Sunday, October 24, 2010

C is for Circadian Rhythms

Ok, before I get into the flimsily disguised motivational trick I'm trying to use to actually post an entry, a quick update on happenings.

This is for the odd person who reads to keep up with happenings in our little family as opposed to the incredibly boring and trivial aviation stuff I try to stick to with this blog.

So, we had a baby girl about two months ago and she's doing great! The sleep schedules and feeding-changing-burping-wailing cycles are getting rhythmic and less and less daunting by the day. Your daily schedule starts to be more and more predictable, but still a handful to say the least.

The last month or so we've developed a pretty good night time schedule that gaurantees both of us a solid 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Unfortunately, as of late, Our Little Girl ( OLG ) has developed a penchant for sleeping ON us instead of near us, or in a crib / basket / desk drawer / cardboard box like she used to be satisfied with.

On the one hand, there is nothing better than looking down at her little face snuggled into your chest sleeping peacefully. On the other hand, there is nothing more frustrating than having a big chunk of "free" time, while she is sleeping and being completely immobilized and unable to accomplish anything more usefull and productive than gazing at her.

We've had lots of suggestions from friends and family and have been reading some great books about different methods of sleep training, but its a slow process of trial and error.

She's eating about 70/30 Formula to Pumped Breast Milk, and we sometimes wonder how the heck breast-feeding moms can keep up with the demand! Bottle washing / sterilizing and mixing formula is a new little routine around here.

Diapers aren't nearly as bad as I thought they would be pre-OLG. I had heard stories of hundreds of dollars a month to keep up, but its not nearly so bad.

Still waiting for her to smile on a regular basis. We've had a few, but it's hard to realistically not blame them on gas.... most of them have been random just-waking-up or falling asleep moments as opposed to our efforts to make her smile.

Her little SIN card showed up the other day too, a few days after her birth certificate. It's official now, her sovereignty has been recognized by the state.

I did some shopping around at the local flight schools to find one to do my multi engine rating and IFR rating at this winter. Commonly done together, this rating is usually referred to as a MIFR or multi-eye-eff-arr. This would allow me to fly an aircraft with more than one engine and also to fly one on instruments alone. Done together, as the IFR part has to be done for the type of aircraft you want to fly under instrument rules. You can do a Single-Engine IFR ( called a Group 3 ), but its not nearly as useful as the multi-engine variety ( Group 1 ). Most outfits that fly their aircraft under IFR rules, use multi engine aircraft.

A few non-aviation folks I've talked to about this have asked such things as " so, then you can fly a 747? " or " are you hoping to get on with Air Canada, I hear they are hiring ? ".

Short answer is no.

My bare commercial license with a MIFR rating attached to it, hopefully by spring, will simply allow me to expand my job search a little bit. A few more bullets in the gun so to speak.

One outfit that I spoke to, and asked me to stay in touch with them, flies both single and multi-engine aircraft. The single engine aircraft are flown under VFR, the multi ones are IFR machines. While I would technically be qualified to fly the singles, and that would be the entry-level position I would hope for, my value to them is drastically reduced as that would be the limit of my usefullness. The IFR rating, while not immediately usefull in that scenario, would give me a little more value as a longer(ish) term employee to them.

To simplify as well, for those who tuned in for the first non-aviation bit and are still hanging around, VFR and IFR are the different sets of "rules" that airplanes fly under.

VFR is Visual Flight Rules. No going into clouds, keeping the ground in sight at all times, occasionally talking to Air Traffic Control and always using the see-and-avoid principle of other-airplane-and-large-immovable-object avoidance. The primary instrument that the pilot uses while flying under VFR is the windshield coupled to a calibrated set of mk I eyeballs.

