Thursday, May 27, 2010

Qualicum Trip

Got to go out on a little adventure today.

I had been talking to one of the guys at work about going flying one day and it came together this morning.

Bruce has his PPL and just recently went out to one of the local flight schools and got checked out in one of their new Turbo-Diesel Cessna 172's. In doing the check out he also renewed currency on his pilots license, since it had been 5 years or so since he last flew.

I need a total of 20 hours ultralight time in order to apply for my Ultralight Instructor rating so we thought it might be fun to take a little cross country trip.

Bruce was much like myself when I did my PPL. Most of my cross countries were pretty local really. We had got to talking at work about how much fun it is flying into new and unfamiliar airports and the whole planning process in putting together a flight to somewhere you have never been.

I'm trying to at least take the written and do a " flight test " for my rating prior to the end of the month. I'm feeling a little hard-pressed though as time and weather are slowly starting to come together to not make it happen.

We had planned on going out yesterday, but we didn't get the weather for our primary destination, nor for our back-up alternate. Theres only a few directions you can fly in out here when the ceilings start to come down.

Our original plan was to go to a little strip up near Merritt, called Quilchena. Apparently there is a neat old Hotel / Restaurant right across the street from the strip and MoGas ( Automobile Gas ) is available from a gas station that neighbors the field. There are pictures at our little flight school building of planes being pulled across the road by hand and right up to the pumps to fill up.

Since the trip up through the mountains requires us to be able to fly through at least one high mountain pass, we would have needed a minimum ceiling of about 7500 Feet Above Sea Level ( ASL ) for a safe trip. And that only gets us through the pass, it doesn't give us much for options to climb out of the valley as the mountain tops would still be shrouded in cloud.

When we got to the field yesterday we didnt even have close to that, in fact ,while we stood there discussing our back up plan, the rain started and within a half hour, our options had dwindled down to the highway to drive ourselves home on.

Back again this morning to try again and while it started iffy, it quickly cleared up quite nicely.

In fact, according to the weather map, there was just the barest hint of a High pressure area, right where our alternate was. It was only there on one of the GFA weather charts as well, the forecast chart prior to our period and after had the High pressure area downgraded to just another curve in the isobars around the Low.

One of the guys who hangars his plane out at the field accepted our invite to tag along and Bruce and I took the Foxbat, while he flew alone in his beautiful little Piper Vagabond.

Basically a clipped-wing Piper Cub. He has upgraded the engine to ( I believe ) a 100 HP Lycoming engine, as well as a few other bells and whistles. A left side door for the pilot and a widened fuselage to accommodate two people in the front instead of tandem seating. He even has a small wind-driven generator hanging off the bottom that charges his battery and gives him Electrical power, something the original Cub lacked.

Off we went, up over the city and through the Downtown Harbour control Zone. I did a little practice with groundspeed checks and using the old whiz-wheel as its part of my upcoming flight test and something I havent done for awhile.

Bruce got some stick-time while I fiddled with a navlog and my trusty E6B.

Give us a smile Bruce!

Through the Harbour and now its up over Bowen Island and along the coastline, north-west bound for the Sechelt area.

Past Sechelt and over a little 8 mile stretch of water between Buccaneer Bay and the bottom tip of Texada Island.

A little detour to check out a small, unpublished dirt strip that sits on Texada. Nice enough lengthwise, but I'm not too sure about the surface condition, would definitely be an emergency-only option till I had a chance to talk to someone who had landed there before, or better yet, walk the runway myself.

The forecast clouds over the island weather stations turned out to be pretty localized and we had clear skies over the Strait of Georgia to climb up and get some altitude for the 10-mile stretch between Lasqueti Island and Qualicum Beach.

I had flown over Qualicum once before on a sight-seeing trip with my brother Jason, up from Victoria. I was freshly annointed with my PPL at that point and when we went to land at Qualicum ( it wasn't our destination, more just to check it out ), the gusty crosswinds had me end up doing a low approach only. It was my brothers first flight with me and I was already scaring myself trying to make a steady approach, no sense scaring him with a not-so-steady landing.

We taxied in and grabbed a couple spots on the grass, just off the main apron. An airport worker came out and very politely told us we wouldn't be able to park there, and directed us instead to another spot down the way. Another gentleman was with him with a clipboard that he was writing in. I thought to myself..." Oh, he must be recording our registration marks for a landing fee or maybe a parking fee... thats funny, I dont remember seeing any fee's in the CFS... ".

We parked over on the grass where they wanted us to and it turned out that the other gentleman was a Transport Canada Inspector doing a ramp check! He went through the whole thing with the pilot of the Piper that flew up with us and Bruce and I watched and listened from a polite distance.

I was a little nervous, figuring it would be my turn next, but once he was done with the Piper's pilot, he wished us all a good day and left. It was actually quite a friendly little encounter and not nearly as sinister as my imagination had it being. I've talked to lots of pilots who have flown for twenty plus years and never been ramp-checked, it was a first for all of us.

