Sunday, June 28, 2009

Quasi Stationary

Had an interesting little experience this week. Got a phone call from an outfit I had sent my resume to at some point.

It was quite the phone call. He introduced himself as the chief pilot of an air service I was familiar with ( having applied there.. ) and asked if I had a few minutes to talk about a job opening he had.

I'll be honest, my heart kind of skipped a beat. This was an interview for a flying job. It's not like I'm unhappy with what I'm doing, but lets face it, I've invested a lot of time and money in the past two and a half years, to get a flying job.

The " interview " went relatively well. A few basic questions about my job experience, training and present situation.

He asked me if I was married, I said " yes ". He said, " oh, well I'm not really set up for married guys, I don't hire married pilots. ".

I was disappointed, I'll be honest, but have expected that this might be a problem for some of the entry level type jobs I applied for. I mean, these companies have tons of experience in hiring guys to come and work for them in remote locations for months at a time, with little in the way of time off or the ability to host wives in civilized environments, even for a visit. They've probably had tons of guys come through,. saying, oh, I can handle being away from the wife for 6 months, and then 2 months later, hat in hand, telling the boss that family comes first...

I told him that " oh well, thats too bad ". I mean, its not like this is a negotiating point, I'm married, cant pretend I'm not married, even for a flying job...haha.

" wait, wait wait, hold on a second " he says. Oh... hmmm....... I think.

A guy I hired this year didn't work out, I need someone to replace him fairly quick. I usually ask my pilots to work for me for a minimum of one year, and I usually don't hire married guys, but I'm willing to make some exceptions.

Wow. A year-round flying job to boot.

Not like I'm set up to accept a year-round position in the town he was located in, but wow, that would be something.

I told him I am only up here for the summer, that I have plans to be back home in the fall, that I wouldn't be able to take on a year-round position.

He went on to say that that was ok, that this year, he had a need for someone just to fill in for the summer. He'd waive the year-round commitment, he'd waive the married thing, since I had explained I was already away from home for the last two months and the wife and I had planned for me to be away till the end of summer in any case.

He spelled out a few more particulars about the job, housing, pay, and a few " interesting " personality traits of his boss that he felt it was better I knew right up front.

We talked about the float time I had acquired and some of the details about the kind of float flying I had done during training. We also talked about my present employer, since he knew him, knew my current bosses father in fact.

Then the magic words.... " the job is yours, all you have to say is yes ". I said yes. I mean, I can't really turn down an honest-to-god full-time flying job.

" how soon can you start? ", says prospective new-boss.

" well, " I explain, " I couldn't commit to anything before July 15th, as I will have to give my present employer some notice "


" Thats a long time. I need someone pretty soon, what with the training I will have to do, and our busy season approaching. "

I explained that I didn't really have a lot of leeway here, that 2 weeks notice was the least I could give my employer.

Prospective boss laughed and said he agreed, that it was only reasonable, in fact, he went on to tell me a story about a guy he had interviewed, also gainfully employed by someone else at the time, and the fellow had said " I'll start tomorrow!". To which he had told him " this interview is over ".

I explained that I would not be able to speak to the boss till the following afternoon, in order to give my notice, but that I would check and see if they had any possible replacements lined up already, or if they could spare me any sooner than the two weeks notice I would be giving ( two and a half weeks actually ). He said that would be fine, send him an email with some references and we would talk tomorrow afternoon in case there was an earlier start date I could offer.

Wow, I scored a flying job. Sweet.

I talked to the boss the next afternoon after the days flights. I let him know I would be leaving and that I had gotten a flying job and who it was with. I told him I would appreciate it if there was any way they could do without me earlier than the 15th. He said sure, they would start looking right away, and if there was a way, they would do it. He was very understanding, I mean, I can't turn down a flying job, thats the nature of the game...

I immediately called new-boss back, as he was looking forward to my phone call as he was going out of town for the weekend and asked to call instead of emailing him, after giving my notive.

" Hi New-Boss, its me, just wanted to let you know that I've given my notice and that so far, its the 15th, but if they can get my replacement any sooner, I will be able to start sooner than that. "

New-Boss: " Sorry, too late, thats just not good enough, the 15th is just too long for me to wait. "

Me: " Um, I'm sorry? "

New-Boss " Best of luck in the future. "

Me: " Uh,well, You .... hello? "

Now-Empty-Phone-Line " .... "

Me: @@$%%&&*&^%&*#@!!!#

After giving my notice to my current employer, not five minutes earlier, I was back telling him the whole sordid story and that I was officially rescinding my notice.

He found it as bizarre as I did. Thankfully.

My current boss was actually good enough to offer immediately, that he would cut me loose sooner if thats what it would take to get me into a plane. I decided that my first flying job was worth groveling for, so I called him back and let him know I could be there in as little as a week if that would make the difference. He told me it was too late, he had another guy calling him back in a minute and starting in a day or two.

I suspect he had kept going down his list of resumes, even after we had spoke the night before, and found someone who could start sooner, and just hadn't got around to telling me. Instead, letting me give notice to my boss and then call him back ,to be told I didn't have the job at all. What if my boss was less than understanding? I could have been left with no job at all!