IFR is Instrument Flight Rules. Going into clouds is OK and the windshield as a navigational and operating instrument is only used during certain phases of flight. Most notably landing and taking off. While you've heard of airliners that " land themselves ", this is not very common. More often than not, once the gadgets, gizmo's and little wizards have guided you electronically through the sky to your destination, once it's there( the landing runway ), filling the windshield, you would visually land your plane just as a VFR airplane would.

For those of you that know better, please play along, I'm trying to simplify this and leave out all the subject to, unless otherwise authorized by the minister, except in cases of subsection 4(b)1-3 type of stuff.

In any case, the MIFR is back on the radar for a couple of reasons. First of all, my original " plan " of flying floats for a few years to " build time " in order to get considered for year-round work, is, upon closer inspection not a very good option for us. Most of the guys I met who are doing that, get 2-300 hours a year, if they are lucky. For that they need to uproot every summer and live apart from loved ones. For every one of those hours they get, they also spent 2-3 hours fixing outboard motors, building docks, repairing cabins, guiding fisherman, cutting up ungulates and doing whatever else was required. The flying I like, the ungulate-cutting I can take or leave.

So, I did my due diligence and made the rounds of the more reputable outfits in town that provided this type of training.


One outfit I went to had a nice little twin-engine trainer, a little rough around the edges, like most training aircraft, and a helpful staff and instructor. They took the time to walk me through their course, show me the plane and in general, try and sell me on choosing their operation. Its hard not to be cynical during this process as this is their business and you are a customer. Similar to the car salesman telling you how fantastic you look behind the wheel of whatever model they are trying to sell you, you get lots of " oh, you knew that? Well, you should be able to breeze through this course! ". This outfit also had a recent change of ownership and kudos to them ,very customer service focused and professional. Unfortunately, they share a Simulator with another, very busy, school and only have one instructor who does the MIFR training. The single instructor bit isn't too big a deal, but I worried about sim access. Since so much of the IFR course can be done in the sim, I didn't want to be stuck fighting for slots while being at the bottom of the pecking order behind another schools own students.

School #2

Another one, had a very modern multi-engine trainer. So modern in fact, that it made my spidey senses tingle... While everyone else in the area is using 20 ( and up ) year old aircraft to do flight training in, these guys are using brand new aircraft. Their rates are competitive with everyone else as well, so its hard not to be cynical about their business model. I did however go in and talk to them and while the CFI was very nice, and a bit of an internet / forum / blogosphere celebrity, I decided to take a pass. Most of their students seem to be overseas and foreign students, in itself not an issue at all, but I just felt a little out of place. The CFI wasn't in when I popped over and the young instructor who I spoke to didnt seem too interested in selling me on their offerings. The extent of his pitch was that I " could go sit in the plane...if I wanted to. " I did, of course, and enjoyed a nice chat with the CFI a bit later, but in the end decided that while shiny, fancy and modern, I probably would be better served training on the type of aircraft I am more likely to be considered to fly in....20 years and older.....

Some days it seems like by the time I get to plunk myself down in a "modern" airplane, they won't be very modern anymore...


#3 was where I did my original flight training on, both my private license and my commercial license.

I enjoyed my PPL course there, but again, felt out of place during the latter half of my time there. Too many barely-20-somethings with giant mirrored sunglasses and frankly, a lot of people on staff who had no idea who I was after flying there 2 or 3 times a week for two years. A good outfit, and a great reputation locally, but a few too many times standing in front of the counter waiting for the young instructors to finish their personal conversations while my booking slot on the aircraft dwindled away....


#4 was a place I had heard a few good reviews about on AvCanada, in particular about their CFI. I went over there expecting to spend 20 minutes to a half hour getting the schpiel, brochure and sit-in-the-airplane tour, but ended up with an hour and a half with the main MIFR instructor and a free half hour playing around in the sim.

