Thursday, April 24, 2014

Who is Onboard?

Patrick Smith at AskThePilot.com has ranted on a subject I have ranted on before. There are at minimum two people working in an airline cockpit. Both are pilots. Why do the media pretend there is only one? This isn't a new thing. Ernest Gann started out as a copilot in the ... 1920s? (I'm busy ranting, book is in another room, not looking it up). The correct terminology is not impenetrable airline jargon that has to be dumbed down for the media-consuming proles. As Smith points out, it's largely a matter of adding an -s to a word they are already using. If they boldly go a step further and refer to one of the pilots as the captain and the other as the first officer, even if the public has never heard these terms before, surely they'll figure out that the captain is in charge and the FO is the next in charge. Or does too many Gilligan's Island reruns make everyone assume that anything akin to a First Mate is a bumbling moron? Actually, wasn't Gilligan smarter than the Skipper? Just more accident prone.

The general public knows there are two pilots on board. They see them board. Even in extreme situations they grasp this fact. I recall an article about an airplane that crashed in an urban area. Members of the public ran to help, bravely going on board the aircraft even as it started to to burn, and one of the rescuers looked at the people they had removed from the wreckage and saw that there was only one wearing a white shirt and epaulettes. "Pilots always come in pairs!" he noted, or something similar. They dared to go back on board for the second pilot.

I'm trying to find that article to get the exact wording. I thought it was the King Air that crashed on approach to Vancouver. Radio audio with some photos here. It hit a busy roadway, only clipping a couple of vehicles because a stoplight caused a gap in traffic, but the witness quoted here makes it clear that passengers weren't able to rescue the pilots because the fire was too far advanced in the cockpit. The TSB report linked above mentions confusion over how many passengers and pilots were on board, so unless there was a uniformed pilot among the passengers, this is not the story I recall. Professional rescuers extracted the pilots, but unfortunately both died of "thermal injuries." Ugh. Who knew there was a clinically remote way to say "burned to death."

Interesting that some members of the public were distressed badly enough by the proximity to the crash to require treatment by paramedics, while others were willing to run on board a burning airplane. I commend them for saving lives, but I think my safety training would side with my animal flight-from-fire response and I would instead render assistance that didn't involve entering a confined space probably containing live wires and fumes from ruptured fuel tanks. I guess we don't know what we would do until it needs doing.

This started out as sympathy for a rant but took a macabre turn. It suggests, though, that you merely knowing that there are two pilots on board your commercial passenger flight does not just satisfy our petty need for you to get the words right, but could actually make a life or death difference to the flight crew. The local paper got it right, referring to "pilots" throughout and calling them the captain and first officer. The national one has some exciting photographs and a video of some smoke taken by an excited car driver (not worth watching unless you really like smoke), but implies throughout the article that there was only one pilot on board.

There were two of them. The captain was named Luc Fortin and the first officer was Matt Robic. I didn't know them, but chances are I have met one or the other on my travels and it is certain that someone reading this blog does. My apologies that what started out as a hunt for a story about passengers who could count to two rescuing a pilot turned into revisiting a story that touches you painfully. The TSB suggests aircraft like this have a G-switch to isolate the battery in the event of a crash, and that might have saved them.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On Leadership and Lost

I've been rewatching, or kind of re-listening to--I tend to do chores with the television playing--Lost recently. One of the themes of the show is leadership, which is something I'm dealing with in life, as well. You'll see whatever it is you're focusing on, in whatever you look at, so it's not surprising I'm finding it in Lost.

When I was in high school, and I got into first world funks of depression at the hopelessness of life, (i.e. when I was a normal teenager), I discovered that a good route out was through reading really depressing stories by A.P. Chekhov. He wrote hundreds of the things, generally short simple tales on the futility of life, populated by characters who knew, discovered, or completely failed to realize, that every step they took was merely plodding closer to pointless death. They're well-written, with believable characters and the somewhat alien world of 19th century Russia--took me ages to understand why so many grandmothers slept on the stove--so one can read quite a few. At first I would nod my head in sullen agreement that the world was that way. After a while I would venture an internal opinion that maybe it was not that black. And finally I would yell at the characters not to be so pathetic, to go forth and do something. And I would get up and set an example. For some people, inspirational literature requires actual inspiration, but nothing goads me to do things so much as seeing it done incorrectly.