I'll be honest, I was really disappointed. For a million reasons, this opportunity could have have really sped up this whole painful process for me.

In the spirit of sour grapes, however, I found a lot of reasons to be thankful for this not coming together.

He wanted me to stay on till at least the end of October, which meant extending my summer away from the Lovely Wife... Not a good prospect for me, especially when we are already trying our damnedest to make this work.

He spelled out a bunch of strange and possibly difficult personality traits of the owner, whom I'd be living in very close quarters with for the rest of the summer.

He wanted me to bail on my present employer with little or no notice. He talked a big game about not doing this, but in the end, he proved unable to join me on the high road.

He acted like he had never offered and received my acceptance fo his offer, less than 24 hours prior. What else might he " pretend " not to ahve agreed to or offered?

So, there was my excitement for the week.

Still wish I had a proper " flying " job, but I'm still thankful for the job I have.

I feel ready to take the next step into actually flying full-time, even though I know I have a lot left to learn. I know this summer will do wonders towards taking the snoopy-shine off my newbie-ness.

At the same time, I also know that biting off a bit more would be a bit more of a satisfying challenge for me. That eventually, I need to be cut loose on my own if I am really going to start learning.

At the end of the day though , I have to admit, as cheesy as it sounds, I'm feeling pretty good about maintaining some integrity.

I remember reading a quote once " Integrity is the ONLY gift that a man is capable of giving to himself ". I think I did the right thing, even if it " cost " me a job.


Had a terrible weekend for weather, we were socked in all day yesterday, with planned trips out to the camps being canceled, and return trips for guests already in-camp having to be cancelled as well.

Guests kept arriving for their flights, and there were no flights..... but the guests kept arriving..... stressful, to say the least.

We finally got a few flights out today and cleared most of the backlog. Only one delayed group left planned to go out for tomorrow morning and luckily, the weather is forecast to clear up overnight, so it should be good.

Spent a lot of time over the last two days hanging out with the guests. Luckily, the type of people attracted to this type of get-away are usually pretty good and easy going type of guys. By the time they get all the way up here, most of the guys are pretty laid back, and in holiday mode. They understand that we have no control over the weather and I think they see us making every possible effort to get them out.

While we were waiting around this afternoon, waiting for the weather to clear, saw an interesting sight.

There seemed to be a seagull who was was sort-of diving for something, as he had one wing up in the air, while his head looked like it was underwater, rooting around or fighting with a fish.

Afrter about 10 minutes, with his head still underwater and his wing getting a little frantic in its movements, we started to wonder if the fish he was after hadn't got the better of him.

All of a sudden, the seagull disappeared under the water.

We assumed that a Northern Pike, ( a " Northern " ) had gotten him, as they are well known to be aggressive predators. Theres tons of stories of guys catching a wall-eye and while they are reeling it in, a big Northern comes along and eats it, only to get the hook now stuck in it, and two fish landed on one hook.

None of us had ever seen a fish take out a gull, so we were all pretty astounded and searching around for any signs of the gull.

After about 10 minutes or so, the gull surfaced, dead as a doornail.

We were stunned when it started slowly moving across the water, towards our dock.

Thats when we noticed a small mink, swimming alongside it, towing it!

It hadn't been a fish at all, a mink had taken the gull and dragged him underwater, drowning him!

I got a little video of the now-dead gull being towed towards our dock.

Monday, June 22, 2009

There and Back Again

Well, a few days back at home in the sunshine.... Nice to be home. I really missed my Lovely Wife as well, so it was more than good to be able to spend some quality time with her.

We didn't really have a lot of plans for the time, so we were winging it a little as we went and all our tentative plans depended on the weather.

We ended up going for a nice little trail walk along the dykes near Pitt Meadows Airport, ( thats right, I took my wife to a romantic walk alongside an airport. ), kayaking in Burrard Inlet and a little drive down to La conner in Washington State.

Popped into the Pitt Meadows airport while we were there ( of course ), and i realized that for all the billions of circuits and a couple full stop landings I have made at this airport, this was only the second time I've ever been in the terminal building. This was one of my favourite airports to go and do circuits at when I did all my training at Boundary Bay. CZBB ( Boundary Bay ) was usually a bit of a gong show, with all the training that goes on there. There would often be four other planes in the circuit, with varying degrees of English proficiency, long taxi's out to the end of the runway, and often a good sized lineup to depart as the tower frantically tried to work in departures and arrivals around the five planes doing endless circuits ( guilty ).

So, a quick 6 minute flight over to Pitt Meadows and I often had the place to myself. With a short crosswind runway ( well, 2200' was short for me at that stage of the game ) there was also good opportunity for crosswind practice, along with some short-field practice as well.

But yeah, nice airport, nice terminal, and some nice trails along the river surrounding it.

Eww. ( The slug, not my toes... )

The Lovely Wife and I have been having some very serious chats of late to do with how this summer is progressing for both of us. It's definitely been a challenge, for both of us, on a couple of different levels. I'm still sitting on the fence as to whether this summer of sacrifice, on both our parts, is going to reasonably " guarantee " a leg up on a flying job for next year.

