Got up for my first revenue flight with passengers today for my new employer. I took a fellow up to a little northern community called Lutsel k'e as the regional Dene organization is having it's annual general meeting. It's held in a different community in the region every year and this year it was Lutsel k'e's turn.
I am actually typing this on my Iphone sitting in the little terminal building as I am "holding" here for a couple hours while I await my passenger to finish up at the meeting and then bring him back to town.
Flight up was good, exactly an hour and a half. There was a little bit of low cloud and rain on my departure and it started to look iffy, but quickly cleared up and it was high cloud for the rest of the trip.
The direct route would have taken me out over the lake, a good 20 or 30 miles from shore but given the limited visibility and low ceilings in the rain, I opted to stick to the shoreline so I would have a good visual reference to the ground as I ducked under the first little bit of clag.
On arrival near CYLK, I heard a medevac call on the radio from an Air Tindi plane as he tried to get ahold of the local Community Aerodrome Radio Service (CARS station). I thought they'd be open based on the airport entry in the CFS, but he got no answer that I could hear.
( The CFS is the Canada Flight Supplement, a small book about the size of a brick and approximately the same weight. The pages are the super-thin newsprint variety that you might find in say, a bible. Published anew every 56 days, it lists the details of every Aerodrome in Canada. I've always thought it to be more than a bit silly in this day and age to being wasting so much paper, but hey, two expired CFS's make a great set of chocks for your planes tires, so its not like they cant be recycled.... )
Sometimes while flying, you only get to hear one side of the conversation as an airborne transmitting radio has much greater range than a ground station, since our radios are VHF and limited to line of sight.
I got within 20 miles and made my own call to the CARS station and got silence from them as well, guess no ones home...
The Tindi aircraft called me up directly and gave me their ETA as only a minute or two before mine, so I let him know I'd wait for him to land before I started into the airport zone. He was using a Medevac call sign, so he had priority over me as far as I was concerned. He was doing a straight-in approach to the runway I expected to be the active based on the winds reported at the field before I left. I stayed about four miles away from the airport on the "dead" side and waited till I saw him on the runway before I turned in to start my own straight in approach for runway 08.
For an airport with no ground station (since they were apparently closed), an arriving aircraft will usually cross overhead the field to have a look at the windsock and determine the runway is clear and which runway is more into wind for the landing. Since the Tindi pilot had established that for me, and given me a wind report once he landed, I simply followed him in instead of crossing goer and circling back around for the landing. Its always appreciated to pass it on to anyone else coming in as it saves a lot of unnecessary maneuvering at low altitude and airspeed.
Taxiied in and conveniently there was two sets of concrete pads.
Most airports of this size that I have been to, only have one pad, so that was a bonus. Since most of he airports up here are gravel runways and taxiways, they usually have at least one concrete pad that we can park with our props over top of so that on start up we don't pick up little rocks and beat little dents into our props. You still have to have a look at the pad before start up as you will often have to sweep the area just under and ahead of your prop as there is usually a couple little rocks hanging around.
Once we landed and my passenger went off to town I went into the little terminal building, called back to head office to report my arrival and had a little of my lunch I brought.
The Tindi medavacs patient showed up along with a nurse from the health station. After she was done loading up she drove up to where I was standing and let me know that if I was sentenced to hang out for the whole day here, I was more than welcome to come down to the health centre and watch TV.
Apparently, that's what all the pilots who hold here do. Very nice of her to offer, but I brought my fishing rod and was still thinking of walking down to the lake. After she left and I started typing this out on my phone, I realized I had already killed an hour and decided it might be better if I stuck around. My passenger mentioned he would try and get done sooner rather than later and it might even be less than a two hour hold.
Another Tindi plane, this time a dash-7 came in and I briefly worried that he wouldn't have room to get around me. Once the medevac plane had left, I ended up being parked in the middle of the ramp. He had lots of room though and only stopped long enough to shut down two engines on one side and let two people off and then they blasted off.
The CARS guy had shown up just before the dash-7, which I imagine is the "sched", and as soon as they taxied onto the runway and he had let them know that there was "no reported traffic ", I heard the radio click off and off he went, back to town till the next scheduled flight I bet... Haha. Actually, he ended up coming back fifteen minutes after I typed that and was there for the rest of the time, including my departure.