The same seems to be true of leadership training. As much as I probably need to pick up a book to help train myself in the art of leading a group of people to accomplish a goal without any of them killing one another or being eaten by polar bears, I have no desire to. But watch a couple of hours of Lost, and I'm really wishing the smoke monster would get Jack. Sure, I understand that fiction requires drama and heroes, and that fictional heroes require tragic flaws, but some of the television traditions, dare I say tropes are really aggravating. The leader character on Lost is a doctor named Jack. In the immediate aftermath of the crash he is the hero because he can treat injuries, and resuscitate people, but he ends up racing from place to place being the hero for everything. So here are my non-leadership techniques to learn from Lost.

Playing up the incompetence of those around you is not a leadership skill. This is more something Lost (and every other TV show does) than something Jack does but they are both fictional creations of the same writers, so it counts. To show that Jack is a great and mighty leader, everyone else on the beach is depicted as clueless and incompetent. There's a character, Boone, who is a licensed lifeguard, training which specifically includes a good deal of first aid and emergency scene management. Jack has to take over his resuscitation efforts because he's doing it wrong, and later in the show rescues him from drowning, while they are both trying to save a third person. There's no plot reason for Boone to be a fraudulent or incompetent lifeguard. It would have better showed Jack's leadership abilities if he had come over, approved and encouraged Boone's competent resuscitation and moved on to another victim. He would have looked like more of a leader if he had left the task of resuscitating someone who had been pulled out of he water specifically in the hands of someone whose professional specialty that was. The dramatic point that was made during the swimming rescue would have been made more strongly if it were Boone who had to haul an exhausted Jack back to shore. When Jack needs someone to hold down a patient who has to endure surgery without anaesthetic he chooses a man who specifically and repeatedly states that he can't handle the sight of blood. He sets the guy up to fail.

Doing everything yourself is not leadership. Jack is always running, literally running, from one situation to another, placing himself in danger without developing or drawing on the skills of the people around him to solve problems. This is his major dramatic character flaw, so it couldn't be more blatant, but watching him do it wrong is a good way to make me wonder where I can apply this lesson. My beach isn't covered in able-bodied people who can be pressed into service to do the essential tasks, but I still might be doing more leaping than is strictly necessary.

Meanwhile Ben, the mysterious leader of the others, shows quite a different style of leadership. He doesn't do any leaping at all, accomplishing everything through sinister psychological manipulation. This fascinates me, and I know it can be done without the sinister part, because I willingly go to great effort to achieve goals under psychological manipulation by my own boss and by the director of an organization I volunteer with. You see, I like to feel valuable and appreciated and they know that, so they appreciate me in return for my efforts. I'm always left thinking to myself, "I'm happy, and--in the case of the non-volunteer position--they give me money. Am I being tricked here? If I weren't being manipulated into doing this, I might go and do something else ... which might make me happy ... or money." And then I get confused and stop thinking about that.

So, in conclusion, leadership lessons for the day: Get people around you to do things they are competent at in return for things that they want.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Quick: Name the First Woman to Fly Around the World

First two admissions:
One) I don't remember hearing of her before today.
Two) I don't have time to do any fact checking; I'm trusting this Buzzfeed article, and banging out a quick post for the 50th anniversary of the completion of her flight.

Her name is Jerrie Mock. Is. She's still alive. Because she flew around the damn world and didn't get lost or run out of fuel or crash. It's too bad that she did it under the racelike conditions that she did, and didn't get more of a chance to explore the places she visited. I wish her later years had been happier and that she had had more opportunities to fly since.

