Thursday, October 15, 2009

Airplane Porn

Had some interesting visitors over the last couple weeks so I wanted to post some pictures I took.

A couple saturdays ago, I spotted a strange flight number and aircraft type on the computer program we use to track aircraft in the air. Theres a couple free-ware programs out there like Flightaware , which are OK, but we use a commercial, pay-for-use one which lets us look at pretty much all of north america's flights, or filter them to see only ones arriving to or departing from our airport. We can also search by model of aircraft, for example, to see all Boeing 747's currently in flight. It also lets us search for an aircraft's tail numbner and even find the last known airport where that aircraft landed at. Helpfull if we are expecting an aircraft and its delayed, we can find out where it is and at least get a rough idea of how much lead time we have before it arrives.

In any case, the strange flight I spotted, turned out to be a huge Russian Cargo plane, an Antonov 124.

We went out and watched him land, of course thats when my batteries packed it in on my camera. Nice.

I have my cell-phone camera as backup, but its not the greatest...

It being Saturday, and deathly quiet on our side of the field, I jumped in the truck and drove over to where they parked, to have a look.

This thing is huge!

Check out the fuel panel on this bad boy, I count at least 7 Tanks, and it looks like three valves per tank? Not really sure, as everything is written in Cyrillic.

While I was walking around taking pictures, I noticed the crew hovering around inside near the door. They had the ladder down and the fueler was actually inside with them, but no truck nearby.

I figured it couldnt hurt to ask, so I asked the Russian looking guy if I could come on board.

He scowled at me a bit, and then said yes. Sweet!

He did tell me as I climbed the ladder, " No Picture. ". He wore his impressive looking scowl the entire time I was inside.

Check out the twin-dual nose gears!

There was a ladder at the front end of the cargo deck that gives access to the upper deck. I had to ask, but I already knew the answer, when I asked if I could go upstairs. " No, Nyet. "

I scooped a couple pictures off Airliners as I was curious as well, what the upstairs looked like.

If you look along the walls of the cargo hold, there is a seriously impressive amount of spare parts and tooling for this thing as well. I imagine there is at least one and possibly even more, Mechanical Engineers that travel along with this thing as well to keep everything running smoothly. That would be quite the job flying one of these. I imagine they get to pretty much travel the entire world. I dont know if it was just the stereotypical Russian surly demeanor of the crew, or if this job might be a little more miserable than it would appear to an enthusiast...

The hold inside this thing is gigantic. There is the main deck cargo hold that holds oversize cargo, but there is also a passenger deck running along the topside of the hold as well. The Cockpit is at the forward end ( obviously ) of the upper deck.

From the number of chairs in the cockpit, this beast takes a flight crew of at least six. Captain, First Officer and I would surmise, a Flight Engineer, Second Officer, Navigator, Radio Operator?

Behind the cockpit it opens up to the passenger seating area.

Behind the passenger seating area is also a small compartment that has a couple of crew bunks as well as a full galley!

Behind that even, running the rest of the length of the fuselage is a maintenance space.

This particular plane had originated from Texas and was on its way to Alaska. The hold contained 5 Patriot Missile systems mounted on giant trucks. Apparently, some representatives from the manufacturer were upstairs as well, travelling along with the cargo.

I imagine that the charter itself must have been by the contractor who was selling this equipment to the US Military, as they have no shortage of heavy-lift aircraft of their own. While the Russian built AN-124 is the second largest civilian cargo aircraft, the US Military has at least one heavy lifter that I know of that rivals this one, in the C-5 Galaxy. The Russians also have the AN-225, which is even bigger than this one, but I think there is only one or two of them around.

The reason the fueler was inside and no truck in sight, was that there was some sort of problem with the payment arrangements. These things are usually planned pretty well in advance, with fuel contracts and fuel releases being sent to the fueling company days or weeks in advance of the aircraft arrival. I have heard however, of these guys carrying around large sums of US Dollars in cash, for those places where credit arrangements are harder to secure.... Good luck asking Sergei Scowlinski for a credit card imprint....

Eventually the fuel truck showed up and they took their fuel and left.

I was a little surprised that this aircraft didn't have the legs to go from Texas all the way to Alaska, without stopping for fuel. The cargo was bulky, but it didn't look overly heavy that they would have had to restrict how much fuel they took on at origin. Perhaps the trucks were heavier than they looked. I wondered if it was a cabotage issue, where a Russian registered aircraft couldn't fly from point-to-point within the USA, without stopping at an international point in between, but I don't know if that really applies to a private charter like this.