I would have liked to be one of those guys that walks into their first job, through a contact, lucky timing or a red-hot economy, but that never panned out. So, its the grind upwards for me...But I have a partner in everything I do, and she is making as much or more of the sacrifices in this deal. I wish I could guarantee that all of this is going to pave the way to rainbows and unicorns for next summer, but unfortunately, all I can do is prepare as best I can, work as hard as I can, learn as much as I can and hope to make the right choices.

Anyhoo... back to our awesome visit..

We got the bug one cloudy morning to go out and rent a 2-person kayak and go for a paddle up Deep Cove. We looked around at the local shops in Deep Cove and they were a bit pricey, almost 100 bucks for four hours. Thye also wanted my credit card number just to enter me in their POS computer, even though I told them I wasnt really sure yet if I was going to rent. She tried to get me to give her the number anyways " just so you're all entered and ready to go " and that turned me off quite a bit... I mean really? who does that?

Ended up finding a good little place down at the very end of Burrard inlet, not quite deep cove, but still a nice area for paddling. It ended up costing us 80 bucks, all-in and we had the kayak and all the gear for as long as we wanted, all-day basically, just be back before dark.

I t was a little unnerving that we were allowed to head off into the ocean, without either of us having any experience in a kayak whatsoever. We've both canoed quite a bit, and it was actually quite easy, so nothing to fear really.

It was an awesome paddle, cruising around amongst the moored sail boats and along the docks extending from their multi million dollar homes. Found a couple nice private beaches that had no road access, so they were all ours. So private in fact, that we actually went skinny-dipping, in broad daylight, practically in the middle of the city... very liberating. The water was actually nice and warm as well, once you got in... It was a nice change to have crystal clear water as well. Standing there in neck deep water and I could look down and see the little crabs scuttling past my toes. Out here, the lakes are a deep reddish-brown and you're lucky to see your toes if you're standing in waist-deep water.

Ended up being out for almost 5 hours, very relaxing.

We also drove down to La conner, WA. Fun little drive into the Excited States of America.

I don't know why, but the Slow Down sign just struck me as almost surreal. I think they should post these signs all over the place...

Stopped at the first gas station we came to after crossing over and loaded up on Road Trip Snacks. Beef Jerky, Payday bars, Cherry Coke. Felt a little sick after that...big surprise. Do like those payday bars though!

La conner is just a little touristy small-town. I'm not sure what its claim to fame is, some sort of annual lilac-festival, I think.

It was really beautiful and we had some fun driving past all the old farmhouses and acreages, daydreaming that they would be affordable and picturing ourselves out there. Saw a few houses for sale in town and the prices were anything but affordable. One condo in town was almost 400,000USD! This is a town of like 4 or 5000 people in rural Washington state. We drove down one dead-end road and came upon three schools, all built next door to each other, the elementary school, the junior high school and the high school. It was kind of neat, seeing a little town like that, no homeless people, no run-down homes, no " bad " side of town, no shuttered up houses or businesses. It was almost spooky in its picture-perfectness.

Going down into the states, they were all business, with their license plate cameras snapping away as you drove up to the sunglassed border guard and his rapid-fire questions and deadpan expression.

Coming back into Canada, the woman in the booth asked where we had gone. I told her " sightseeing ". She replied, " What did you see? ". There was a male customs office in the booth with her, with his feet propped up on a ledge and leaning back in his chair. We had a funny little conversation about how their was nothing in La conner to see. My wife interjected and told them, " don't listen to him, he wouldn't even get out of the car ". They laughed, I went red, and they waved us back home with a smile.

I had one day where The Lovely Wife was working and I wasn't sure what to do... Till I happened to be reading AvCanada ( you know..."just happened " to be reading it...its not like I read it EVERY day or anything..GAWD. ) and someone posted the fact that the boundary bay airshow was on that day ( Thanks Skywolfe! ), woohoo! Airshow!

Had a fun day out there, bumped into a few people I knew, saw some airplanes. Good times.

This ones for Dagny

It even has a little backwards-facing booth for the spotter? long line operator? to sit. ( it might not be backwards-facing, you never really know with helicopter types, it might actually fly backwards and the booth is right-way-round...haha

Airshow pictures always seem to end up even more boring than scenery shots, or close-ups of flowers. It was kind of neat to watch the aerobatic routines and be able to appreciate what the view must be like as the world tumbles and the feel of the g-forces at the same time.

My visit back home seemed long at the time, until it was time to leave, and then it seemed like I had only just got there.

I pretty much repeated the journey out, in reverse. Fly out, pickup the stashed car ( started, woohoo! ) and the six hour drive back here.

The flight was good, no crazy seatmates or anything. While boarding there was a baby seated directly behind me and it was NOT happy. I felt bad for Mom as the baby was really almost screaming. I think me and everyone within earshot ( that would be pretty much the whole plane,. the kid had a set of lungs ) was thinking "uh-oh, this is going to be a loooong flight” As soon as it pushed back and started up though, the little guy quieted down and I didn't hear a peep out of him the rest of the flight.

For Wildlife on the way back, the count was 2 moose, 1 buzzard and a momma fox and her cubs ( kits? ). I got a shot of Momma as I drove by, but the little ones had already scooted off into the bushes.

