Friday, December 24, 2010

Not mine, but seasonally appropriate.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Twas the night before Christmas, and out on the ramp,
Not an airplane was stirring, not even a Champ.

The aircraft were fastened to tiedowns with care,
In hopes that come morning, they all would be there.

The fuel trucks were nestled, all snug in their spots,
With gusts from two-forty at 39 knots.

I slumped at the fuel desk, now finally caught up,
And settled down comfortably, resting my butt.

When the radio lit up with noise and with chatter,
I turned up the scanner to see what was the matter.

A voice clearly heard over static and snow,
Called for clearance to land at the airport below.

He barked his transmission so lively and quick,
I'd have sworn that the call sign he used was "St. Nick".

I ran to the panel to turn up the lights,
The better to welcome this magical flight.

He called his position, no room for denial,
"St. Nicholas One, turnin' left onto final."

And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Rutan-built sleigh, with eight Rotax Reindeer!

With vectors to final, down the glideslope he came,
As he passed all fixes, he called them by name:

"Now Ringo! Now Tolga! Now Trini and Bacun!
On Comet! On Cupid!" What pills was he takin'?

While controllers were sittin', and scratchin' their head,
They phoned to my office, and I heard it with dread,
The message they left was both urgent and dour:

"When Santa pulls in, have him please call the tower."

He landed like silk, with the sled runners sparking,
Then I heard "Left at Charlie," and "Taxi to parking."

He slowed to a taxi, turned off of three-oh
And stopped on the ramp with a "Ho, ho-ho-ho..."

He stepped out of the sleigh, but before he could talk,
I ran out to meet him with my best set of chocks.

His red helmet and goggles were covered with frost
And his beard was all blackened from Reindeer exhaust.

His breath smelled like peppermint, gone slightly stale,
And he puffed on a pipe, but he didn't inhale.

His cheeks were all rosy and jiggled like jelly,
His boots were as black as a cropduster's belly.

He was chubby and plump, in his suit of bright red,
And he asked me to "fill it, with hundred low-lead."

He came dashing in from the snow-covered pump,
I knew he was anxious for drainin' the sump.

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And I filled up the sleigh, but I spilled like a jerk.

He came out of the restroom, and sighed in relief,
Then he picked up a phone for a Flight Service brief.

And I thought as he silently scribed in his log,
These reindeer could land in an eighth-mile fog.

He completed his pre-flight, from the front to the rear,
Then he put on his headset, and I heard him yell, "Clear!"

And laying a finger on his push-to-talk,
He called up the tower for clearance and squawk.

"Take taxiway Charlie, the southbound direction,
Turn right three-two-zero at pilot's discretion"

He sped down the runway, the best of the best,
"Your traffic's a Grumman, inbound from the west."

Then I heard him proclaim, as he climbed through the night,

"Merry Christmas to all! I have traffic in sight."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

E is for Emergency

E is for Emergency(ies)

And we do get the odd one from time to time out here. Most of the time they are a non-event. A cockpit indication that may or may not mean something is or isn't going to do what you want it to do when you need it to do what it is supposed to do when you ask it to do it.

We have a prettty clear view over to the fire hall on the other side of the field, so when they roll the crash trucks, all the flashing lights usually catches someones eye. The call on the radio on our end is usually that " someones getting a parade ". I like to grab one of the handheld Icom radios and tune into Tower frequency and listen in. The ARFF ( Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting ) trucks will usually position themselves at the arrival, mid-point and departure end of the runway where the parade-recipient is landing and once they are down they will go onto the runway and follow the aircraft.

If it's a real emergency, the aircraft usually stops on the runway. If its an emergency of the faulty-instrument-bulb variety, then they will follow the plane to the gate and then go back to the firehall.

When it's the real deal, the fire trucks will relay to tower a discrete frequency for the aircraft to speak with them directly on, so they can coordinate shutting down engines, putting out brake fires, evacuating or de-planing passengers and what not.

In this particular case, it was a rejected take-off caused by birds being ingested into one of the engines causing the engine to fail quite spectacularly. There was a loud series of bangs and a couple big puffs of smoke. Then they sent out FodZilla, our airport's resident street sweeper truck, to clean up the mess on the runway. If you look closely, you can see the big FodZilla sticker on the side of the truck.