Over to the restaurant for a nice lunch out on the patio in the sun and then back from whence we came.

Coming back through downtown Vancouver, got to take a look at the floatplane base of the now-amalgamated West Coast Air / Harbour Air, as well as the Green Roof of the new convention centre.

BC place has also had the inflatable roof deflated, to make way for the new retractable roof they are putting on.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Ever wonder how float planes get around on dry land?

Well, I'm going to tell you anyways.

They use a piece of equipment called " Beaching Gear ".

Essentially a hydraulic lift mounted off the front end of some sort of vehicel so the float plane can be picked up from underneath, down on the boat ramp, lifted into the air and driven around.

Mechanics tend to like working in dry hangars, where all their tools are and they don't have to contort like gymnasts to balance on and work under, a float plane bobbing around at the dock.

We had some fun with that last summer when the Otter went through an engine change and a "splitting " of its radial engine, right at the dock.

Since the aircraft was not flyable, and we had no ramp nor beaching gear to take it out of the water, the entire operation was done at the dock. We did the best we could, with a large plywood maintenance platform placed between the two floats and under the engine and it worked fairly well. But.... theres a lot of oil that comes out of a radial engine when you open it up. So, we strung plastic sheeting up underneath the aircraft as well. Very handy to collect spilt oil and dropped bolts.

The first time we did it, sans plastic, we ended up with a small slick and yours truly had to go diving for parts and tools dropped into the lake at least three or four times.

I am considering heading down to the gulf of mexico and showing those bozo's what I can accomplish with little more than a container of Sunlight dish soap on shore-encroaching oil slicks, but I bet they will figure it out eventually themselves.

In any case... Near where I work is a few different maintenance outfits that do a lot of their work on seaplanes. All of them have at least one set of beaching gear. Its kind of neat some of the vehicles they have mated the lifting apparatus to. Theres at least one Camaro, an Oldsmobile Toronado and a couple other oddball cars as well. Standard practice uses an old half-ton truck that is getting long in the tooth, but its neat to see the creativity of the mechanics.

A while back, I witnessed a beaching incident gone wrong.

The beaching gear is usually placed under the seaplanes " spreader bars ". Horizontal bars that hold the two floats apart and provide lateral strength and stability. The spreader bars are fairly lightweight material ( like a lot of aviation-y things ) but get their strenght in the direction that it is required, by their shape. Like a cardboard tube, very strong if its on end, but can be folded with ease if force is used against it sideways.

Where the lifting platform of the beaching gear pushes against the spreader bars is usually OK, as they lift at the very edges, where the spreader bar attaches to the float itself. At this point, there is an inner piece which reinforces the tube, as well as giving something that you can bolt through the spreader bar onto, to actually attach it.

Unfortunately, if you don't lift at this point of the spreader bar and instead try to lift from a point further in, where there is no underlying reinforcement inside the tube..... Particularly while bouncing down an old wooden float ramp...bad things can happen.

If you look closely in the background, you can see a Beaching Gear-mobile made out of a Toronado..I think. The bars of the lifting platform project forward of the " car " and are just barely visible...They are blue and about fifteen or twenty feet long.

I know the Toronado was a front-wheel drive car so perhaps that why they used it, as the back half of the vehicle is sacrificed in making it into its new configuration.

Oh, this is the same old wooden float ramp as well, being used by a Supermarine Stranraer of Queen Charlotte Airways back in the fifties ( possibly? )

I love how this airport is full of stuff that has been around forever. Old hangars that have seen dozens of airlines come and go. Sometimes run by the same people, different planes and at other times, same planes, different people...

Until they re-paved it last year, you used to be able to drive over the old hangar door tracks of the Boeing Factory that used to exist here, a long time ago...

On the other side of the field is one of my favorite places to walk. Its technically a " jetty ", a breakwater made from rocks. But... for those in the know, its actually a treated water dicharge pipe which takes treated sewage water and discharges it about 4 kilometres out into the Strait of Georgia. The Lovely Wife and I used to run out here whn we lived nearby. I liked it because the trail which runs on top of the pipe as well as alongside it, is marked every half-kilometre. 4 out and 4 back, but I never ran the whole thing in one go.

Oh, and the fact that it is right under the approach path doesn't hurt for a view either...haha.

One of my favorite aircraft types also came in for a surprise visit the other day too.

This is a "super" DC-3.

It popped in unexpectedly for a movie shoot in a nearby town and spent the night on our ramp before heading out the next day. The guys driving it were extremely gracious in giving me the grand tour.

I think it made it even better that it is a working plane as well, not a gussied up show plane. The back half was crammed with spares, tools and of course, oil. Like any good radial engine aircraft, its " Check the Fuel and Fill the Oil please! ".

It took me right back to last summer as well as soon as I stepped in the door. All the smells of a working plane