This shot doesn't really capture it, but a train on the prairie really reminds me of growing up in Alberta.

And now I'm back.....

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Road Trip!

So, the Lovely Wife and I had planned for her to come visit me mid-june. We thought this would be a good way to get us through those first few weeks of being apart, seeing as how it's something we haven't done yet in our six years of married bliss. It gave us both something to look forward to during the hard parts, and it was a relatively short period as well. My employer was very gracious in agreeing to give me an uninterrupted 5-day run of days off in June so that we could make this happen as well.

Closer to D-Day, we were looking at options as to where we could stay ( the crew bunk-house was NOT going to work... ) and we started thinking that maybe it would be better ( cheaper ) if I were to fly home instead and we could spend our time together in familiar surroundings. Surroundings that weren't costing us 100 bucks a night.

A week or so before the holiday, the Boss told me he had learned I had changed plans and he gave me an extra two days for the trip!!

One of my co-workers lent me his car so I could drive to nearest-big-city-ville and catch a flight home.

Thanks Man!

He's 22 I think, and I remember my wheels being an intensely personal thing at that point in my life. Now, its just a machine and I wouldn't think twice about letting just about anyone I know with a license drive it off, but at that age, I think it would have been a bigger deal to me.

So, Monday AM, I got up bright and early and set off for the Big City. It was about a 6 hour drive to the airport, and I budgeted myself just over seven hours, plus an hours leeway for domestic airline security and check-in. ( Dun-Dun-DUH dramatic foreshadowing music )

Weather was awesome for the drive down, summer has finally arrived at this part of Canada and it was a picture perfect day for a road trip.

I've finally come around to using my MP3 player in the car, so I had good tunes, sunshine and I was on my way to see the Love Of My Life...good times.

The first leg of the drive was on the small highway from my town, to the part where it connects to Canada's main artery, the Trans-Canada Highway. This part was about three hours and change and was limited to 80 Km/h ( Read: 90 or so, unless you were near a town that had an OPP detachment ). At one point, I was booking along and noticed an OPP cruiser coming up behind me at a high rate of speed. I glanced down at my own speedometer and noticed I was doing 100 Km/h. I promptly applied a little profanity and let off the gas. He sat behind me for a few minutes as I tooled along at 85, then passed me. I thanked him in my head for letting me go with an increased heart-rate and a mental note to pay more attention.

I like driving 5 km/h over the limit when I'm being followed by the police. I like to think it gives me an out.

"oh, officer, I didn't know you were there..I was simply driving along like a normal person, gosh.... no, I didn't slow down to EXACTLY the limit the minute I saw you rushing up behind me. ".

I guess it wouldn't say much for my situational awareness that I didn't see him coming up behind me, but it might give him the impression, that I was driving at my normal speed, not some uh-oh-the-cops-are-behind-me-I-better-drive-exactly-the-limit kind of speed. Or not... It doesn't matter anyways. I seem to slow down by about a km/h or two a year now, so by my estimate, in the next five years, I'll never break the speed limit again and in a decade or so, you'll be honking at me to get the hell outta your way.

On this part of the drive, I saw a ton of wildlife as well. I saw a total of three moose and two black bears, all along the highway.

The bears were worth a stop for pics, I suppose the moose were too, but I see so many of them along the roads now that I didn't really think of it. Stopping on the highway, shoulder or no, is also something that make me nervous, so I try to avoid it. I got a tiny little video of one of the bears out the window of the car..

I should probably try to film a little longer, as I always seem to end up with 5-second video clips.

I understand the airplane-on-a-stick, most towns have something-on-a-stick...but the USA surface-to-air missile kind of has me stumped.

Once I got to the Transcanada Highway, things opened up a little, speed-wise, and since the sun was out and my windows down, I took my shirt off as I drove.

Note - pull over before you try this, its kind of unnerving as your shirt goes over your head... Ladies, well... oh hell, go for it.

I've resolved that this is the year I beat the farmer-tan blues. After two years of fuelling and wearing the mandatory fire-retardant uniform, which bares only your neck and forearms, out in the sun allll day, I've developed a serious case of brown-arms, white chest.

Its a vicious circle as well, because now, I dare not take my shirt off anywhere semi-public, as its so comical, that it just gets worse. Now that I have a lot of time out in the bush or semi-secluded places, I'm going to try and even it out a little.

Out of the Canadian Shield and into the prairies, I rock and rolled my way westward.

Only the lines of my seatbelt and headphone cords interrupting my unnaturally white chest as folks passed me, glancing over as they did, thinking... I hope he's wearing pants in there.

I got within twenty minutes of the town that held my destination airport and realized I had two and a half hours left till my plane departed. On such a beautiful day, who wants to be stuck in an airport?

I easily had time to stop at a lake and take a dip, or even just find a nice sunny spot to pull off and stretch out in the sun for awhile. I started looking for something, but didn't find much.

I settled on a side-road and a deserted little electrical substation on a prairie road where I could get out and eat my lunch. The bugs and birds made so much noise, it was almost funny. I can only imagine how quiet it would be out here in the middle of winter, or at night.

