Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Fathers Day

Fathers day today, first one for me as a new Dad. A little melancholy as I'm away from my baby girl and my Lovely Wife. My wife made a great little video for me with TWO wearing an I (Heart) Daddy shirt and we had a nice little chat this morning.

Also a little melancholy as my own Father passed away a few years ago and I'm sure he'd find my present situation entertaining as well. I was actually born not too far from where I am presently employed, up here in Canada's north. During the couple years before and after my birth, he made the trip up here to find work. He was most definitely of the "enlightened" generation, to put it delicately and I always thought it a strange place to go to find work back in the sixties and seventies. He ended up mostly driving a cab, but made at least one foray back here a few years after my birth to do it again and make some income. I guess cab driving paid fairly well back then, who knows.

It was always an interesting conversation point when I was a kid, as to where I was born. Even though we moved away when I was only a few months old, I used to use my birthplace as a bit of a badge of uniqueness. Not so unique now, EVERYONE here is born where I was born...haha.

Was a day off for me as well, as it seems most sundays are around here. More because we dont have a lot of work on sundays than anything else.

First I thought I might go hit up the driving range and hit a bucket of balls. I realized its probably been almost two years since I swung a club. Not that I was any good to begin with, but I'm not going to get any better by not golfing.

I enjoy golfing in much the same way as I do fishing. Its a reasonable excuse to get outside and enjoy the outdoors for a long period of time. If I simply walked back and forth in a park for three hours, people might think it a little odd, same as if I sat on a riverbank and stared at the water for three hours. Luckily, all I have to do is swing a club at a little tiny ball and then go looking for it in the bushes for three hours and people think thats entirely acceptable.

I did in fact, change my mind and went fishing instead. There are a ton of places around here to go fishing, but everyone keeps telling me to go to the same spot. Every time I've been to that spot as well, theres always four or five other people there as well. I've tried a few other spots, with limited success, but have always found good results at "the spot". Not a bad location either, just off the end of the runway. Got to watch the water tankers and bird dogs take off and land a couple times too. Oddly, downwind as well....( the plane in the picture is back-tracking and about to turn downwind for the takeoff. )

Apologies for the crap quality, its an iphone picture, at full zoom, but I was trying to get a shot with the windsock as well.

I'll always remember one of my instructors telling me how she remembered which direction the windsock was indicating. That was, The Tail of the sock, is where you want your tail to be. So the direction it is "pointing", where the pointy end is, is where you want your tail to be pointed. Sounds silly, but it stuck.

Actually, thats kind of funny too, I've met quite a few people over the years who misunderstand the whole taking-off-into-the-wind thing. Non-pilots of course and not an indication of their intelligence, but just kind of a funny assumption that your average person has about how an aircraft and a wing works.

For the non-pilots, we take off into wind as the wing of an aircraft does not give a hoot about the ground beneath it. To the wing, the ground does not exist. It exists only in its own medium, the air. The wing creates lift due to the airflow over it. How it gets that airflow, it also doesnt GARA where it comes from. You could design a giant hand to launch it, a-la paper airplane, you could lead it around by another aircraft that had an enormous fan mounted on it to blow air over its wings, or you could strap a couple engines to it and propel a large mass of air backwards creating a newtonian reaction of forward thrust. All of which are perfectly acceptable, only one of which is actually used, so far. ( there are other ways, like throwing kerosene into a tube with a little fan in it that spins at insane speeds and then light it on fire, but thats another story )

In any case, if an airplane is sitting stationary on the ground and a 10 mph wind is blowing on it ( from the front ), the wing thinks its moving through the air at 10 mph...becuase it is. Its not moving over the ground at 10mph, but remember, the wing doesn't care about the ground, its all about the air.

So, if your wing needs 100mph to generate enough lift to get the rest of the airplane off the ground, then you only need to generate 90 mph of forward motion with the engine(s) if you have a 10mph headwind. The opposite is true for a tailwind, you will need to go 110 mph (on the ground )to get that same 100mph relative airflow over the wing.

This all changes once you are actually in the air, but thats another story too.

In any case, I watched, curious, as the giant aircraft took off, with a tailwind. I think they were on a training flight as they returned pretty quickly, so who knows, maybe there was an operational reason.

It could also be that the tail wind was of little concern to them versus other concerns. Occasionally you might take off downwind as there are obstacles on the into wind end of the runway. Or noise-sensitive areas, or traffic considerations, or any number of other reasons that might necessitate a decision to take off downwind. Particularly if the wind was a minor wind to begin with. Not judging, just noted with curiosity at the time.