My coworker pointed out as well that this airport is in the Northern Domestic Airspace, and as such, its runway designation is in degrees True, as opposed to Magnetic.
The runway sign indicated that this is Runway 078T instead of the traditional 08. I also just realized, usually these signs depict BOTH runways, as in a runway designated as 08 ( magnetic heading somewhere between 075 and 085, I can't remember how they round up or down, so forgive me if this is wrong. ) will also be runway 26, as the opposite end of the runway can be used as a "different" runway if departing the other way. So these signs, usually say " 08 - 26 " or " 07 - 25 ", but this ine only indicates ONE runway, even though I know for a fact the other end is a perfectly useable and legal runway. Odd.
Lining up to land here, your magnetic compass would indicate a direction of about 053 degrees.
Back at base I had another flight of similar length waiting for me, but it ended up getting pushed over to tomorrow morning as the winds at my destination were starting to get a little hectic and there was little real urgency for the flight to happen that day.
We had about a 15 knot headwind on the way up here, and going home I snuck up a little higher and ended up picking up 25 knots directly on the tail to get home a lot faster than the trip up.
In good form as well, I traded fuel for speed on the way up so that I wasn't lingering too long in the headwind scenario and on the way back I throttled it back a little to get back the fuel I burnt on the way up and let the wind do more of the work.
Air Tindi was pretty busy today too it seems. I heard two Tindi palnes talking on their way to a Lodge outside of yellowknife, before they took their conversation " company" ( over to a private company frequency ). Got back to base and looking at the news, it would appear one of those planes was most likely carrying the Royals...cool.
I noticed this instrument right outside the terminal building as well. I've seen them in other places, but never hada chance to take a picture. I THINK it's used for measung the height of a cloud layer for their weather reports, but I'm not 100% on that. It kind of looks like an old sextant.
I got to fly this leg the other day, even though you might say we had a " passenger ". This fellow is known as a "hummer" as sometimes in commercial air cargo they will get a little sticker that says " HUMR "....that stands for Human Remains.
They always indicate somewhere on the box which side is the Head, as it is fairly important that it always be kept "head-up if there is any incline in loading / unloading or transport. I am told this is to keep the embalming fluids from pooling in the head.... In this case, we received the box with only two notations on it, one on each end and they both said " legs "...sigh..... We opened up a corner to see if there was any other way to tell, but everything is well wrapped up, and I was NOT opening things any further.
I took a few photos with my phone today, hoping the lower resolution pics would translate to faster upload times, but no dice. Its still pretty darn slow....
We've been trying to book it for a little over two weeks and its been frustrating for everyone, my employer included. Its a fairly short season already and to be limited to freight runs and tagging along for empty legs has me feeling a little less than useful at some points.
But that's all out of the way as of this morning, I passed my PPC ride and can now fly the C337, aka The Push/Pull as pilot-in-command for both passengers and freight runs. admittedly, the work that they have for this plane is somewhat less than the Caravan, however, with my training and flight test out of the way on the C337, its on to the Caravan training now.
It's kind of funny in some respects, as the C208 Caravan only requires that I be trained to a PCC standard and no PPC ride is required to act as PIC with passengers under Day VFR.
Funny, because in my mind, the Caravan is a more complicated aircraft, is larger, and being on amphibious floats, has a couple more features that require some training on.
I'll back it up a little for the non-aviation folks reading along.
A PPC is a Pilot Proficiency Check. Its a Flight Test ( A " Ride ", abbreviated slang for CheckRide ), conducted by either a Transport Canada Inspector or an Authorized Check Pilot. In larger companies, you may have one of your own pilots conducting the Ride as an ACP, but for most people ( I think ), you'll consult the list of available ACP's in your area and work your way through the list till you find one who is available and qualified for the particular ride you are after. Quite often, the person will be an employee of one of your competitors.
I don't know if it happens or not ,but I suspect, that one might be a little hesitant to look at ACP's in your immediate locale, as they will be your competitor and the perception of bias would be hard to avoid... I'm sure 99% of them are objective and fair, but I can't help but think the perception might be enough..
