Saturday, September 27, 2014

Child Prodigy Inspiration

You know the kind. The kid who built a nuclear power plant in his parents' garage. The seventeen year old wunderkind who is flying an airplane she built herself across the continent. The teenager who is not yet old enough to vote, but who has successfully lobbied for a change in foreign policy and raised $300,000 to help enslaved kids in the third world. They used to make me kind of depressed and irritated that I had so much lower an accomplishment to lifespan ratio. But recently I started to look at them in a new way.

If a kid has accomplished so much in ten years, the first few of which he or she was mainly focused on learning to talk and control bodily elimination functions, then any of us can take the next ten years and do whatever we want without having a lifetime of that behind us. Whatever we know about the subject is going to be greater than what the kid started with. All the kid has on us is that he or she didn't know it couldn't be done.

I haven't decided what to do with my newfound inspiration, except maybe use it as a procrastination excuse, but I thought I'd share it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cold, Hypoxia and Spiders

From time to time a person stows away in the wheel well of an airliner. There's a big space up there, with room for all the hydraulics, a retracted wheel, and a person. Doors close over the opening to provide streamlining, but I don't know that they close tightly enough to prevent draughts. Mine certainly don't. My gear doors don't even cover the whole opening. There is no pressurization and no heating in that space. At altitude the proportion of oxygen in the air is the same as at sea level, but the total air pressure is less, so the partial pressure of oxygen is also less. This pressure is important. A person can't get sufficient oxygen just by breathing faster. The pressure of the oxygen is what allows oxygen to enter the bloodstream. If the pressure isn't high enough, there is insufficient oxygen for the brain to function. A person loses the ability to make decisions, passes out and if the deprivation is severe enough, eventually dies.

The air temperature decreases by two or three degrees for every thousand feet of altitude, down to about -56C. I've never seen one of these where the stowaway had sufficient knowledge--or resources--to wear a parka. I've been outdoors in temperatures down to about -40. Wearing a parka, and gloves, and a toque underneath my parka hood, and giant Sorel boots, and mittens, while physically active. If I had stopped and curled up for a few hours I know I would have become very very cold.

Most of the time the cold, lack of oxygen and sometimes falling out of the wheelwell kills the stowaway. But sometimes they make it, like this kid from California. Humans can be freaking tough. I find it hilarious, but not that surprising that an unhappy teenager successfully breached airfield security. There is trust involved in aviation. Many places we pay for fuel on the honour system. It takes no genius and rarely requires tools to breech an airport gate. There is also a trade off, mutual assistance among aviators is a tradition much older than airfield security. It's hard to stop people from helping one another. And absolutely any tool someone might need on an airport can literally fly over the fence.

I'm amused that the commenters on that CBC piece include someone who insists a wheelwell monitoring camera and pre-departure check thereof should be standard, someone who doesn't believe the incident happened at all, and someone who sees a conspiracy theory at work.

My airplane often carries little stowaways that seem to suffer no ill effect. Spiders crawl up in my wheel wells. I landed the other day, taxied a short distance off the runway, shut down and got out to clean the windshield. In that time, maybe five minutes since the propellers had stopped spinning, a spider had already strung silk from the propeller across to the fuselage, such that I had to break the web to access my forward cargo area, where the windshield cleaner is. I don't know that it was one of the spiders I carry with me, but I like to think the conditions are producing super spiders. I wonder if insects are attracted to the heat coming off the nacelles, making that a prime spot for web building.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Who Knew September Was Such a Busy Month