I remember too at one point when I first started flying, and noting that the winds aloft can be routinely 40 Kmh at even low altitudes, why do those little fluffy clouds not get ripped apart by the howling windstorm going on up there?? Why do they float along and rarely seem disturbed by all this commotion?

It was explained to me once and it always stuck with me. If you are floating down a river in a Canoe, just hanging out and having a cold beverage, letting the current whip you downstream at 10 mph, its not too crazy. If you look at the shore, its really cruising by, but if you ( irresponsibly, shame on you ) throw your cold beverage can in the river, it will float alongside you peaceful as can be. Like the wing, it GARA what the ground ( shore ) is doing ,while it is in its own medium, doing its own thing. Its all relative.

Did some emergency procedure and single-engine maneuvering training in the push/pull yesterday as well. With one engine out, its actually quite a nice little plane to handle.

Unlike the conventional twin, there is no yaw or controllability issue, only a loss of power. In fact, it can be tricky to determine which engine has done the failing...

In a conventional twin, its usually fairly obvious, the nose is pulling hard to one side and you have to actively work at it to keep it straight with the rudder. The lack of activity on one foot/rudder pedal tells you that is is the side generating zero-thrust. Dead Foot = Dead Engine.

You can check the engine instruments in a conventional twin and they will give you some indication, but they can be a little too subtle. Since the engine is still turning,( because the propeller is spinning in the relative airflow ), the oil pressure might still be up ( ish ) and the engine is still fulfilling its duties as an air pump, so the manifold pressure will not change very much, the alternator might still be generating some electricity, the vacuum pump might still be pumping vacuum. But the prop isn't generating thrust, its actually generating drag, using that relative air to turn the engine. And turning that dead engine is a lot of work. Work that your good engine is now doing and you'd rather dedicate to other tasks, like keeping you in the air.

On the push/pull, since there is no adverse yaw ( that pulling-to-one-side ), the best indicators are the fuel flow gauge and the propeller RPM. The fuel flow gauge is the better of the two as a failed engine eats no fuel, so one engine will register zero fuel flow. ( I know, I'm glossing over partial-power-loss, bear with me )The RPM gauge will still indicate something as the propeller is still spinning, but it should be less than the operating engine. In our training, it was about 300 RPM lower, which isn't much and requires a concerted "look" at the gauge, a glance could easily miss the difference.

That wrapped up my training flights on this aircraft as well, next stop is PPC ride and then I can fly passengers for hire. All I have to do is pass...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Flying in the North

I wanted to call this, "flying in the arctic ", but then I started thinking it might be a bit pretentious. We didn't really go all THAT far north and frankly, there were still trees around, so I'm not sure it really counts as The Arctic.

It was however, my first time flying into the Northern Domestic Airspace.

Canada of course, is separated into several different types of Airspace and Air Traffic Control Areas. Blanket "Airspace" separations are the Southern Domestic and Northern Domestic varieties. Control Areas are Southern, Northern and Arctic.

The Airspace delineations are primarily due to the different type of navigation required in each. In the Southern, you use Magnetic Tracks and in the North, due to the proximity to the Magnetic north Pole, you use only True Tracks. The Control Area delineations are a little different, but have more to do with how IFR traffic is handled and who handles it. Arctic and Northern control areas see a lot of trans-polar long-haul flights that use our airspace due to great-circle routing between the USA and Europe/Asia.

In the picture above, the airplane is sitting on a small pad of concrete at an otherwise gravel/dirt runway and airport ramp. These are important, as it allows us to start up the engine and/or run it up, without sucking up rocks and beating our poor props to death. Once the aircraft is moving, most of the rocks that get sucked up, go back wards, but while stationary, they tend to take chunks out of the props. The pad should be swept off with a broom if there are rocks on it, but generally they are relatively clean.

In any case, our mission was to take a couple of Power Co. employees up to two different communities so they could do some testing of the local power distribution systems. Specifically, they had a special video camera that sensed heat and they had to take some film of every pole-mounted transformer in these communities. Apparently, when these things develop issues, they give off heat, so they can fix them before they pop. In the words of one of the technicians, " any electrical system having problems, will let you know by giving off heat. "

First leg was about 250 statute miles north and took us over/near the Yellowknife control zone. I talked to them on the radio and let them know we were there as a courtesy and was glad I did. There were several aircraft up in the area doing training flights and one of them was pretty close to us. I think it was a king-air and they were doing IFR training. Most likely, head-down and at high speed.

They weren't in the control zone, so had stopped talking to the tower and tower passed us their callsign and suggested we advise on 126.7 our position. We did, with no response, but stayed with Tower and they kept an eye on things and eventually let us know it looked like they were leaving the area and we could relax. Thats not really what he said, but thats what he meant.