A PPC is sort of like a license for a particular aircraft, but not quite a type rating. If you hold a valid PPC, say, for the Space Shuttle, you could, in theory, go over to the other Space Shuttle operators in your neighborhood and get a job with them. The fact that you have passed aircraft-specific training and a flight test, allows them to greatly abbreviate your training program and save a bucket load of money.
So... side-note here but worth mentioning, it would appear that some pilots, hell-bent on career progression, would abuse this process and have Company A train them, get their PPC and promptly quit to go work for Company B, now that Company B will actually deign to return their calls hiring them will save them thousands ( I'm not even joking here.. ) of dollars in training.
If you read AvCanada, you would come to the conclusion that this is the rule rather than the exception that I suspect it is. Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I tend to take things from that site more than a sprinkling or too of salt...
Because of the above, some companies have started demanding new-hires undertake a " bond " to ensure they stick around long enough to make training them worthwhile, or even have them cough up cash up front upon being hired and having it repaid to them slowly over the length of their indentured servitude.
In any case, that's a PPC, a notation on your license that says you can carry passengers, for hire, in a specific ( usually multi-engine ) aircraft, for hire.
A PCC, on the other hand is a Pilot Competency Check. Semantics you might think, but substantially less stringent training protocols and the flight test is usually at the end of your training where instead of sending you off to a date with a transport Canada Inspector for a flight test, the chief pilot fills out a piece of paper and says, ok, you're good to go. No Flight test, per se, although I'm sure most do a test of sorts. But mostly, training you to competency and then signing you off.
A PCC is non-transferable in the way a PPC is. If you walk over to a competitor, they still have to do all the same training to issue you a company-specific PCC, there is little advantage to hiring someone with a PCC. ( Other than the fact that they probably have some experience )
Most single engine aircraft do not not require a PPC, only a PCC, to fly under Day VFR conditions with passengers.
Enter the C208 Caravan. Legally, a single-engine plane. Although much larger than the little multi-engined C337. Turbine to boot as well, which is actually quite nice to operate. I guess easier too as well in most respects, but like engine heating/cooling for piston engined aircraft, a turbine has its own gotcha's that need to be monitored and handled as well.
In my mind, a much larger, more complicated aircraft. But legally, I've already done the hard part on the little C337. In theory, the training for the PCC on the Caravan, should be easier, if you read into it the apparent spirit of the regulations, having assigned it the less stringent regimen of PCC training instead of PPC.
My employer says I have it wrong, the Caravan is a much easier plane with much more docile handling attributes, is simple to operate and " just a big 172 ". I agree with him in some respects, my flying experiences on it so for, about a half dozen hours, have been pretty surprisingly easy. Hard to get over the size of the thing though, up a dozen feet in the air on the amphibious floats.
Even in the cockpit, the thing is big. Your own seat with plenty of legroom, no shoulder rubbing with your copilot and your own heating, ventilation, controls, instruments and even your own door, haha.
Amphibious, because it has floats that have a set of retractable landing gear hidden up inside them, allowing you to retract the wheels and land it on water as a float plane, or extend them and land on a runway. This part I like. Lots of water around here and very few runways, the floats definitely give you a few more options in the event of.
Anyhow, back to my story...
So we finally nail down an ACP to do my ride, it was booked a few days ago for early this monring in another town, about an hour and a bit flight away.
Two days of refreshing my head with the book stuff and I think there was a flight as well that I went along on for the empty leg home to keep fresh on flying the thing.
Up early this morning and I made myself eat breakfast, even though I often skip breakfast, particularly feeling a little nervous as I did this morning.
Not that the flight test was a " jeopardy event ", with failure bringing and immediate end to my employment, but the time, expense and delay in getting this test arranged was fairly substantial for my employer. To go home, do some remedial training, rebook and go back to do another one would be...uneconomical at best and a complete waste of time at worst, given the short length of the busy season up here.
Gather up all my current charts, maps and supplements. Check the plane out from head to toe and fuel it up and top off the oil. Double check I have all my training records, license, medical, lucky troll doll and am wearing clean underwear.