The job hunt continues, but I'm kind of holding off the I'll-Take-ANYTHING mode for the winter I think.

Finances dictate that I make some money and pay off some of the debt we've incurred both in my training and this summers little adventure, before we go gallavanting off anywhere.

I estimate we've spent about 35,000 on my flight training to date. Knowing that most of the jobs I am applying for pay in the neighborhood of...minimum wage.... the numbers are hard to stomach. I can see how so many people that start out down this road only to end up giving up and going back to their old careers or simply finding new ones.

The company I work for now is also about the enter into contract negotiations with our union. More money might be in the future...or not. We're very much overdue for an adjustment in our pay scale, but the economy certainly doesn't help our bargaining position.

A certain high-profile international sporting event looming on the horizon doesn't hurt though. Most of the local public service unions and other large unions groups have pushed for and settled some decent contracts in the last year. Everyone wants everything settled and smooth before the world shows up here. No one wants any last-minute shenanigans to mar the event.

The hunt for some part-time work continues. I'm hoping to be able to make a few bucks and be able to get back up in the air at least once a month or so. I really do miss the flying.

I picked up a few hours here and there with a local outfit that details and grooms corporate aircraft. The pay is kind of crap, but its very near my regular job and I can usually put in a few hours and then punch in at work. Its pretty convenient and the thrill of poking around inside Challengers, Globals and other high-end business jets is still a novelty. Their work is kind of sporadic though, so its pocket money more than anything.

Big thanks to Chad and Ryan for giving me some leads on job opportunities, even if they're long shots. This is the biggest reason I'm hanging onto the FBO job is all the people I meet who are on similar paths as me, or even a few years ahead. You just never know when someone you know will have their boss ask them if they know any pilots looking for work...

We had a pretty low-key Thanksgiving out here, or I did anyways. With my afternoon shift at the FBO, I tend not to be available for family events in the evenings and on the weekends. I'd like to change that a little if I can, but the afternoon shift is also the one with the most overtime, as the sports Charters usually arrive late at night. The evening guys are the ones who get asked to stay late and handle them. I'm, also still fairly low on the totem pole, so my shift-preference doesn't count for all that much. There is talk of going to a shift-bid system ion the new contract, which could bode well for me. There are a few guys with less seniority than me who hold shifts that I find a little more desirable in terms of time with my Lovely Wife and our respective families.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Big Yellow Bird

Had an interesting visitor the other day, a DHC5 - Buffalo. The Canadian Military uses these guys for Search and Rescue, and they are pretty impressive in their role. This thing has some very impressive Short-Take off and Landing capability for an aircraft of its size and payload.

Its also got a ramp out the back end so they can drop guys and gear with ease as well.

Its an old aircraft, and they are apparently getting a little cumbersome with all the maintenance, preventative and otherwise, required to keep them flying, physically and legally.

I had heard that they were looking for a replacement aircraft, but that the rumour was, since the aircraft has done such an outstanding job in this role, what they really want is the same aircraft, just fresh off the assembly line. Its pretty cool that some of these old designs not only stood the test of time in durability, but that we haven't really been able to improve on them since.

I'm sure part of that is the sheer scale and cost of designing and certifying a new aircraft. I think back to older cars and lament how, even with the improvements in automobiles these days, there is still that enduring quality that you can find in older cars that just isn't there these days. I'm sure they said that back in the 60's when the last model T went to the boneyard, but still.

An old Dehavilland aircraft's cockpit is all metal and glass. You cant wear it out over ten years by simply touching it, you have to really work at it to wear them out. How long will a glass screen last when it gets constantly covered in dust, mud, spilled drinks, and squashed bug guts?

If they remade a 1969 Oldsmobile with a fuel efficient V6, or even a hybrid, and the type of endurance of quality that they were designed with back then, I'd buy one.

Spotted in a hangar was this restored 1947 ( I think ) Lincoln 12. This was pretty cool. It had push-button door handles. There was no handle, simply a large recessed chrome button you pushed in and the door popped open. It also had power windows, which I am sure made some headlines in 1947. I took a few pictures, but unfortunately forgot to get one of the whole car. The whole thing is restored using original parts which is pretty impressive. Some of the parts obviously show their age in being faded, crystallized or otherwise aged, but its a classic example of engineering designed to last forever.