Onto our first community and we held for about an hour and a half in the little airport building. Its actually pretty impressive, considering this town probably has a little over a hundred occupants.

Not much to do here, other than chat, read old fashion magazines littered around the terminal and go poke around and look at an old airplane that was derelict out in the back patch.

I thought it remarkable that this airplane was sitting there for so long and didn't look like it had been too badly vandalized or otherwise abused. I surmised it might have been because of this ancient sticker in the back window, threatening EVEN DEATH for such malfeasance.

Story was that the airplane had an accident here 12 or 15 years ago and had sat here ever since. Either the owner was offered an insurance pay-out to write it off and he accepted, or it had no insurance and the costs to fix it were not worth it.

If the insurance company did pay out on it, then they too decided it wasn't worth doing anything about either and there it sits. Considering what even small aircraft components are worth in their parts values, I'm surprised the insurance company didn't mount some kind of salvage operation. Even if it was to go in there and disassemble the thing, strip it for the most valuable parts and leave the rest.

The techs had a cab pre-arranged to take them into town, which was about three miles from the airport. We overheard the cab driver quoting them 50 bucks a head for the ride, so we decided it wasn't worth tagging along into town.

View from the airport, looking over the bay towards town.

They were only gone for about an hour and half and we loaded back up and blasted off for our next destination. This leg was a bit longer, at almost 350 statute miles.

Had to go around once at the next one as the strip is a little on the short-ish side ( 2000 feet ) and the approach was fudged a little, with a missed touchdown mark and too much speed. Next one was better and we held there for a little over an hour and half as well as the techs did their thing in town.

After that, we had to make a quick hop over to a nearby town ( 90 miles ) to fuel up before we made the final leg back home ( 190 miles ).

At the fuel stop, we fueled up quickly, with one eye kept on an approaching thunderstorm. Just after we finished, the Chief Pilot who was with me, got called into the terminal building and I let the guys know that if this delay was more than 5 minutes, that we would most likely be delayed, waiting for the storm to pass. He was out in less than a minute and we blasted off, leaving the approaching storm behind.

We actually were dodging thunderstorms for most of the second half of the trip, but they were easy to spot and we gave them a wide berth.

Back at base and its put the airplane to bed and do the paperwork for the flight. Almost 6 hours of flying!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On The Road Again

Well, I finally arrived in my new summer home. I left Vancouver on Monday morning at 0700 and arrived in the north around suppertime on Tuesday.

The first day actually started a few days ago with packing, sorting, cleaning and taking care of all manner of tasks before flying the coop for the summer.

This morning came early with my little girl deciding to get up a full hour before her usual rousing time. Perhaps she was as nervous as me. Unfortunately drinking a bottle of milk worked for her, but not me.

I switched cars with the wife and packed most of my stuff last night, to save ten trips to the parkade at 0600. I usually drive the nicer of our two cars, as I spend considerably more time on the road with my daily commute. For this trip , I took the "other" car. I want to call it our Beater, but it is actually the same year as the "good" car and was almost given to us by a relative, so don't want to risk offending anyone....

The 500 of the 1000 kilometres I drove today were very nice. Other than some fuzziness out the windshield due to what I suspect were my " allergies " acting up on departing my wife and daughter this morning, things were very pleasant. Some early clouds at 0700 leaving home turned to sunshine by 1000.

Just before Jasper, the Check Engine light came on in the car.


Quick pit stop to check things out and everything that could be checked was normal. Engine wasn’t running hot or anything, all fluids were good and no performance change in the engine. I’m chalking it up to some weird better-get-a-dealer-to-do-an-oil-change timer that needed resetting or a sensor issue. The car lived all of its life down on the coast, so maybe it didn’t like the altitudes I was driving at…who knows. We got the car from a relative for 500 bucks, so it was pretty much a gift. If it had to end its days behind some garage in Blue River while I carried on the trip on the greyhound, so be it.

I also noticed the windshield wipers were pretty badly worn so I picked up a new one in Jasper. Yup, ONE new one. I’m that cheap.

Google maps had me turning off the yellow head highway just before Hinton, but I was considering stopping for the night and figured Hinton would have a little more to choose from in the way of cheap motels then the alternatives up the road. I disobeyed Mssrs. Brin and Page and carried on into Hinton. After fuelling up the car and my belly, I noticed I had a wifi signal in the parking lot of the gas station so took a few minutes to check out the interweb. I was actually getting a little road-weary and was hoping to download an audio-book to keep me entertained for a few hours. I checked the app store and it was mostly Christian audio books and a few old classics, like Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes. The wifi signal wasn’t that great and they were fairly large files, so I skipped it. While rechecking the route on google, it now had me going an altogether different route now that I had gone 20 miles past the original turnoff it had commanded.