Check, check and roger that.
I did up and printed off a copy of our Operational Flight Plan ( OFP ) as it has navigation details, weight and balance information, fuel calculations, time enroute and a few other details. I'm hoping that if I am asked to do a Navigation Exercise, like planning a simulated trip with a simulated cargo/passenger load, I can forstall the drudgery of going through all the calculation minutiae by showing the examiner how we can simply and easily do it all with a spreadsheet, instead of a #2 pencil, a wizwheel a bunch of charts, graphs and performance calculations.
I know this sounds lazy, but here's the deal.
I know my aircraft can perform suitably well, tolerably even, with as little as 2000 feet of runway, fully loaded and a warm day.
If I get sent somewhere that has 5000 feet of hard-surfaced runways to pick up one guy and the temperature isnt anything crazy... I probably will not get out the performance charts and graph it all out.
If the runway was 1500 feet, sure, you bet.
If it was 30 degrees out, yeah, absolutely.
Same goes for the navigation log. If I'm doing the same trip over and over to the same place, I know how long it takes. I know how much fuel I expect to burn. I know the track distance between a few major landmarks, and if my GPS went T/U, I could pull off a groundspeed check without too much trouble.
Block fuel burns and standard power settings eliminate the need for a lot of the foo-far-ah as well. I can calculate them in my head, revise as is necessary.
It was all a moot point however, as the examiner wasn't interested in much of that stuff at all.
The ground portion was an oral exam on the aircraft itself and our companies operations manual and company-specific policies and procedures. I knew the majority of the aircraft stuff off the top of my head, but looked up two items in the book ( I'm allowed to do that ) that I had even the slightest doubt about.
A couple quick calculations to show I actually knew how to use the performance charts and we were off for the air portion.
Again, this was mostly demonstrating proficiency with this specific aircraft. Little time was wasted on testing me on things that frankly, I have already been tested on, several times.
I made a couple errors, notably;
In my steep turns, I gained a bit of airspeed on the first one and my altitude control was sloppy in the second. I eyeballed a power increase for the first steep turn purely out of habit. I've had no trouble with steep turns, even up to 360 degrees around with little or no power increase and losing negligible airspeed, with this airplane.
On the altitude, I was a bit flustered by what looked like a fatal 10 mph airspeed increase on the first one that I sloppily dove into the second one, starting out 50 feet higher than I should been.
Then the Single-engine overshoot, that is, a simulated approach to landing, conducted at altitude, the examiner calls for an overshoot or go-around at a couple hundred feet above your simulated runway altitude and then fails an engine mid-overshoot, close to the ground. I managed to get the engine failure and feathering drill down in a timely fashion, but let my airspeed increase away from best-rate and ended up leveling off at a pretty low altitude while I got the engine feathered and then noticed I wasn't climbing due to wasting airspeed on forward motion instead of using it to climb my wounded bird away from the simulated trees. I got it done within limits, barely.
A couple other small items and the examiner commented that the ride was well done and I had passed.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I felt with the ride and the lack of busy-work, that, as I mentioned before, I have already been tested on and could do again if required, but were not all that applicable to an aircraft-specific proficiency check.
All of this being done during the " Debrief " session after the flight of course. Or as my Chief Pilot who sat in on the debrief called it " the ass-reaming ".
I flew us home and that was that. Glad that's out of the way, looking forward to heading out on my own for a few trips now.
We have a " Court Party " trip tomorrow, where we fly an entire courtroom, judge, prosecutor, crown defender, sheriff and court stenographer out to a remote community to conduct a few trials in the local community hall.
In the afternoon, we get started on a large project freight-haul where have a dozen or more loads staged in our yard for transport to another remote community. A good chunk of the load is steel plates that are stupid-heavy and a full load will look comical, being just a single inch-thick layer on the floor of the plane. The plane will look completely empty at maximum gross weight. These will be in the caravan so hopefully I'll get some stick time towards my PCC training over the next week as well.
Sorry I am not able to post much for pictures these days. My internet connection is limited to tethering my PC to my iphone and piggybacking on the 3G signal. Fine for internet browsing, but uploading and downloading things are incredibly slow and frequently crash or time-out.