I have to admit, my attitudes towards flight training have changed quite a bit since the first dollar I plunked down. In the beginning, I was pretty much in awe of everything they had to say and, frankly, a bit naive about the whole thing. Now, I definitely feel its more of a business transaction. I need X service, have determined the market is charging X dollars and I want a competitive rate, but will pay more for the parts of the service I have decided are worth more to me in particular. Well maintained aircraft that are available when I need them, instructors who are good at their jobs and willing to work around my schedule to some degree and a general sense of continued appreciation for my business.

Their facility was fantastic. Clean and professional looking, nicely organized and well kept. The airplanes were plentiful, well equipped and well maintained. Fresh paint and new interiors are nice, but a seat-back pocket with no 3 month old sick-sacks, 43 pens rolling around on the floor and a complete absence of oil-soaked paper towels tells me more about how the employees and owner treat the equipment and their customers.

The owner took the time to get to know me a little and I was sold when I watched him running around greeting everyone who walked in the door while simultaneously cleaning the office and making fresh coffee. You could tell he truly has his heart in his business. It's always possible that he's a raging tyrant away from the customers eyes and that explains the meticulous appearance of the operation, but his staff seemed a little too happy to be there as well.

Its kind of funny though, they share a very similar name with another flight training outfit at the same airport, but this other outfit is bizarre. I'm not even making this up, but on their website, under the corporate officers of the company, they list one female member of the board with a corporate title of " model / actress ". I swear there is even a picture of her draped over a sports car wearing a fur coat. yeah.

So, I picked up my books and spent the next two weeks doing all the pre-reading for the course.

The Multi rating is first, so a couple of texts on multi engine handling and theory, the course syllabus itself, as well as the airplane's flight manual ( AFM ) or Pilots Operating Handbook( POH ).

On reading through the multi-engine texts, I got a little chuckle. The aforementioned " modern " aircraft offered to me at the other school was mentioned a few times. In at least three separate cases the book would go into detail on semi-complicated procedures such as constant-speed prop control, prop feathering or engine mixture leaning and then at the end of the chapter they'd mention, " except for the ACME Super-Duper Model A, where you only need to press a button. ". I almost wonder if its too fancy for its own good, particularly as a training aircraft.

More posts to come on the multi-course, I've done some simulator sessions as well as a flight in the aircraft itself as of this writing, but I'm hoping to put together its own post on that later.

Oh, Right. Ramp workers Alphabet.

C is for Circadian Rythmn

Like with a newborn, better get used to modification. Large airports are generally 24/7/365 operations. Someone has to work the graveyard shift....guess who, junior boy?

C is for Chocks, Cones and Carpets.

At the FBO, every arriving aircraft has at least two of its landing gear wheels " chocked ", so that the pilot can release his parking brake ( or not set them in the first place ) allowing us to tow the airplane off to its hangar spot or ramp parking space later. We can still tow it with the brakes on, but the black rubber marks makes our ramp look bad.

Wingtips, nose and tail also get a safety cone. A lot of the time you have limo's, golf carts, fuel trucks, tugs and other vehicles operating in close proximity to the aircraft. The cones are pretty cheap insurance against multi million dollar fender benders.

I like to make sure the left wingtip gets its cone first. The baggage compartment on most business jets is on the left rear and the passenger door on the left front. First out the passenger door is usually the FO, who bee-lines for the baggage compartment to get the bags coming out before the passengers even step off the aircraft. More often than not, the passengers will follow and collect their bags as they come out. They could just go inside and we will bring them in, or even take them straight to their cab / limo, but the new-money folks always try to walk around to the back to get their bags. Indubitably, they cut the corner at the wing as they come around and I've seen more than one snag a static wick on their way. Small pointy, stick looking things that project off the wingtips and trailing edges of the wing and horizontal stabilizers to dissipate static while airborne. Can make a nasty cut or puncture if walked into and can be expensive to replace.