The new route had a few more sizable towns and frankly looked a little more direct. Interesting. I also noted that I wasn’t nearly as far into the trip as I thought. I figured Hinton would be at least half-way, but no such luck. If I stopped there, after twelve hours of driving, the next day would be at minimum 14 hours more. There was plenty of daylight left, so I pressed on for Whitecourt.

Whitecourt had me in a cheap motel, The Ritz. I was a little skeptical as there was a pub attached to the Motel, but luckily Monday night wasn’t party time in Whitecourt, so I got a quiet night.

I did have a few concerns about finding a room on the way up. I’ve been through Alberta before and have come across towns that are booked solid with oil workers. Every motel is booked up by 2 pm and any rooms available are double what you would expect to pay.

While I was checking in at the Ritz, another fellow was also checking in and the clerk read him out a 400 dollar-plus bill. My turn came and I asked if there were any rooms available, he replied “ yes, fill this out please :, handing me a check in slip and quickly moving on to the next customer waiting in line before I could ask the rate. I filled out the slip waiting for the other shoe to drop and me having to hand it back over and go sleep in the car. 75 Bucks. Sweet!

Next morning it was greasy spoon breakfast and back on the road. From Jasper on, the highways got progressively smaller and smaller.

At Peace River, I called up to my new employer and checked in so they would know when to expect me in town. A last minute stop to pick up a few things and then the final stretch.

From Peace River north, the highway got quite a bit smaller, but also a lot straighter as well. In fact, there wasn’t much for turns from that point on till the NWT border. Those turns that were there were the same diameter and radius. If you looked at them from an aerial view, I’m pretty sure they made up the two 90 degree corners on a full-section of land, where the highway had to bend around developed farmland.

At the NWT border, I was awaiting the giant sign to take some pictures of my first foray North of 60 since I was a baby. Pulling into the little pull out, I noticed two cars pulling in behind me. As I rooted around in my bag for my camera and a drink, I caught a glimpse of the two guys getting out of the cars and noticed they looked young, white and excited. In the back of my mind I thought, I bet these guys are doing the same thing up here as me.

Sure enough, they were two recent flight college grads moving up North to take ramp jobs with two large air carriers up here. We chatted for awhile and took each others pictures under the big sign. They mentioned they were going to be looking for a place to stay in the town where I was headed, but I was still a little unsure about my accommodations to offer a place to crash. Plus, showing up to my new employers with guests in tow, probably wouldn’t have made the best first impression.

I stopped at a waterfall for a quick peek and they passed me by. I decided if I saw them in town, I’d get a phone number from them and give them a quick call after checking in, to see if it was OK to offer them a place to crash. I didn’t see them again and ended up visiting for awhile anyways, so it was a moot point. I felt bad turning down an opportunity to help these guys out, you never know when connections like these can come in handy…

I gave my new Co. a call when I got into town and was directed out to the hangar at the airport to come and meet everybody. Very nice people, and a nice little setup. I got the tour of the operation and of my new home for the summer.

Voila. Casa Mia.

Its actually quite a nice little setup. I have a great big double bed, a couch and a kitchen table. A microwave, and Oven, a Stove and a fridge/freezer. I was worried that the fridge/freezer would be beer-fridge sized and necessitating buying food in tiny little batches, but it is actually quite ample.
Everything had been cleaned out for me and stocked with all the basics, dishes, linens, cutlery, towels, bedding, toaster, pots and pans.

They took me out for dinner that first night, so I forwent grocery shopping till the next day. Day after that was actually a hockey-game night, so I went over to a coworkers place to watch the game and ended up eating there as well. The night after that, it was over to the bosses place for dinner. So, havent actually done much in the way of cooking. In fact, I think the only supper I’ve actually cooked so far was a soup and sandwich affair.

Didn’t realize it, but we actually have 24 hour daylight up here right now. I kind of thought you had to be a little further north to get this, but I was wrong. Technically, the sun sets, but its more of a twilight, with the sun just below the horizon for an hour or two from like 0130 till 0330. During that time it just looks like a really long sunset, turning to a sunrise. It threw me for a little loop the first few nights, as I’d wake up in the middle of the night and check my watch, thinking it was 6 or 7 by the light, and it turned out to be 3 or 4 in the morning. Hasn’t bothered me so far, but everyone keeps saying that it will. We’ll see.

This is about as dark as it gets.