FYI - FOD is an abbreviation for either Foreign Object Debris or Foreign Object Damage, depending on whether you found the offending Foreign Object before or after it hit or was ingested by an aircraft.

E is for Eating

A favorite pastime of mine...and something I routinely get to do in the airport environment. We tend to get a fair bit of left-over catering off arriving aircraft. Especially the larger aircraft that transport sports teams. If there are 40 people on board, there are 40 Chicken and 40 Fish meals, along with snacks, drinks, desserts. If you are chartering a transport category aircraft for only 40 people, the catering bill is the least of your concern. The crew already tucked one away in their luggage for the hotel room and since you helped them get their gear out of the cargo area, tidy up the cabin and run them to the hotel, you'll usually get a stack of the meals, a tray or two of cheese, meats, desserts and whatever else they have for your troubles.

One of my neighbours just completed his flight-attendant training and they happened to do the on-aircraft portion of their class at our FBO. I ran into him a few times and took the opportunity to " train " him myself on the important aspects of line-crew / flightcrew relations and upkeep thereof. Give the food the the lineguys before the catering trucks show up and pitch it all in the garbage and you'll never carry your bags down the air-stairs yourself again.

E is for Engine Start

When we're marshalling out an aircraft, one of the more important things we're doing is helping to make sure engine start is done safely. The part most people see is all the arm-waving when the planes are moving to or fro their parking spot, but for the most part, the pilots know where they are going. The marshaller is really just there to watch out behind the plane, where the pilot can't see and assist in tight quarters to make sure they don't run into anything. I've talked to some guys who are quite convinced they are running the show when they get a hold of a couple lighted wands, but I know better. We are an added layer of safety, like chocks on an air-brake equipped truck.

Once the passengers and crew are aboard, the marshaller takes up position in front of the nose of the aircraft, in eye contact with the captain, who sits(usually) in the left seat. When they work their way through the checklist to the part where they want to light up an engine ,they will hold up one finger or two, depending on which engine they want to start. The marshaller will signal in return by pointing to the concerned engine with the wand and waving the other wand vertically, over his head in a circular motion.

Engines are numbered 1 through whatever, usually just 2, but in theory, as many as 8, starting from the captains left, or the aircrafts left wing.

The marshallers main job during engine start is to make sure there is no one passing behind the aircraft and that the general area is clear. if it isn't safe to do so, the marshaller will hold the wands up, crossed in an X, indicating to hold off on starting. Unfortunately, this whole dance is so routine, that it can be hard to get the pilot to stop. They are expecting you to indicate all-clear, you have the last 100 times. More than once I've requested a stop, had eye contact with the pilot while indicating not-clear, and have them carry on and start up anyways.

The other function during engine start is fire-watch. A lot of fuel is moved around during start and not all of it gets burned. Some aircraft actually leave a little puddle of unburned fuel on startup or shutdown. The marshaller needs to be ready to signal the pilot in case there is any type of fire. Its one marshalling signal that a lot of marshallers don't actually know as they probably learned it once and then never used it again.... I suspect if you used the proper signal they wouldn't know what the hell you were trying to say. The look on your face though would probably give it away. I think I would resort to basic (frantic) hand gestures if I got any sort of confused look from a pilot if I ever had to use that particular marshalling signal.

Someone just mentioned to me the other day that the mechanics that were on trial for the crash of the concorde in Paris were found guilty of manslaughter recently.

Basically, an American Airlines aircraft that departed before Concorde, left a part of some kind of the runway. That part, once run over by Concorde, proceeded to be deflected upwards at highspeed, puncturing the wing and fuel tank just before take off. Leading to a large in-flight fire, crash and the death of all aboard and the end of the Concorde altogether.

I would like to think of France as being a civilized country and I sincerely hope that if there was negligence on the part of the mechanics, that it was gross negligence in order to find them guilty. I'd hate to think there was simply pressure to scapegoat someone. Particularly given the clientele that usually rode around on Concorde. The cynic in me wonders of those particular passengers and surviving families might have a bit more sway than usual... I'm all for being accountable, especially when your job demands it by its nature, but it seems easy to take it too far sometimes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

D is for Diesel

This is a little out of order, as this happened a few months ago, but I just found the pictures, so bear with me.

Over the summer, I went for a fun little flight with a friend of mine from work, Bruce. Bruce recently went to one of the local flight schools to renew his Private Pilots License and in the process, got himself checked out in the schools shiny new Diesel Powered 172.

