jasper, the Check Engine light came on in the car.



Great.

Quick pit stop to check things out and everything that could be checked was normal. Engine wasn’t running hot or anything, all fluids were good and no performance change in the engine. I’m chalking it up to some weird better-get-a-dealer-to-do-an-oil-change timer that needed resetting or a sensor issue. The car lived all of its life down on the coast, so maybe it didn’t like the altitudes I was driving at…who knows. We got the car from a relative for 500 bucks, so it was pretty much a gift. If it had to end its days behind some garage in Blue River while I carried on the trip on the greyhound, so be it.

I also noticed the windshield wipers were pretty badly worn so I picked up a new one in Jasper. Yup, ONE new one. I’m that cheap.



Google maps had me turning off the yellow head highway just before Hinton, but I was considering stopping for the night and figured Hinton would have a little more to choose from in the way of cheap motels then the alternatives up the road. I disobeyed Mssrs. Brin and Page and carried on into Hinton. After fuelling up the car and my belly, I noticed I had a wifi signal in the parking lot of the gas station so took a few minutes to check out the interweb. I was actually getting a little road-weary and was hoping to download an audio-book to keep me entertained for a few hours. I checked the app store and it was mostly Christian audio books and a few old classics, like Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes. The wifi signal wasn’t that great and they were fairly large files, so I skipped it. While rechecking the route on google, it now had me going an altogether different route now that I had gone 20 miles past the original turnoff it had commanded.

The new route had a few more sizable towns and frankly looked a little more direct. Interesting. I also noted that I wasn’t nearly as far into the trip as I thought. I figured Hinton would be at least half-way, but no such luck. If I stopped there, after twelve hours of driving, the next day would be at minimum 14 hours more. There was plenty of daylight left, so I pressed on for Whitecourt.



Whitecourt had me in a cheap motel, The Ritz. I was a little skeptical as there was a pub attached to the Motel, but luckily Monday night wasn’t party time in Whitecourt, so I got a quiet night.

I did have a few concerns about finding a room on the way up. I’ve been through Alberta before and have come across towns that are booked solid with oil workers. Every motel is booked up by 2 pm and any rooms available are double what you would expect to pay.

While I was checking in at the Ritz, another fellow was also checking in and the clerk read him out a 400 dollar-plus bill. My turn came and I asked if there were any rooms available, he replied “ yes, fill this out please :, handing me a check in slip and quickly moving on to the next customer waiting in line before I could ask the rate. I filled out the slip waiting for the other shoe to drop and me having to hand it back over and go sleep in the car. 75 Bucks. Sweet!

Next morning it was greasy spoon breakfast and back on the road. From Jasper on, the highways got progressively smaller and smaller.



At Peace River, I called up to my new employer and checked in so they would know when to expect me in town. A last minute stop to pick up a few things and then the final stretch.



From Peace River north, the highway got quite a bit smaller, but also a lot straighter as well. In fact, there wasn’t much for turns from that point on till the NWT border. Those turns that were there were the same diameter and radius. If you looked at them from an aerial view, I’m pretty sure they made up the two 90 degree corners on a full-section of land, where the highway had to bend around developed farmland.



At the NWT border, I was awaiting the giant sign to take some pictures of my first foray North of 60 since I was a baby. Pulling into the little pull out, I noticed two cars pulling in behind me. As I rooted around in my bag for my camera and a drink, I caught a glimpse of the two guys getting out of the cars and noticed they looked young, white and excited. In the back of my mind I thought, I bet these guys are doing the same thing up here as me.

Sure enough, they were two recent flight college grads moving up North to take ramp jobs with two large air carriers up here. We chatted for awhile and took each others pictures under the big sign. They mentioned they were going to be looking for a place to stay in the town where I was headed, but I was still a little unsure about my accommodations to offer a place to crash. Plus, showing up to my new employers with guests in tow, probably wouldn’t have made the best first impression.



I stopped at a waterfall for a quick peek and they passed me by. I decided if I saw them in town, I’d get a phone number from them and give them a quick call after checking in, to see if it was OK to offer them a place to crash. I didn’t see them again and ended up visiting for awhile anyways, so it was a moot point. I felt bad turning down an opportunity to help these guys out, you never know when connections like these can come in handy…

I gave my new Co. a call when I got into town and was directed out to the hangar at the airport to come and meet everybody. Very nice people, and a nice little setup. I got the tour of the operation and of my new home for the summer.

Voila. Casa Mia.



Its actually quite a nice little setup. I have a great big double bed, a couch and a kitchen table. A microwave, and Oven, a Stove and a fridge/freezer. I was worried that the fridge/freezer would be beer-fridge sized and necessitating buying food in tiny little batches, but it is actually quite ample.
Everything had been cleaned out for me and stocked with all the basics, dishes, linens, cutlery, towels, bedding, toaster, pots and pans.