First few days were a flurry of studying company and aircraft documents and writing all the exams to satisfy my training. In between, I went out with them on a few runs and got to get acquainted with the aircraft. Day one had me “flying” the kingair on a little two hour-return flight and later that afternoon the Caravan.

As I’m not formally trained (yet) on these aircraft, it’s not really “flying” in the legal, loggable, sense or even training, but it was quite a nice surprise to get a couple takeoffs and landings along with the usual straight-and-level orientation flying.

A couple days later it was wrapping up my ground training on the aircraft I will be doing my ride on and the one I will be doing most of my flying in, the Cessna 337 Skymaster.

Behold, “Snoopy”.

The skymaster or 337, is a little bit of an odd aircraft. Its one of very few push-pull configuration twin-engine aircraft in existence that I know of. In fact, there is a special class of Instrument Rating that you get that is pretty much specific to this aircraft only.

You can get a Group 3 IFR, which covers all single-engine airplanes and a Group 1 which covers all ( conventional ) twin-engine airplanes and a Group 2 for this bad boy, specific to this aircraft only. Technically its good for all “ Centre Line Thrust Multi Engine Aircraft “. Of which, I only know of this one.

Technically, the Group 2 also allows me to fly any Group 3 aircraft as well.

In order to carry passengers for hire, I also have to do a Transport Canada flight test or “ ride “ to get what is called a PPC, a Pilot Proficiency Check. Coincidentally, the PPC will also act as an IFR flight test, renewing an existing rating or giving me initial qualification, provided all other requirements are met. I have all the other requirements done, so hopefully over the next few weeks, I will have a fresh instrument rating on my license. There is still the possibility that they will only be doing a VFR PPC for me, as that is 99% of the flying I will be doing, but they said they will try and arrange for me to do an IFR one if they feel I have a reasonable chance of success at challenging it.

So, after finishing off the ground stuff on this aircraft, it was flight training time. Me and the Chief Pilot went out for an hour of my mandated flight training and did a little instrument work, some steep turns, stalls clean and dirty and then back to the airport for some circuits. I got some good feedback from the Chief, who had bucket loads of experience flying up here and in taking in new guys like myself for their first jobs. It’s a different world out here than the one you get introduced to in the flight school universe.

The Caravan and King air flights were also my first time flying a turbine powered aircraft. The Caravan being a single engine and the King air having two turbine engines hanging off the wings.

A few major differences, but the basics are still the same. Set Engine power output, match prop RPM to give you the desired performance. Monitor key temperatures and pressures and don’t exceed key limits.

The KingAir is a pretty sweet machine. Lots of technology and a lot faster than anything I’ve flown before. Very responsive as well and quite a treat to handle.

Got to go to a local fishing lodge as well to run in supplies for them. This is very familiar to me…drums of fuel, groceries and propane.

We were also told that on one run we would picking up two girls who were coming out of the camp. Since they hadn’t even had their first guest yet and these workers were just up there doing all the season-opening chores of opening up a lodge, it’s a bit unusual to be bringing people out.

The story we got when we were loading back up to leave, was that one of them had a family member in the hospital and the other simply didn’t want to stay for the rest of the season without her friend. I wasn’t buying the hospital story for a minute. I think the truth was that they had no idea what they had gotten themselves into and were bailing.

Back at base we phoned a cab for them to go back into town. Getting into the cab one of the girls asked us, “ where’s a good place to stay for the night in town, where we can drink? “.

Hmm. Yeah, or go to the hospital to visit your dying great-uncle.

Friday, June 3, 2011

North of 60

Sorry I haven't posted lately, small issue with interweb connectivity. Issue being I don't have any yet.

I have packed up and moved north for the summer and arrived at my new summer abode a few days ago..

I'm now living in a trailer out behind the Hangar of a small charter airline in the north . Trailer sounds bad, but it's not, it's actually quite cozy and fully equipped.

I'm surrounded, literally, by some of the coolest airplanes still flying today. Without giving it away, most of these aircraft are recent television personalities.

I'm also knee deep in company training and exams. I finished my multi engine rating a few weeks before heading out on the road and also completed allof the legal requirements for my IFR rating as well. The only thing I need to complete my IFR is a flight test, which will be satisfied by a PPC ride in the aircraft I am slated to do most of my flying this summer in. It remains to be seen how much flying that will be, but the people I am working for are fantastic and have been very up front and honest with me about the whole thing. I am also getting trained on two other aircraft which are substantially larger than anything I've flown to date and both are turbine machines as well.

I'd love to post more details, but I'm typing this on my iPhone and it's not easy. Hopefully I have a decent connection within the next few days or so.