I didn't bring a book, so I stretched out and played a few mental meteorology games, analyzing the clouds, temperatures and winds. Where's the dewpoint? Whats the surface temperature? wheres the freezing level? What type of clouds are those? How much sky coverage? I spent a while putting together my own Aviation Weather Report ( METAR ) and then looked up the closest one to me on my cellphone. I was pretty close. Thank you Air Command Weather Manual. Yeah, I know, geek.

I calculated that I should be in for a little more tolerable airport wait of an hour before boarding time, so headed off.

Unfortunately, when I got into town, my initial plan of staying on the TransCanada until I saw the airport signs, kind of derailed. The TransCanada kind of disintegrated in to city streets with Hwy signs posted on them so you would know you are going the right way.

Then came the Bypass route, the Highway and the Airport routes..... I took the airport route, but got bogged down in construction traffic. I know that the city has to work on the roads at some point. I also know that in a prairie town, there is usually an old joke about two seasons, Winter and Construction. But, I was kind of surprised that the traffic was at a standstill on what was prominently displayed as the Airport Route..

Couldn't you detour these people so that flights could be made?

More importantly, I had pissed away my safety buffer before I was truly safe, and was starting to sweat.

When I notice myself making far-fetched claims of others incompetence or poor strategic planning, it usually means, if I look close enough, I can find some act of stupidity on my part that I am over-compensating for.

Anyways, enough drama, I made the airport, made the flight, everything worked out...just a little extra sweat on my back.

The airport parking is going to cost me 75 bucks to park in long-term for the week. Had I planned this a little better, I probably could have parked in the city and bussed it out to the airport and saved 50 bucks.

Learning..... has occurred here.

I had fun on the flight, despising my neighbour. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways...

1.) Nice job pressing the F/A call button, DURING the safety briefing and then interrupting the demo'ing F/A closest to us, so you could ask for a BLANKET.

2.) When they came around offering free soft drinks and a selection of snacks, you asked for hot chocolate, a pop and one of each of the snacks they asked you to choose from.

3.) Telling the F/A indignantly that your headphones were turned off, as if that would negate her need to request you to take them off, even after they had just finished explaining during the safety demo, that you would be required to remove them for the takeoff and that they were about to go through the cabin to ensure compliance. ( I remembered this one from Air Law as well )

4.) "bashing " me with your elbow and pointy-ass coat sleeves even after I graciously gave up the armrest between us. An amazing display of arm-restmanship on my behalf.

5.) Asking the F/A twice to see if she could fix the seat-back TV or move you to a different seat when our row inexplicably went dark. I can understand asking once, I mean, maybe it happens regularly and there is a fix... but after she said, sorry, we cant fix it, why did you ask her again if she had found the problem?

Its funny, I see so many people who love to bash their flight experiences, but I really find so much more idiocy in the passengers themselves. I could never be a flight attendant. I'd hit people.

My favorite is the " gate lice ". People who crowd around the boarding gate a couple minutes before the first P/A call is made. A lot of them pre-board as well, when it is very clear, that they are a middle aged male and NOT a child, elderly, disabled or otherwise requiring additional time for boarding.

I know why they do it, they want to make sure there is a spot in the overhead bin above their seat for their precious carry-on bag. So they pre-board to make sure they have first pick on bin space. Frankly, I think I can count the number of times I've been shorted overhead bin-space on one hand. Even then, I've always found a spot within one row of my seat.

It is kind of funny though, to see people hurrying to line up and jostling for position to get on and off the plane. Seriously, we're all getting there at the same time. You're seat is already saved, reserved and waiting for you, you're not going to get a better one by getting on first.

The plane rolls to a halt and most of the seat belts pop off as if their owners had their fingers ready and waiting to release as soon as they felt the brakes. They bolt up and into the aisles to grab their precious cargo from the overhead, bumping elbows, bags and butts with those others running the same pointless race. Then stand there for the next ten minutes while the door is opened and the aisle clears.

I like to just sit there in my seat till the aisle clears ahead of me to the front. I can simply stand up ( Allah help you if you try to push past my row when its my turn to stand up! ), grab my bag from the now-empty overhead bin, and stroll off the plane. But I guess some people would rather stand there in their row, hunched over, fighting their gear out from above and then wait there for ten minutes while the plane empties before they can go....

Now, back in Vancouver, I'm enjoying an entire week of sleeping-in, good food, sitting on my deck and the company of My Lovely Wife.

We don't have a lot planned for the week, considering a day-trip down to Mt St Helens for Thursday or friday and a day-trip out to the lake on one of those days as well.

I can dump my memory cards into my home PC and make some room for the rest of the summers pics. I can reload my MP3 player with some fresh tunage. I can pick up a USB keyboard for my little netbook, to make churning out blog entries a little bit less of a chore on its tiny little dysfunctional keyboard.

Shot of the Beech cutting through the morning fog.

I've been thinking about starting the hunt for winter flying work as well. Right now, the plan is to come back and go back to my fuelling gig for the winter.

I've been considering getting some tailwheel time under my belt and registering with the local glider clubs to get a few hours over the winter as a tow-pilot... Not sure how much gliding they do over the winter, probably not much. Most of them seem to want 25 hours or so of tailwheel time. I currently have....none.

