Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winter Olympics 2010

So, the Winter Olympics are coming to Vancouver. Less than 30 days to go till opening ceremonies and finally things are starting to happen.

I lamented a few weeks ago to someone that I found it strange that there seemed to be a complete lack of fanfare or boosterism going on, with the games rapidly approaching.

I read an article the other day that explains this is their plan. Apparently, they are saving all the PR work for the last couple of weeks before the opening ceremonies. Makes sense in a way, I guess. For the last two years all we have heard about was the negative aspects, the traffic, road closures, construction projects, security and all manner of doomsday scenario's on how we just aren't going to be able to handle it. So, save all the good news for the last couple of weeks and try to put a smile on every ones face when the world shows up.

Unfortunately, they either haven't applied the proper amount of sunshine, or they are directing it to the wrong anatomical area, but I am not really looking forward to the whole thing. I am in a way, I guess, but it's more morbid curiosity than anything else..

My own personal prediction ( you heard it here first folks ), is that these games are going to be a flop. In my view, the best we can hope for at this point is a fizzle. Unremarkable, would be best case in my opinion. My fear though, is that we are going to fail... There seems to be an all-pervading theme of " don't worry, its under control, you'll be told what you need to know when you need to know it. Stop asking questions. "

Which streets are closing? When and for how long? Which buses, skytrains are going to be cancelled / detoured / increased? Are roads to the airport being check-pointed with CATSA minions demanding that I put apple juice in a baggie before going to work? If I walk out of the " secure area " and go outside for a minute, will I be able to get back air-side without going through screening?

And now, how the heck are we going to have alpine events on the local mountains, when there is no snow? A week or so ago we had a " Pineapple Express ". A nice low pressure system that comes from the southwest ( Hawaii ) and brings lots of moisture and well-above freezing temperatures. Like double digits above zero. If its 12 on the ground, 3000 feet above on the local hills, its only around 6 degrees or so. And Raining. Really, Really, Raining.

They announced it on the news yesterday. Warmest January in recorded history.

I saw a picture of one of the local ski hills, the snow base is almost gone and big muddy, bare patches are showing.

We had a meeting the other day at work and went over our operations plans for the event. This is definitely going to be one to remember. So much of our operation has changed and we have less than 10 days to get used to it and smooth out the wrinkles before things start really happening.

We've also got sleeping quarters for the staff, both the local staff and the staff from other locations that are being called in to help out. The thinking is that on the peak days, at least, we will most likely be working 16+ hour shifts and going home to simply turn around and come back less than 8 hours later will not be very efficient.

The two peak periods we are expecting are the arrival and departure crushes. Prior to the official opening ceremonies on Feb 12, all manner of aircraft are scheduled to arrive. We've got everything from smaller business jets to full size airliners bringing in TV production crews, Military personnel, Athletes, foreign dignitaries and of course, the super-rich.

The arrival crush is the " easier " of the two, as most of the people will be arriving kind of staggered, over a three day period. The departure one will be the real deal. As soon as the Olympics are over, everyone wants out. Now.

But, we've got a good crew here. Lots of guys with 15+ years of experience. Even some who took part in the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics.

Hmm. One sec, google-break.

Wow. it WAS in 1988. 22 years ago. holy crap.

Security is tight, to say the least. I can't really get into it on here ( or I'd have to kill you, and that would suck. ), but trust me, its tight.

Lots of debate about whether its necessary or not, economically feasible or not, etc.

One thing to keep in mind, in regards to the military participation, economically at least, its not very costly at all. Its a great training exercise, with all kinds of real-world problems and challenges that a training scenario simply couldn't come up with. If they weren't practicing and burning fuel here, they'd be doing it anyway in Cold Lake, in Borden, in Shearwater.

Theres a couple of cruise ships parked in the harbour, filled with cops and military personnel. Best of all, they are also filled with the cruise ships regular staff as well. That's right, 24/7 buffet, swimming pool, karaoke, shuffleboard. Tough bivouac!

I've been picking up a little bit of part-time work here and there helping out a local company detailing aircraft. I got an introduction to " Bright Work " the other day.

Any of the shiny bits on a jet, are actually polished aluminum in most cases. It is usually associated with a heated surface, it being where the anti-icing systems that use very hot air from the engines direct the heat to keep ice from forming. The heat is distributed through pipes which have holes in them, running inside the leading edges of the wings, stabilizers and engine inlets. The pipes vary in diameter to keep the pressure uniform throughout its length.