We opened up the hood, speculating as we did on what we'd find. Straight Six. Four Cylinder Inline. V6.

Nope. V12!

Along the lines of a big old radial engine, everything is nice and simple. Laid out in an orderly fashion and parts easily identified and accessible. I could point to every part under that hood and knew what they all did. I'm not entirely convinced yet that hiding under the big plastic cover under the hood of my newish car isn't a couple of Microchips and a Wizard.

I guess the big chrome "12" on the hood might have been a clue.

If you look at a Beaver or an Otter and then at its realistic lifespan, compared to its contemporaries ( of which there are few ), it is simply hard to believe that todays products have the type of engineering to go the distance. Like I said, they probably say that every generation as technology marches on...

Viking Aircraft in Victoria in now pumping out the new DHC6 Twin Otter 400 series, and I saw a good clip of a documentary that toured their plant. To avoid having to re-certify everything, they pretty much have to stick to the original plans, with very little deviation. The cockpits and engines ( I think ) have been modernized, but everything else is circa 1960's engineering. Back when planned obsolescence wasn't a very good marketing strategy.

Rumours abound that if the Canadian Forces had its way, someone would start retooling to build them some new Buffaloes as well.

I've also started studying towards taking my Instrument Rating written exam. I ordered a copy of the Instrument Flying Handbook off Amazon and am eagerly checking my mailbox every day. It might take a while, so I'm brushing up on my battered old copy of the AIM, the Aeronautical Information Manual. Its kind of dog eared and fuel-stained from being toted around in the fuel truck to read on breaks and when I'm loading the truck.

I've considered adding a placard on the front cover, changing its title to Flying For Dummies.

While I'm waiting for the manual to arrive and the studying to begin in some sort of organized fashion, I decided to take a swing at figuring out Holds on my own. I did a few during the instrument training portion of my Commercial License course, but as I wasn't doing an actual instrument rating at the time, it was more of an introduction than any type of proficiency training.

I've found a few good resources on the net, including a good little powerpoint presentation by an outfit in Washington State called Bruceair. You can download the PPS file if you're so inclined, here.

Its kind of a fun, as along with trying to wrap my head around the hold entry procedures, I can use my computer game, Microsoft Flight Simulator, as a fun tool to practice what I have learned ( or find out I didn't quite learn it and should maybe keep studying..haha ). I've often heard pilots lament about the difficulty of performing holds, or more accurately, hold entries, so I thought I might as well get started.

We had a mechanic come up and help us this summer when we had some mechanical issue and I remember we had a choice between starting on two different tasks one of them easy and one of them difficult. He said " If you have to eat two frogs, you might as well eat the big one first. ". I get the basic principle behind the expression, but it still kind of strikes me as an odd thing to say.

I did this with my time studying Meteorology as well Hearing that that subject was the one that most often gave people the biggest problems, I dove into that first and spent a lot of time making sure I understood what I was studying.

In any case, any studying I can do that involves computer games and aviation is A-ok by me...haha

I noticed a Convair 5800 the other day out on the field as well, and it had its cargo door open. I didnt know that these things had been converted to carry containerized cargo. I had always seen the ramp guys up there with the belt loaders heaving the boxes out loose. Apparently though, they have put in roller floors and are using a non-standard(?) sized ULD to fit in the cargo hold. For the non-geeks, Containerized cargo makes loading and unloading planes quick and easy. The time-consuming part, stuffing the containers ( Cans ) with cargo can be done before arrival by the grunts in the warehouse. When the plane is on the ground ( stopped, not making money ) it can be quickly offloaded and reloaded and sent on its way ( moving = making money ). Frankly, it saves on a lot of wear and tear on the plane as well. Knowing what most large aircraft are worth, dollarwise, makes me very careful around them. The guys that they send in their to load and unload boxes in the middle of the night, generally speaking...not so much.

Oh, and the Convair 5800, 1940's Engineering. Albeit updated by the locals up at Kelowna Flightcraft to sport a couple of turbojet engines and an enlarged fuselage. An Oldsmobile with a Fuel Injected V6.

Days are getting shorter now and my afternoon shifts out on the airfield are giving me less and less opportunites every day for decent daylight pictures. My night picture attempts are a joke, but can make for some interesting effects.