I thought it was worth posting, even though I'm prioritizing my sleep over a well-written blog post here. Jerrie Mock.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Staying Alive - Be Prepared

This is from the Cheeseburger network's "demotivational posters," but it's the right rule for a pilot to remember. The exact wording on my poster would be "Always leave room for one more thing to go wrong." You can do a turn at low altitude close to the mountains, but can you do it at he same time as an engine failure or a bee sting? It sounds terribly negative, but constantly asking "what is the worst thing that could happen right now and how would I deal with it?" is a very positive way to fly.

Eventually it All Falls Apart

I think I already told you of the effect Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys has had on my life, but it's my blog, so I'll tell it again. He urged boys to survey the situation around them at all times, think what emergency could arise, and be ready to deal with it in advance. Times have moved on since he wrote, so just as he only addressed "boys", one emergency he suggested was that of a runaway horse in a public place. The possibility of a horse bolting through the shopping mall or down my street was remote but so much more exciting than plausible emergencies that the idea launched me into a lifetime of imagining and preparing for infinitely unlikely but exciting emergencies. I honestly think I spent more time as a student pilot thinking about being struck by a piece of debris that fell off a passing airliner than say, a bird strike or an electrical failure.

Always leave room for one thing to go wrong is my own coinage, a realization I had so long ago that I don't remember what had happened to bring me to the conclusion. I think I was a student pilot so it might have been a combination of things that I now handle while eating lunch and boring my co-workers with repeated stories about my life, but at that time, on that day I realized that I didn't have the capacity to handle another problem. It goes with an astronaut saying I just learned, "In space there is no problem so bad you can't make it worse." That one is from my countryman and fellow pilot, Chris Hadfield.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Fireproof Clothing One Can Pee Out Of

Fireproof clothing that doesn't need to be removed before urinating: is that too much to ask? I have asked this question before on this blog, but then it was more rhetorical, Now I'm actually in the market for Nomex flightsuits compatible with in-flight urination. Preferably in company colours. (Protip: if you want to save money on flightsuits in company colours, make your company colours navy blue or khaki). So I turn to the first resort of anyone in the 21st century looking for anything: Google (because my phone isn't new enough to have Siri).

Try and guess what the entire first page of Google returns for "flight suit reviews" consists of. Just try.

Unless you guessed diapers for pet birds, you guessed wrong. You'd be close if you guessed Halloween costumes, like this one, that comes complete with Top Gun patches and aviator sunglasses. Or the kid-sized replica of the NASA Advanced Crew Escape Suit the author of this blog entry started out reviewing, before she got distracted by thinking about what it would really be like to be an astronaut's mother. And then there are the ones that don't seem to be costumes, but marketed like costumes, as though their primary customer just wants to look like a pilot. They sell a women's flight suit, at about a hundred and fifty dollars more than the typical men's price I've seen, but I'm not sure whether the mark-up is for the smaller woman's market, or because this is for people who want "genuine, authentic flight suits like real pilots wear," as opposed to those who want to put genuine fireproof clothing on real pilots. I'm also wary of ordering a "women's flight suit" that is only available in men's sizes, and is sold on a page with the html title "MENS POLYCOTTON FLIGHTSUIT".

When I do find women's suits listed, and this one looks pretty good, it is sometimes difficult to determine which is the corresponding men's suit. I don't object to the men having a much greater selection of styles nor to the women's ones often being more expensive: I do understand economies of scale. I just want there to be a corresponding men's suit to the one women's suit on offer. These are, after all, intended as a uniform. I want male and female crew members to have the same pocket layout and styling, for the overall look even if what's underneath our zippers is a little different.

Because of the difference under the zipper, I'm looking closely at the styling, trying to work out how I pee in there. If the zipper went far enough down, I could get a portable urinal in there. If there's lots of extra room in the legs, I guess I could get the bag to hang down one leg while I used it. Some of the pictures don't even look like they would make it convenient for the males to engage their equipment with a relief tube. Zippers are men's natural enemies, right? And I'm still not finding reviews of flight suits intended for those without cloacae. If you wear or have worn one, and are not an incontinent bird, let me know what you think of yours, what features you like or wish it has, and whether you can pee in it without, you know, peeing IN it.