These are typical of the chocks we use. These particular chocks are tied to a truck and there is a little story behind that. A few months ago, HQ came out with a new directive that all fueling trucks must be chocked when the driver is out of the cab, particularly when fueling an aircraft. Now... all of the trucks we use have Air-Brakes. Air Brakes were designed specifically for large trucks as a fail-safe system to prevent them from rolling away. The way they work is that a metal spring actually activates the brake piston, instead of hydraulic pressure supplied by a pump, supplied by power from a running engine. This way, even if the engine is not running, the brakes will have " power " from the metal spring. In fact, you need the high-pressure air supplied by a running engine ( via a compressor ) to actually release the brakes and keep them released. If the engine dies, or any part of the air line is ruptured, brakes come on...and stay on.

So, to put chocks under the tires, is a little over the top, some might say. There is a slight chance that you would forget to set the brake in the first place, and get out of the truck with the engine running and the chocks would in fact save the day.

In any case... much debate from everyone about this extra precaution... Some pointed out that if there was an emergency ( fire ), you might want to drive away without the delay of pulling the chocks. It only took a couple days before a few of us did that unintentionally and found you can drive right over them without even noticing. The only way you can tell you did it, was that everyone within view of you is giggling and pointing at you.

Then the other argument came up that if there was an emergency and you drove away , leaving the chocks behind, that they would be a tripping hazard for the responders. I personally thought this was the silliest thing I'd heard yet. I think if a fire-fighter is prepared to come running up to a giant, thin-gauge aluminum structure, filled with jet fuel and people, they aren't going to be scared of my little chocks getting in their way.

Thats why these chocks are tied to the truck. You drive away from these bad boys and not only do the people in the immediate vicinity get to laugh at you, but so does everyone you come across allll the way back to base, watching them bounce along behind you.

I also mentioned in the discussions was my personal philosophy on the issue. So long as the companies cheques keep clearing my bank account, they can ask me to do all manner of silly things. In fact, since I get compensated per hour of my time, they are more than welcome to give me more and more tasks, silly or otherwise. In light of the above compensation-by-the-hour, I also have to admit a soft spot for a company willing to pay ME money to do tasks which cost IT real money, but add a layer of safety for ME.

C is for Cold.

Both the Viral and Climatic types. I'm currently enjoying neither.

We've had a couple " snow events " as we call them out here on the Wet Coast. The rest of Canada of course, calls these types of events "winter", but its not normal for us. ( Read: haha - suckers. )

I'm still stubbornly refusing to get winter tires on my car. I don't even have all-seasons, just summer tires. Since I learned to drive in the frozen wastelands of Edmonton, I figure my summer-tire equipped car coupled with above-(lotus land)-average winter driving skills, puts me pretty much on level footing with the rest of this city and their newly acquired studded tires for their Mercedes Benz SUV. Except I usually get home at the end of my shift and they've abandoned their SUV's en masse along the freeway. Seeing them sitting there, hopelessly immobilized by an inch of snow is more than funny.

C is for Canadair

Managed to snap a few pics of this guy taxiing away from the customs ramp. He just landed here to clear customs and then took off for points unknown. I believe this is a Canadair 215 water bomber.

It originally came with big old radial engines, but has since been converted to turbo-props. They now make this plane factory-stock with turbines and I believe the newer model is a Canadair 415. I think I remember someone telling me that they call this a " Duck ".

C is for Chicken

Entirely non-ramp related, but this guy knows how to play it.

C is also for Cloud Bases.

Depressingly low lately. TLW keeps scratching her head when I tell her my flight lesson was cancelled because of weather. I have to explain that although I am training towards flying in cloud, I'm not there yet. Nor is a lot of the training apt to be in cloud either. Our freezing level out here is very typically 2-3000 feet AGL / ASL out here in the winter and so are the cloud bases. From what I understand, flying our non-ice equipped training aircraft into a large collection of just-freezing or about-to-freeze water droplets isn't conducive to continued flight...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Odds and Ends

I was going through my bag the other day, and found my little digicam languishing at the bottom, amongst a pile of paystubs, plastic safeway lunch bags and all the other stuff that just sort of piles up in my little work-backpack. Every once in a while I go through it and am just amazed at some of the stuff I have been faithfully carrying to and from work for WEEKS.

