Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eclipse Awareness

While I think it's kind of cool that our moon and sun are just the right size and distance away to do this very neatly, I'm not awed by solar eclipses. I prefer lunar eclipses, because you can watch them safely without projecting them or having special glasses.

I was flying during the eclipse yesterday, although not through the path of totality. A bit before it, a pilot asked air traffic control, "what time is the eclipse at this latitude?" I think he meant longitude. Pilots ask controllers everything. Hockey scores, election results, what's that lake in front of me called? The controller said, "I think it's happening now where we are at the Centre. Some people just went outside on break with the glasses." As you would have expected, air traffic controllers are smart enough not to stare at the sun.

It might have been starting then. Or maybe a bit later. It got a bit darker. I turned the cockpit lights on and concentrated on not looking out the window in the direction of the sun. Eventually it got lighter again. Then the earth turned some more and it got darker again. I'm pretty sure that it will be lighter again in the morning.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cessnas and Lying About the ATIS

Yesterday I was inbound to an airport overseen by a Flight Services Specialist. I don't know if other countries have this. There are no controllers, but there is highly trained person in the tower, dispensing altimeter settings, and traffic information, and generally doing everything a tower controller does except issue clearances and instructions. They make recommendations that you would be wise to follow, but if the FSS says, for example, that winds are 150 at fifteen gusting twenty-five, and the preferred runway is 15, the pilot is totally free to declare that she is landing on 33.

The FSS told me, when I was fifteen miles out or so, that there were two Cessnas in the circuit. One of them called final as I neared the field. I washed him do his touch and go, and kept him in sight, so that as I crossed over midfield I was able to say, "I have the red 172 in sight."

"They're both red," the specialist said somewhat acridly. "The other one is at the hold short line." So firstly he knew which one I had in sight, even if the identifying characteristic I chose wasn't distinguishing, and secondly, how is an aircraft at the hold short line--on the ground--considered to be "in the circuit"? It's okay. I'm an incurable smartass, too. I join downwind, ahead of the airborne red Cessna, and land. I refuel and taxi out again. A different specialist is on the radio. She tells me that there are "two Cessna 172" in the circuit. I find it curious that she considers C172 to be an inherent plural. I imagine this being something she feels strongly about, and that she argues for her position at sufficient length that others shrug and humour her sometimes. I mentally run through different aircraft types and try to think of any that I would not make explicitly plural. I do not ask her if either or both the C172s are red, and I depart straight out without seeing either.

I'm on my way to an airport with an actual control tower. I tune the ATIS and note that it is information Hotel. I also note that it's four minutes after the hour, and the ATIS is over an hour old. I know that this particular airport labels their ATIS on the hour, but often doesn't change it until a few minutes past. I'm still twenty minutes out of the destination, so I'll have to pick up the new ATIS before I check in. A few minutes later I hear WestJet checking in on frequency, "with India." I retune the ATIS and listen. It's identical to Hotel, same winds, same altimeter, same multiple cloud layers, same tedious NOTAM about the new rule about STARs being changed back to the way it was, "inform ATC on initial contact that you have information Hotel." What? "This is airport information India ..."

It's not that uncommon to be on frequency right as the ATIS changes letter. But it takes defiance of the laws of spacetime for Westjet to pick up India while I'm still hearing Hotel. Unless the ATIS is available by ACARS. Can you get ATIS by datalink? I don't know. It's also possible that one pilot wrote down the ATIS and the other one read the H sideways and got I, or that they heard Hotel far back, saw it was coming up on the hour, and knew they'd have to pick up India, and then forgot they hadn't. Or that they just flubbed the letter. Or they lied. I think they lied. They didn't want to listen through that tedious NOTAM that every Canadian airport with a STAR has up right now. I don't blame them. ATC would have said on frequency if the new ATIS involved a runway change, a significant change in weather conditions, or the like.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

It Can Happen to Me

I think this is the US Air Force base where I had my KC130 sim time, blogged about here close to ten years ago. It's possible that one of the young, keen US military pilots I witnessed learning to land the beast was on board today. It's likely that one of my readers has a connection to someone on board. My condolences.

Oops, I messed up my HTML on the first attempt and the link didn't post.

The article mentions a previous Herc crash attributed to an item jammed in front of the yoke to prop up the elevator. That resonated with me, because pilots do stuff like this, stuff that seems perfectly reasonable at the time, which can come back to bite us later. I couldn't write a list of all the things that I have inadvertently got stuck in all the parts of an airplane that could have caused me grief but didn't. The wrong bout of turbulence, the pen dropped just wrong, something else compounding the problem, and that giant, beautiful, stable airplane rolls up into a ball of snot and aluminum.

They'll find out what caused today's crash, and it will be something humans did, or didn't do, missed seeing, or didn't know how to plan for, or miscalculated, because airplanes only do what we and the laws of physics tell them to, for as long as their components hold out.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Salami is not a Dangerous Good

Struggling to make Transportation of Dangerous Goods legislation less stultifying for my folks than it was in the course I took, I worked to make the in-house course interesting, maybe make them laugh a little. I was working with a bureaucrat to get it approved, and it looked like we had it almost wrapped up. I sympathized with her about having to read these tedious plans, made the corrections she requested and submitted it. I think she appreciated it being not the same boilerplate as everyone else had. Then came a new e-mail from someone else, excerpted below.