They took me out for dinner that first night, so I forwent grocery shopping till the next day. Day after that was actually a hockey-game night, so I went over to a coworkers place to watch the game and ended up eating there as well. The night after that, it was over to the bosses place for dinner. So, havent actually done much in the way of cooking. In fact, I think the only supper I’ve actually cooked so far was a soup and sandwich affair.

Didn’t realize it, but we actually have 24 hour daylight up here right now. I kind of thought you had to be a little further north to get this, but I was wrong. Technically, the sun sets, but its more of a twilight, with the sun just below the horizon for an hour or two from like 0130 till 0330. During that time it just looks like a really long sunset, turning to a sunrise. It threw me for a little loop the first few nights, as I’d wake up in the middle of the night and check my watch, thinking it was 6 or 7 by the light, and it turned out to be 3 or 4 in the morning. Hasn’t bothered me so far, but everyone keeps saying that it will. We’ll see.



This is about as dark as it gets.

First few days were a flurry of studying company and aircraft documents and writing all the exams to satisfy my training. In between, I went out with them on a few runs and got to get acquainted with the aircraft. Day one had me “flying” the kingair on a little two hour-return flight and later that afternoon the Caravan.

As I’m not formally trained (yet) on these aircraft, it’s not really “flying” in the legal, loggable, sense or even training, but it was quite a nice surprise to get a couple takeoffs and landings along with the usual straight-and-level orientation flying.

A couple days later it was wrapping up my ground training on the aircraft I will be doing my ride on and the one I will be doing most of my flying in, the Cessna 337 Skymaster.

Behold, “Snoopy”.



The skymaster or 337, is a little bit of an odd aircraft. Its one of very few push-pull configuration twin-engine aircraft in existence that I know of. In fact, there is a special class of Instrument Rating that you get that is pretty much specific to this aircraft only.

You can get a Group 3 IFR, which covers all single-engine airplanes and a Group 1 which covers all ( conventional ) twin-engine airplanes and a Group 2 for this bad boy, specific to this aircraft only. Technically its good for all “ Centre Line Thrust Multi Engine Aircraft “. Of which, I only know of this one.

Technically, the Group 2 also allows me to fly any Group 3 aircraft as well.

In order to carry passengers for hire, I also have to do a Transport Canada flight test or “ ride “ to get what is called a PPC, a Pilot Proficiency Check. Coincidentally, the PPC will also act as an IFR flight test, renewing an existing rating or giving me initial qualification, provided all other requirements are met. I have all the other requirements done, so hopefully over the next few weeks, I will have a fresh instrument rating on my license. There is still the possibility that they will only be doing a VFR PPC for me, as that is 99% of the flying I will be doing, but they said they will try and arrange for me to do an IFR one if they feel I have a reasonable chance of success at challenging it.

So, after finishing off the ground stuff on this aircraft, it was flight training time. Me and the Chief Pilot went out for an hour of my mandated flight training and did a little instrument work, some steep turns, stalls clean and dirty and then back to the airport for some circuits. I got some good feedback from the Chief, who had bucket loads of experience flying up here and in taking in new guys like myself for their first jobs. It’s a different world out here than the one you get introduced to in the flight school universe.


The Caravan and King air flights were also my first time flying a turbine powered aircraft. The Caravan being a single engine and the King air having two turbine engines hanging off the wings.

A few major differences, but the basics are still the same. Set Engine power output, match prop RPM to give you the desired performance. Monitor key temperatures and pressures and don’t exceed key limits.

The KingAir is a pretty sweet machine. Lots of technology and a lot faster than anything I’ve flown before. Very responsive as well and quite a treat to handle.

Got to go to a local fishing lodge as well to run in supplies for them. This is very familiar to me…drums of fuel, groceries and propane.

We were also told that on one run we would picking up two girls who were coming out of the camp. Since they hadn’t even had their first guest yet and these workers were just up there doing all the season-opening chores of opening up a lodge, it’s a bit unusual to be bringing people out.

The story we got when we were loading back up to leave, was that one of them had a family member in the hospital and the other simply didn’t want to stay for the rest of the season without her friend. I wasn’t buying the hospital story for a minute. I think the truth was that they had no idea what they had gotten themselves into and were bailing.

Back at base we phoned a cab for them to go back into town. Getting into the cab one of the girls asked us, “ where’s a good place to stay for the night in town, where we can drink? “.

Hmm. Yeah, or go to the hospital to visit your dying great-uncle.