Anyways, found a few pics on the camera that I hadn't posted before, so thought I'd clear them out. Here goes;

Kaman Helicopter

This is one of the goofiest looking machines I have come across, but apparently its quite the performer.

I like the eyes in the front window too, nice touch.

This part just blew me away though. Out on the trailing edge of each blade was what looked like an aileron to me. I pondered it for awhile and then saw the pilot and asked him about it.

Most Helicopters, ( Read: all of them, except for this one. ) control the pitch angle of their blades by means of "twisting" them from the base outward. Imagine the blade spinning around the hub and in/on the hub is a cam of sorts that lifts ( increases the angle of attack ) the blade as it goes through that section of the spinning disk. So, you want to increase lift on the left side of the disk, the mechanism ( because I don't know its proper name ) lifts each blade as it passes through the left side, and lets it back down again once its passing through centre. Net effect is the left side creates more lift and the disk tilts. Neat.

You can do the same for the front side and back side of the disk as well, tilting the plane of rotation fore and aft as well. The helicopter tends to follow the spinning disk as well, it doesn't have a lot of other options.

Helicopters represent a sort of arcane, dark art to me, so I am both intrigued and intimidated by them at the same time, similar to higher math. Why the square root of some things can be so remarkably and beautifully elegant as the solution to a problem boggles my mind, much the same way as voodoo and yogic levitation.

In any case, back to the little aileron out there on the spinning blade. When the pilot(wizard) so wishes, he can, by deflecting the aileron into the airflow as the blade is spinning, cause an opposite reaction to the long skinny blade. It twists. So the cam system must still be at work, causing the aileron to rapidly deflect and un-deflect depending on which side of the disk you wish to have more angle of attack, but it is the same effect as the system everyone else uses. But totally different.

I like how the big jets kick up some a fantastic trail of moisture roaring off a wet runway. Seeing the jet blast is pretty impressive, being able to actually take a decnt picture would be even more impressive...c'est la view.

Of course, with the 727's, you don't need a wet runway, you can just watch the black smoke pouring out the back. Or, as someone put it on Avcanada the other day " a trail of David Suzuki tear's "

This thing came in a few times over the summer, I can't remember the name of it though... t-something trojan? Not sure...

Rumour had it that it is owned by he owner of Harbour Air and is a toy. It certainly parked on their ramp while it visited, who knows... I like the "guns" they added as well.

Apparently, as told to me last year, the Wright Cyclone engine is actually the very same engine as the PZL-ASz-62IR, 1000HP engine that a few DHC3 Otters have been converted to, including the one operated by the fishing lodge I worked for last summer.

The story was that under some backroom post-world war two deal, the Wright company ( yes, Orville and Wilbur ) sold the rights to PZL in Poland for the production of this engine and it has been produced with great success and in fantastic numbers since.

The other story I heard was that the Poles made a fantastic version of it, slightly improved from Wrights original design, but once they were under Soviet control, the soviets began production of their own PZL 1000HP engine with much less success, but even greater numbers. Apparently, if you get on with blue paint instead of Polish Grey, you have a Russian made Polish engine. Theres a joke in there somewhere I'm sure.

Oh, here is a picture of one of the Ultralights I was flying while working part-time as an instructor out at the ultralight field.

And here she is as of Tuesday afternoon.

Luckily, it sounds like no one was seriously hurt, a few cuts and bruises apparently and the plane is a write-off.

The story I heard was that the carbon-fibre prop de-laminated on them just after take-off and some or all of it departed the aircraft without further ado. They tried to make the field but clipped the power lines on approach. The Chief Instructor and a student were on board at the time. I haven't been out to the field for a while now so I haven't yet had a chance to talk to them and hear it from the horses mouth.