Hello Mr. Aviatrix,

Please note, I have taken on the TDG review process of [your company] COM from [nice bureaucrat], and she is no longer involved. I will require a revised copy of 16-0090E prior to a full review proceeding.


There are several highlighted answers on the exam that are incorrect and others that are not of suitable difficulty for an air operator. For example, question #14 - salami is an inappropriate response as a potentially regulated substance.


All COM document submissions are considered legal documents and are fully discloseable in the event of an enquiry. This should be considered when adding unnecessary commentary.

Transport Dangerous Goods Inspector

There is nothing in my COM that I'm not proud of, including the humour. If something is interesting, people will remember it better. The administrative overhead required to give my folks an interesting dangerous goods course may be more than I can spare, forcing them to take the dull online course I took. Cockpit Conversation readers are, however, invited to suggest appropriate incorrect responses to a question asking test takers to identify the regulated substance from a list.

And I have a request for you. If you're not sure of someone's pronouns or term of address, and you can't be bothered to ask a colleague who has worked with them what it is, or otherwise look it up, don't just assume the person is a man. If you do, you might just be the lucky hundredth person to do that to that person, and eventually someone is going to invent a way to punch people through the Internet.

Never forget that "salami" is an inappropriate response.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

NOTAM of the Week

1707011745 TIL 1707011815

Because apparently that's how Nanaimoians celebrate Canada Day.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Q-Tips and Canoes

En route to a busy GA aerodrome, I checked the ATIS and started setting up for the runway in use. I needed one more approach before the end of the month to maintain my IFR currency, and was planning on flying it simulated just to get that box ticked. The time then passed the top of the hour, so I checked again, and discovered that the runway with the approach was now "closed per NOTAM" and the cross runway, with no instrument approach was in use. Unexpected, but perfectly manageable. On final I saw a light twin and a pick up truck on the grass at the side of the runway. Something had not gone well for someone.

I landed without incident and taxied to the FBO, where we learned that the disabled aircraft had had a gear collapse, a term which the FBO staff seemed pretty sure had been applied euphemistically to a situation where the pilot had neglected to extend the landing gear. The poor airplane was lifted back to its wheels and towed past the windows of the FBO, where I pointed out to my non-pilot co-worker the characteristic Q-tipped props of an aircraft that lands gear up with the engines powered. I paused as I wrote that. Of a propeller, Q-tipped refers to the ends being bent over. I've always called them that, and I remember the first time I saw a Q-tipped prop, on a fixed gear single whose pilot had tried to make it stop flying and land on a short runway, rather than going around and trying again with a better short-field approach. I think someone with me must have called them that, and I absorbed the term. Searching for an etymology, I discovered that there is a company that makes Q-tip propellers on purpose (and a funny story about an FAA inspector who didn't know that). Trying to find when they were invented, to help determine whether the company was named after the condition or vice versa, I wandered down a rabbit hole of the history of the tip-fin propeller, invented by J.J. Kappel, initially for marine applications. If anyone knows when they were first put on airplanes, let me know. I had to escape from articles like this one before I got wrapped up in the physics. This was meant to be a quickie blog entry.

So we're watching the remains of this once-airworthy vessel towed past, and the FBO staff are all fixated on it. One of them is scrambling for a ramp pass so he can drive down and check it out. My co-worker is confused about the excitement. "Remember how much we had to spend to get the engines overhauled on [the new plane we just bought for our fleet]?" I asked my co-worker. "The engines on the gear-up plane, no matter how new they are, are done now." The force of the prop strike bends and breaks other components of the engine.

"But what's the spectator value?"

I thought about it a while and finally came up with an analogy he could appreciate. He's an outdoorsman. "You know when someone drives their van into a parking garage or under a bridge with a canoe on top? No one is hurt, but the canoe is destroyed, and the van is damaged, and the person who did it is in emotional pain from how stupid they just were, and how much money they just destroyed. And everyone comes to look, and take pictures. You feel the pain, and you're so glad it wasn't you, because you know it could have been you." He got it.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Flare Stack Unserviceable

I love this NOTAM. It's in oil country, just north of Edmonton and advises pilots that the flare stack, a pipe with gouts of flame shooting out the top, is currently not doing that thing. One often sees NOTAMs for things that are on fire, so one for something that is not on approach fire amuses me. I can think of two possible reasons why it is NOTAMed. One is that pilots are using the stack as a navigation beacon for night VFR, and the other, more likely one, is that the stack is close enough to the Josephburg aerodrome that its lack of illumination could cause a hazard for aircraft maneuvering to land. I've used Josephburg and remember the plant just past the runway, but not that the stack was worrisome.

(APRX 4 NM N AD) 310 FT AGL 2354 MSL
1604051926 TIL 1604191900

And then there's this one.

81N 90W-81N 70W-78N 70W-78N 90W-81N 90W. ACFT AT 1500 FT AGL.
1604181100 TIL 1604181900

So long as you're 936 feet or more away, there's no hazard. I don't know where they came up with that. It's 285 m, so not a really round number there, either. Also the airborne laser thing isn't me anymore. Used to be. But never that far north. I think the Canadian Armed Forces are testing a super weapon to stop the Russians from coming in and messing with the Canadian Arctic. Another line of defense, should they make it past the trained polar bear attack squadron, and the Rangers in bunny hugs.