Its also been pointed out to me by The Lovely Wife, that I get very animated when I start talking about flying things, that perhaps looking into instructing might be an idea.

Who knows, lot of different options out there.

I've also been putting some serious thought into trying to get us into a year or two in Africa in the next couple of years. If we can find a way to get through the low-pay that it would mean, it'd be one hell of an adventure.

This is a shot of our local airport, with the brush neatly trimmed in a circle around one of it's radio navigation transmitters. I'm pretty sure this is a VOR.

This is kind of an inside joke... it has to do with a gaggle of Canada Geese that are...well.....regular.... and the lawn that they have been frequenting.

We thought, " Perhaps they don't know its not allowed here? We should make a sign, its only fair to properly inform them of the standard of acceptable behaviour that is expected. "

Ok, actually we thought, " God damn geese are shitting all over the $&^#$^%@ lawn again! "

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Weather to fly

So, the last week or so up here has been pretty crappy weather-wise.

Lots of rain, mist, fog, low overcast skies, wind...

Up north there was even a day of snow, which sucked for those guests that were up here, trying to get some fishing in.

Sucked for me too, as most of the work I'm doing, I do outdoors. I've brought appropriate clothing and dress for the weather but it still sucks. No mater how good our rain gear is, there is always a trickle which finds its way down your neck. No matter how good your rubber boots are, there is always a job or docking which suddenly requires you to jump into knee-deep cold lake water.

One saving grace with all this crappy weather is that for the most part, it was weather I would not fly in, but ended up flying in anyways. Luckily, this isn't one of those situations you hear about where someone is pressured into flying in weather they aren't comfortable in, rather, I got the chance to fly along with a very experienced pilot, who was ( and had every right to be ) comfortable flying in those conditions. As a passenger up front, I got to see what it looks like in conditions that I would have turned down. Some of the flights I finished thinking...yeah... I wouldn't have gone... but on others, I felt like my personal limits had been tested (safely ) and I ended them thinking... ' hm, that wast as bad as I thought. "

I also had some time and real first hand experience, to put some hard and fast numbers on my personal weather limits, as far as visibility and ceilings are concerned. I won't get into specifics, but it is nice to have real numbers in mind when I'm thinking about those choices and knowing what the wrong side of those numbers looks like.

Its also interesting how those numbers change when you're flying floats or wheels. On floats, particularly in this country, you are flying over a "runway rich environment " most of the time. In the event of an emergency or weather deterioration, you almost always have an "airport" nearby, in the form of a lake or river, upon which to land, even if it is just temporarily, to wait out bead weather.

On wheels though, if your engine dies in particular, you need to have options and time. This usually means altitude. Altitude can be traded for both time and distance. Time and distance may be able to buy you a safe landing in a field, on a road, or if you are really lucky, at an airport.

On floats, I am quite comfortable at 500 feet or so, provided there is water under me, or very close by at all times. On wheels, I don't feel comfortable at anything less than 1500 feet unless there is a runway under me or very close by. I'm sure this will change with time and experience, but for now, those are some of my numbers.

Had a very small run-in with a bear as well. Me and another dockhand were down at a camp doing some maintenance, when I spotted the bear about 250 metres away. we tried to get a little closer to get some pictures, but he ran away. So, pretty much a non-event.

Also had small moose swim across the lake in front of our base.

This is a picture of a group of trees that were apparently blown down by a tornado last year.

Its interesting how the trees here are anchored in such thin soil that even a good sized thunderstorm can blow down quite a good chunk of forest. All thats left is the trees all laying over on their sides, each with a rootball of dirt sticking up in the air at one end of the downed tree.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cause I'm Tree, Tree Faaaalllllin'

Wow... we've had a couple of days off recently, mostly just slow days where no guests are booked to come in or out of the camps and we've done all the housekeeping work around base, so we're cut loose at 10AM or just told the night before that we have the next day off.

At first, I kind of looked forward to upcoming days-off... but recently, its been a bit of a challenge to stay suitably distracted.

I like fishing.. but you can only fish so many days a week... we've got our of fillets in the freezer, so our grocery subsidizing is done....

We've been to town a few times now that we have a ar here. We even went out in search of a bar, with limited success. We eventually found one, but it wasnt quite what we had been hoping for.

There was a large " community notices / activities " board up at one of the parks we drove by, I've been meaning to go back and see if there is a local slo-pitch league or poker night we could join. We laughed at the ' Meat Draw - This Thursday! " sign down at the I'm wondering that might be fun.

It would be nice to hook up with some of the local pilots /dockhands, as I imagine we're not the only ones who have come to town for the season, not knowing anyone else. Our base is just a little bit out of town so that just going for a stroll into town isn't an option. We joked the other day that this was the first time any of us had actually given serious thought to going into town, hitting the bar and trying to pick up some dudes.

The Lovely Wife and I spent a year and a half living overseas in a small town, and I remember going through this over there as well. We finally met a few people and it snowballed from there as you met their friends and the friends of their friends.