Most 172's run on AvGas ( 100 Octane, Low Lead - 100LL or AvGas ), but this one has a diesel engine in it and it actually runs on Jet-A, Jet fuel. Jet Fuel and diesel and very similar, in fact I think the only difference is diesel has some added lubricants in the fuel, where Jet-A is quite a bit "drier". You can run Jet fuel in a diesel powered vehicle ( don't get me started, but you can run almost anything in a diesel!! ) but its not recommended for repeated or prolonged use. I suspect diesel fuel will run just fine in a jet engine as well, except for the small problem of it voiding manufacturers warranties and requiring six-figure engine rebuilds to satisfy re-certification....details...

It is also a very new airplane, and has what is known as a FADEC system. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I think its Full Authority Digital Engine Control. Essentially, its fuel injected and a computer runs not only the engine and fuel mixtures, but also the propeller RPM to coordinate different power settings as well. I think it does a few other wizard-y things as well.

One of the neat little tricks it does is a push-button run-up. Get yourself set up in the run-up bay and hold down the run-up button and it goes through all the checks on the engine and gauges for you, giving you a green light when its done. cool.

Except that it does the run-up at full power....yikes.

It has a constant speed prop, but with the FADEC system, you'd never know it. You simply set percentage of power required on the throttle and the wizards match engine and prop power output for you.

We took off out of Boundary Bay and flew up the coast to Powell River, an airport Bruce hadn't been to before, but I had been into a couple of times.

A fun trip and a chance to fly with someone I hadn't flown with before. ( I reciprocated a few weeks later and posted the details of a trip to Qualicum in one of the ultralights, in case he looks familiar ).

We didn't do much at Powell River, mostly hung around the airport watching this guy do long-line practice with a helicopter.

It was kind of funny actually, he called up on the radio after we announced our arrival intentions about 10 minutes out, but neither of us caught that he was a helicopter. Once we got into the circuit, he checked in again and said he'd be " over the threshold of XX runway ", which confused us..till we spotted him and it all became clear.

On the way back, we came across a new Diamond TwinStar in flight and they asked us over the radio if we had a camera on board. I replied that we did, and we proceeded to take a few nice air-to-air shots of it for them.

This is the same Twinstar I later took a look at for doing my MIFR in. Shiny.

A local Hostel and Machine shop in Gibsons also had burned down the previous day, got a picture as we flew over, but it didn't really turn out.

D is also for DI's

A DI is a Daily Inspection. Done on all our Fuel Trucks by the Day Shift folks. I used to work Day Shift and used to do the DI's as well. When you get your commercial drivers license, one of the big things that you have to do and show an examiner that you can do, is a pre-trip inspection. A DI is essentially just a pre-trip, but since our trucks are in continuous use all day, we basically just do one big "pre-trip" at the beginning of the day. I remember in the driving test they give you a set amount of time, twenty minutes I think, and they warn you five minutes before time runs out. Not that all the requisite items aren't being checked, but the Test pre-trip and a real-life pre-trip are two very different animals. On the test, you're under the truck with the coveralls on and inspecting frame rails for cracking. In real life, its a flashlight on bended knee.

D is for D

My Airport pass is a "D" pass, it allows me into the airside restricted area, and it also allows me to operate a vehicle on an active taxiway, runway or apron. It requires a security check, a radio operators license and a driving test with the airport authority. Another type of pass is a D/A, which allows vehicle operation airside, but only on the ramps and vehicle corridors and service roads, no driving anywhere that requires a clearance.

D is for Ducks

We've got a lot of them at our airport. A major river delta along a migratory path, go figure. The airport authority has a few guys in trucks whose job it is to drive around all day and scare of the ducks, geese, hawks, eagles and other wildlife. They've got all sorts of noisemakers, sirens, firecrackers and lights to keep the birds away from the runways. I had one pop by the FBO one night when I was working graveyards and he showed me all the gear they give him.

There was a pistol in the console of the truck and a shotgun in a rack as well. I thought they used them to fire off the firecrackers, but they were the real deal and he said they do use them. Particularly if the bird is nesting airside, they tend to get the short straw as there is little reasonable way to keep them from coming back I guess.

D is also for Dirty Diapers.

Not many of them on the ramp, but I've got a few!!!