I hope I can find a better solution than this style, although I do appreciate the fact that the vendor charges less for the women's version, in light of the reduction in fabric required. I'm seriously tempted to buy that last one and show up in it on Halloween.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Halon Extinguisher

This video is sort of adorable, and I think it may be as close as I'm going to get to my VP's request of a video showing a Halon fire extinguisher in action. Finishing the job with an obviously capped bottle of water is a great touch. It was probably made for the same reason that I'm searching for on: it would be nice to know in advance how long the unit will function, what the chemical looks like coming out, and the efficacy we can expect in using it. Halon is restricted under the Montreal Protocol, to which Canada is signatory, so you can't just go out behind the hangar and discharge expired bottles for training purposes. Expired units are returned to the manufacturer and the Halon is recovered and recycled.

I'm pretty sure the colourless Halon gas is virtually invisible while being discharged. The information on the can is sufficient to calculate that the contents are not in excess of what will produce an average 2% concentration in the air of the aircraft cabin. But how long will it take to be exhausted, and how big a fire is too big for it? You don't want to use the whole bottle on half the fire, but perhaps you want to be sure you have put out one part of a fire before moving on. But it lacks information on the stream rate, discharge rate, time to be fully discharged, whatever one might call it. I am, however, finding plenty of interesting things about Halon.

There are two types of Halon: 1211 versus Halon 1301. (That isn't the interesting part yet. I might also be overselling "interesting".) I just knew that the handheld extinguishers use 1211 and the installed setups like in computer rooms and cargo areas use 1301. I hadn't even thought about what "halon" meant, but it's a hydrocarbon with halogens replacing some of the hydrogens. Halon 1211 is chlorodifluorobromomethane. The number isn't just some kind of catalogue number, but a description of the molecule. The first digit specifies the number of carbon atoms: unsubstituted methane is CH4. the second digit is the number of fluorine atoms, the third is the chlorine atoms, and the fourth is the number of bromine atoms. If there happens to to be iodine on board they'll add a fifth digit for that, and presumably a sixth digit could be added for astatine, but an unstable radioactive halogen wouldn't be a good choice for a fire extinguisher. (If you didn't find an interesting part in there, sorry. It was interesting to me. I love knowing how things got their names).

Something I didn't know, and actually believed the opposite of, is that Halon 1211 is not appropriate for burning metal fires. Fortunately my aircraft does not have magnesium components. But perhaps I should double check that.

And then, just as I thought I had milked the Internet dry of useful (or interesting) information on Halon fire extinguishers, I found this study. Really if you're nerdy enough about aircraft firefighting chemicals to have read this far, you should just go and roll around in that link. Sure, it's a PDF of a typewritten document, but what do you expect from 1986? Six percent of cabin fires during the period they sampled were from "smoking materials". i.e. people lighting fires on board aircraft for recreational purposes. (There's no breakdown of tobacco versus other). The FAA built a wind tunnel out of sheet steel, a Cessna 210 and a couple of jet engines. It's not crystal clear from the description but it appears that this test rig was designed and constructed specifically for testing fire extinguishers. And damnit, they did. There are sixty pages in this document, with graphs and tables and all the data I could ask for, including the fact that a 2.5 lb Halon fire extinguisher takes ten to fourteen seconds to fully discharge. Thank you, American taxpayers.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Celebritails

My thanks go to regular reader Sarah for linking me to this article on the Canadian Forces Celebritail programme. I haven't managed to get a blogworthy picture of one in the field, must be the subtle colours, and I don't see most of these types at all at the airports I frequent. If you know the history behind all the people honoured on the tails, then you are a connoisseur of Canadian history and culture. The funniest one is the Bieber Bomber, and its mysterious poor dispatch record. I'll bet they're extra glad they took that picture off now!