The other day, I went out with the morning flight and was dropped off at one of the camps to do some maintenance while the aircraft was off picking up and dropping people off. Most times, someone is riding along, other than the pilot, to try and do some odd jobs around camp while the new group is off-loading and the old group is loading their gear up onto the plane. This usually affords the spare person a good half hour or so to go and chainsaw up some firewood, pump some boat gas into the storage tanks, weed whack the camps that have lawns, or other odd jobs. This time, I was dropped off in the morning and was to be picked up again on the afternoon flight, so that I could do a few jobs that had built up at this one camp.

Most of my morning was sent chain-sawing firewood, which is actually kind of enjoyable. It can be a challenge to find a dead tree, standing or fallen that is dry enough for the guests to split with an axe, once I've chopped it up into manageable pieces, and not so wet that it is rotted and won't burn .

When we did camp openings, we would fall a few live trees so that they can lay for season nd be dry and ready for bucking up the following year. Otherwise, you have to range quite far from the cabin to find a suitable standing-dead tree to chop up. Once you've cut it down, and made it fall where you want it to, now it has to be cleaned up, all the branches cut off, and then bucked up into lengths that you can carry back to the woodpile area. The length can be determined by the distance that you have to haul the bloody thing, the further you go afield, the smaller that chunk of wood better be, but the more trips you're going to have to make!

Back at the woodpile, you can then chop it up into suitable stump-sized chunks that the guests can split with the axe, into firewood for the stove inside. With the weather being quite cold the last few weeks, the camps have been going through quite a bit of firewood. Once summer really kicks in, hopefully that will slow down. They also have an outdoor firepit at each camp, but the guests are usually asked to collect and burn deadfall rather than the hard-won firewood.

My other project was to rip up and repair an old section of dock. I was given a chainsaw, a can of nails and a hammer. I'm no carpenter ( see below ), but I think I did alright winging it with limited equipment and no one around to give me direction.



Yeah, I know... what can I say..slow news days... haha

Oh.... one more week till I get a week off and am heading home to see The Lovely Wife!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Approaching

Finally, summer is starting o show its face around here. Temperatures have been up as high as 20C...... Ok, they got up to 20 on one day...But, days are getting a little more pleasant, particularly in the early morning.

I usually wear a t-shirt, a sweatshirt and a de rigeur Plaid Bush Jacket(see above.. I went with the blue means I am very manly and have a lot of chest hair. ) . As the morning goes on and we get warmed up loading the aircraft, the layers start shedding. By the time we are ready to head out, the sweatshirt is usually tossed back inside onto the couch. By the time we get to our firat camp to drop off and unload / reload, I am usually down to the t-shirt and the blue plaid is being tossed over a bush while we offload and then thrown under a seat on the plane.

Most flights are about an hours duration, some a bit less, some a bit more, and the aircraft stays relatively warm inside. Mostly due to the large radial engine she has up front. Its probably a good thing that outside temps are a little cool right now, as I'm told the aircraft gets quite warm inside come the heat of summer.

The flying has been pretty sporadic to date, and not really what I was expecting. Most of the time, its empty legs or freight runs, where one of us gets the controls during the cruise portions. I understand why no one is handing me the keys to such a large aircraft, and sort of figured this was going to be the case, but it is quite different to what I was told I would be doing.

I've gone over this in my head more than a few times whilst doing some difficult or tedious job, some of these jobs very tenuously related to aviation. On the one hand, I could be indignant that the job and its duties were not representative of what I was told I would be doing when The Lovely Wife and I decided that the sacrifices would be worth it for the terms as laid out in advance. Or... I could look at the reality of my situation... I don't really have a better job to turn to, in respect to getting a leg up or into a flying career. I am still learning valuable skills on a daily basis that can only help my job hunt for next year. Also, by being up here, I have not only the chance to make contacts with the people that might be hiring someone like myself next year, but I could end up being in the right place at the right time, even for this year.

I also get a daily reminder of what it is about this part of aviation that attracted me in the first place. The outdoors experience is second to none. I mean, every once in a while, I simply cannot believe that I am where I am..... flying above the northern Canadian wilderness in a bush plane that is not extinct, but definitely not that common anymore.

My goal of course, is to be the one flying it, not some of the time, not in the easy parts, but all of the time. when you are the pilot up here though, you do have a certain amount of other duties that you get called on to do, just because you're probably the only other person there...other than a paying customer of course.

For example, if you fly in a small group of fishermen, up for vacation, or a group of canoers going out on an expedition, and you arrive at the camp to find out that the boat engine they contracted you to provide them with, doesn't work.

If you fly it back to base, the guests trip is delayed, possibly cut short, perhaps even canceled. Now, if you knew some small-engine basic repair skills, you might be able to quickly clean the carb, change the spark plugs, drain and replace possibly contaminated fuel, clean the air filter and check that the wiring connections are secure. To an employer, being able to claim such skills, are a pretty handy insurance policy for him against unhappy customers.

Another example, particularly for a small operation, is when they are using a small aircraft to service a lodge. A small aircraft is probably what your average low-time pilot is going to end up flying as well. So, you fly in three guests and their gear for their week-long trip. On arrival, you find that the previous guests have used up all of the cut firewood, broke a window and left the cap off the main gas tank. There simply is not enough money in these types o operations to send up another flight with staff to fix these problems, without the booking becoming an overall loss. An operator, will probably try to hire guys that he knows will be able to trouble-shoot these types of problems on the spot, negating another costly trip, and keeping the customers happy. Hope you brought that chainsaw and know how to use it!