The polished aluminum bits are subject to a lot of stress, both heat, corrosion and friction. Engine inlets and the leading edges of wings and stabilizers are the ones most impacted by bugs, ice, hail, towing crews and errant baggage carts.

There is also the important aspect of keeping a smooth surface, as these areas are the ones most affected by the skin friction drag caused by the meeting of air and airplane. It has been proven that the smoother the surface, the greater its efficiency, through reduction of drag. Something as rough as your average sandpaper on the surface of the wing, for example, might reduce the lift production of the wing by as much as 40%. That's a lot.

So, the polished aluminum bits get polished a lot. You also don't want corrosion getting a foothold in the metal either, so the polishing actually takes off a little bit of the surface in order to remove any oxidation that has started.

Bottom line. A lot of work. Hard work, manual polishing, elbow-grease, awkward places, repetitive work.

We had a report the other day of someone " Twittering " aircraft arrival details on their twitter-page? ( I have no idea how twitter works, so play along.. ) and they caught the attention of the airport authority. Apparently they figure its an employee of one of the FBO's and they are trying to figure out who it is...

With that in light, and the fact that I am going to be pretty busy for the next few weeks, I doubt there will be many updates from me.

Pictures of visiting aircraft are verboten at any time, and there is no shortage of all kinds of security spooks looking to justify their cruise-ship per Diem that I can't really say or post much without risking a grey area....

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I saw the term " Naughties " used the other day to refer to the decade of 2000 - 2009. I presume it to be referring to " aught " as a term referring to 01-09, as " teens " are used in referring to numbers 10-19.

I'm not sure if I like the term, but it does seem a little appropriate given the nature of some of the decadence and excess in the last ten years or so, and the fact that we seem to be paying for it now....

Anyhow, onward, upward. Things will be what they will be, not much sense in dwelling on things...

Got the itch to go flying the other day, and finally decided I better do some scratching. Its been a few months since I've had the controls of an aircraft. The holiday season was pretty good to us financially, with myself getting a nice little cheque pre-christmas for some retro pay due for an old pay increase that got missed, a signing bonus on our new union contract and another healthy pay increase for Jan 01 under the new contract.

Most of the extra money went to paying bills, but I managed to get my hands on 135 bucks to go and rent an ultralight from the local ultralight strip and go for a boot.

I could have spent a couple more bucks and rented a 172 or a 152, but the ultralight place had just added a couple new planes to the fleet and I wanted to give one a try. I went for a flight in one a year or so ago and didn't really care too much for it. It felt really squirrelly and difficult to fly a steady course or get the aircraft trimmed out properly. The aircraft I took up this time though was awesome!

It was a little Ukrainian made job ( insert appropriate ukie joke here ), and the name escapes me, but I promise to find out and post it.

The strip is a little grass ( West Coast winter, read: Mud ) strip of 1200-1500 feet or so and a little bumpy.

I went up with one of their instructors, as I'd never rented from them before and a check-out was in order before they will let me loose on just my say-so of my awesome pilot-y type skills.

A neat feature of the plane, it had a Ballistic Recovery System! This is a parachute, for the plane! According to the owner, this is a big wife-seller on the poeple who come in with the typical cocked eyebrow when hubby says he is going to try flight training in an ultralight. If you get in serious trouble, as a last resort, you can pull the handle and a chute will fire out the top of the plane, and bring it to a controlled vertical descent. I'm told most of these systems allow for landing at vertical velocities equivalent to a ten-foot drop. Enough to rattle your fillings to be sure, and bend the airplane without doubt, but possibly a better outcome than other possibilities, depending on the scenario.

I've also heard that these systems are getting a little bit of a bad rap, given their activation in scenarios where it wasn't at last-resort yet and cooler heads didn't prevail. Hard to say, but its nice to have one more tool as a backup.

We ended up leaving fairly late in the day, with our legal daylight dwindling and twilight encroaching. We were legal, but its not hard to be in legal " day " and still have it quite dark out.

Over to one of the local airports for some touch and go's, got to practice my slips and slipping turns as I had a tough time judging power settings for my approach with an aircraft I wasnt familiar with. I like slipping too, and the goal of the day was to just have some fun.

For those not familiar, a slip is used on approach where you are too high ( didnt take enough power off during the approach, or took it off too late ) and power is fully off. If you lower the nose and " dive " at the runway, you will pick up speed. Excessive speed is not going to help you at all, as you will have to then bleed this speed off over the runway before the aircraft will stop flying and let you land it. You may well get to the runway by diving at it, but you will still land waaaaay down the runway while you " float " along in ground effect trying to get rid of all that extra speed.

So, the slip is used by giving full rudder in one direction ( turning the nose of the plane away from the runway ) and using the ailerons to keep the aircraft pointed towards the runway. This ends up making the aircraft sort of fly sideways, presenting a large section of the fuselage into the relative airflow and creating a large amount of drag. The drag slows the aircraft down considerably, allowing speed to drop. If the speed is dropping, the nose can be lowered towards the runway ( it will actually descend quite quickly without the nose really dropping at all ) and you can then " dive " at it without penalty of increasing your speed. This is a simplified explanation, but the end result is a significant rate of descent without an increase in speed. I love the feeling of a slip properly applied and the bottom dropping out from underneath you.

I've had instructors warn against doing this with nervous passengers as they may not enjoy this sensation...

The trick too is to make sure you have straightened the aircraft out nice and smoothly to transition to a normal ( straight, aligned with the runway ) attitude prior to landing.

After a few circuits, we flew over to the practice area to try out a few upper air maneuvers. This thing stalls at 29 MPH...haha! The indicated airspeed approaching the stall dropped off to almost zero before we felt anything. The stall was really gentle as well, no wing dropping or anything, just a little buffet. I actually waited a bit before I recovered as I didn't think it was fully stalled, but apparently it was.

A little slow flight to see if we could make it " stand still " and then hurry up and get home before it got too dark!

Coming back to the home strip, I let the instructor know that this was all him now.

Way too dark for me to comfortably find an unfamiliar, unlit, dark, muddy, short, strip. I told him later that had that been just me in the plane, he would have been getting a phone call from the field where we had done the touch and go's at, because thats where I would have left their airplane!

I also wouldn't have left that late, but I asked the instructor before we left if he was comfortable departing knowing what the light conditions would be like when we returned and he seemed quite confident.

When we called in on the Aerodrome Traffic Frquency ( ATF ), to announce our impending arrival and intentions, one of the other owners on the ground asked us if we wanted a car or two placed along the runway to light things up. We decided to have a look-see first and ended up seeing the strip nicely. It was neat too to see the casual and helpful nature of everyone out there at this strip. Everyone was just out there having fun and watching out for each other. Not a lot of the posturing and too-cool-for-school attitudes that your typical training aerodrome seems to suffer a lot of these days.

The aircraft had tons of power ( relatively, of course ) and it felt very stable in the air. I was quite impressed. It cruised at around 90kts as well, not too shabby!

Comfortable, roomy two-seat cockpit. It even had a " real " throttle setup, which you gripped with your palm on the centre console, instead of the awkwardly placed and goofy-feeling Cessna throttle which is the plunger type, mounted up on the panel. I like to hold the throttle while I fly, and this made it very comfortable, almost like resting your hand on the gear-shift.

One thing I didnt like though, was the combination display for the engine instruments. Everything was digital, with no needles, green arcs, red lines or other visual cues to help with monitoring engine performance. I suppose if I flew this thing on a regular basis, I'd have the nominal values memorized, but its nice to not have to really read the values and simply glance at the needle and the red line to make sure things are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

I understand though that with ultralights, there are quite a few compromises that have to be made in non-critical areas to keep the weight down.

Here's a picture showing a cessna throttle ( the black knob ).

Also visible is my nephews creation which I promised him I would take with me when I go flying. I sent him a couple pictures on one flight, and I need to remind myself to send him some soon so he is reassured that it still goes with me to help land the plane!

It didn't hurt that the aircraft has less than a hundred hours on it as well. Most of the Cessnas I'm used to flying had in excess of 5000 hours...

I'm looking forward to going back to scratch the itch and am wondering what the local instructing employment scene is like for the ultralight guys...

Had a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter visit us the other day. On a training exercise and lunch break. I love how these guys " land " on the runway and then taxi over. Its always a little weird to see a helicopter cruising down the taxi way instead of landing directly on the pads. We actually had quite a few do that when we had all that fog last week.

I'm assuming that helicopters would follow the same instrument approach procedures to a runway and then " circle to land " at their intended pad once the airport environment is in sight?

In the case of the fog, I presume they followed the ILS all the way down and since the airport environment wasn't visible, most likely runway lighting only, they had to land on the runway and taxi off?