I guess what I am getting at, is that I see the value in some of the things that I am learning here, other than the flying. I see the type of person that I would want to hire if I were an operator, and I think this job is going to help me towards getting those skills and building a resume that will actually warrant a call back or two for next season.

I hope....

Anyways, not a lot happened this week that was worth writing about...sometimes something funny or interesting will happen and I want to write about it, but I really do have to keep in mind my employers need for there business not to be publicly posted on the internet. I try to imagine that their is both a customer and a competitor reading this, and try to censor myself accordingly.

One thing of note, was that a long time customer, like 15+ years of coming up here to go on fishing trips in our outpost camps, died last year. Part of his will stated that he wanted his ashes brought up with the boys on their next trip and his ashes scattered over one of his favourite lakes. He was packed in little plastic container, with a few stones inside to weigh it down. We couldn't really open it up and truly "scatter" his ashes, as the airflow outside would simply blow "him" back into the cabin... Might have made an interesting blog story and I probably could have gotten a great picture of all of us sitting there, ashen-faced and surprised...but someone had done this before apparently and thankfully we didn't have to learn that lesson first hand. I was asked to hold "frank" while we flew to the designated dropping spot, on the way up to take his buddies on their trip. They were all laughing and telling jokes about the whole thing, so it didn't feel like a very serious affair, till he was passed to me.

As soon as I held the container, I got a distinct feeling of what this meant to "frank".

Every year, him and his friends made this trek up to the wilderness. This might have been half of his yearly vacation allotment from work.

It certainly isn't cheap. Instead of traveling the world, instead of collecting expensive toys or hobbies, this was Frank's Big Thing.

He must have looked forward to his trip every year. Saved for it. Planned around it. He got enough out of this trip every year that it must have satisfied him, in a way that kept him from trying or doing much else. I mean, maybe he was very wealthy and this was one of a dozen trips he made every year, but I kind of doubt it. It hit me the second he was passed to me, that he had found a satisfaction in this trip, this place, that it was enough for him for the last 15 years of his life, he didn't need to do or try anything else.

I didn't drop him, and he was appropriately jettisoned in the appropriate spot. The boss looked over at me with a funny smile on his face like he was about to crack a joke, but then didn't, just kept grinning. I'll admit it, I had a grin too, but I had a little lump in my throat too.

Couple interesting pictures from the last week;

I don't know why, but this picture has bush flying all over it... ( Note the manly blue plaid ). a bucket, a lunch cooler, a plywood floor and a pair of rubber boots.

I like the look of the Beech-18, a fairly popular twin-engined aircraft that is used up here. It looks a little awkward around the docks though, with the low wing. I can only imagine how it would be to operate into some of the rougher outpost docks up north...The pilot actually enters and exits either the back door, where the passengers get in, or through a hatch in the roof. Most of the time I see them using the hatch up top.

When you're docking a float plane, its pretty common for the pilot to be hanging out the door, to watch the front of the float as he drifts up to the dock. Also, hanging halgway out he door helps so that you are ready to quickly jump out and keep the plane from getting into trouble. Other times, the wind isnt working in your fvour and you might be coming in to there is no brakes, you might have to jump out and fend the the aircraft off from the dock or obstacle, to keep from damaging the floats. Could be tricky if you had to fight your way back through a crowded passenger cabin, or up onto the roof through a hatch...

The seats in the back of the DHC3 Otter fold up against the wall. When folded down, there are a row of bench seats along each wall. The ability to quickly go from passenger, to gfreight, to a combination of both, is a huge advantage over some other aircraft. In some, you have to take out unwanted seats and leave them behind if you want to use the space for cargo. As seats have to be pretty sturdy, being made to support a passenger during all kinds of maneuvering and g-loading, installing and removing them can often involve tools and is a pain in the ass.

Just a quick glimpse of a typical northern runway...

My apologies for the poor quality, I've been trying for awhile to get a shot of one of the meandering rivers up here, but keep missing for various reasons. Back home in the mountains, there is really only a few places for the water to go...usually its the bottom of the ravine, valley, crevasse, or other obvious spot. Out here, the geology and its formation is so different, water can do all kinds of funny things. Lakes abound because of the relatively flat terrain and sealed nature of the rocks upon which they are sitting. Rivers carve slow twisting channels through places where there is a deeper layer of overburden and because of the limited slope, are never really in a hurry to get anywhere. In fact, a lot of places that I thought of as lakes, were actually rivers, that just got really wide and basically stopped flowing, until they trickled out the other end.

Note the manly blue plaid.

Its kind of funny to see logging activity out here. I suppose most of it must go to pulp production or something, as the trees really are quite small. As the soil over the rocks of the Canadian Shield is so shallow, th trees never really get any significant size. If they did, it seems like they would just fall over anyway, as there is usually a foot or two of dirt under them and then solid rock...pretty hard to get a footing. Logging out west with some of the giant trees there must be realy lucrative if they are able to make money out here out of what we would call '" pecker poles ' back in BC.