I haven't dropped off the face of the Earth. I've been flying, amassing comments on the iPad, assessing the proposed new duty time regulations for pilots and how they will affect my company's operations, and mostly stuck in hotels with terrible Internet. That makes company paperwork take twice as long and leaves no room for blogging. Oh good grief, "An error occurred while trying to save or publish your post," and this is one of the better hotels this week. Okay, this is what I've got got for you today: an aviation headset has two plugs, one that connects the earphones to the system so the crewmember can hear, and one that connects the microphone to the system so the crewmember can speak on the intercom or radio. Each seat in the airplane has two receptacles to hold these two plugs. The intercom in this plane has three settings: ISO, CREW, and ALL. The ISO setting allows the left seat pilot to hear and transmit on the radio and talk to herself, while everyone else plugged into the intercom can talk amongst themselves but not hear or disturb the pilot or the radios. The CREW setting allows the two front seat occupants to speak without being heard by the person in the back, and ALL puts everyone in the loop. Generally the intercom is on ALL for normal operations. I will use the ISO settings if the crewmember in the right seat is training the crewmember in the back (or vice versa) and they are talking over ATC or want to talk during sterile cockpit times. I use CREW if I'm training a pilot in the front and want to give feedback in private. Or if the crewmember in the right seat is training the one in the back and we want to make snide remarks about them. I'll also use the ISO setting if I notice the crewmember in the back has fallen asleep (this is permitted, and indeed encouraged when they have no duties) but hasn't pulled out his or her headset jack, so that radio transmissions don't wake them up. I encourage them to pull their headset plugs if they want to sleep, because that way they don't have to throw crumpled up wads of paper at me to get me to turn the intercom back on when they wake up and want my attention. And then there's today: howling headwinds had us slowed to a crawl, done our work but proceeding to another aerodrome where they want us to start tomorrow. And the pilot starts singing, "The propellers on the plane go 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round ..." Usually I swing my microphone away from my mouth before I sing, but sometimes my fellow crewmembers must suffer. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I teach you how to pull out your headset plugs.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bad Technology Day

I've been struggling with my phone lately, not getting text messages, not having it ring when I'm called. An update to the OS did the trick, even though the OS update notes were all for apps I don't use. I heard someone in the air having an equally frustrating time with technology.

"We're struggling with the FMS right now. Can we have direct BOXON?"

The FMS is the flight management system, the magic box that tells the flight director and the autopilot where the airplane is supposed to go. I don't know the clearance that the pilots were given initially, but they were apparently unable to persuade their FMS to accept the waypoint or procedure, so they chose one it would accept to fly towards it while they continued the battle.

I hear another pilot given a hellish multi-stage missed approach clearance including direct to a random sounding lat-long. It's because there is a large swathe of NOTAMed active military airspace blocking access to the normal airways no doubt. Programming a lat-long into the FMS while on approach sounds fun. Not. I screw it up on the ground from time to time. I have to create a user waypoint for the lat-long, can't enter it in the flight plan or direct-to screen. The pilot reads the clearance all back and life goes on. But a while later she comes back to confirm the lat-long. Yep, it's correct.

"The FMS won't take lat-long. Can we go direct [fix]?" she says. Negative, that's in restricted airspace.

"How about [fix]?" That's approved.

We cancel IFR and slip underneath it all.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Technology Ups and Downs

My ideas file is much longer than the time I am spending using it, so I've pulled out several news stories that I'd better comment on before they expire.

No headline writer could resist the fact that the captain's arm came off during landing, but if you read to the end you realize that the prosthetic stayed attached to the body. It's the clamping device he was using to ensure that the artificial limb maintained a grip on the yoke during the flare that came off the yoke. I have worked with a student pilot with an prosthetic foot and know of a pilot who lost both arms flying with prosthetics, and a pilot born without arms flying with her feet. (The hardest part of the exercise for her appeared to be fastening the lap belt). I have worked with commercial pilots missing a finger or two, but not a whole limb. I would have thought a co-pilot briefing on the subject would be required, and I would also have expected a co-pilot to automatically grab the yoke without a briefed transfer of control, the way you would reach for something fragile if you noticed it slip from your friend's hands, or the way the passengers in your car stomp the floorboards if the car in front of you brakes suddenly. (Except me: it has been documented that I grab for the brakes with my hands, as though I was stopping a bicycle. I rode a bicycle for many years before I drove a car and apparently in my brain that's still the hardwired subconscious stopping reaction). I thought until it was pointed out to me that I was throwing up my hands to protect my face, so perhaps it has now mutated into an attempt to bank out of the way.

As the person who sent me this link pointed out, rich idiots looking for fun has always been a source of danger in our communities, but the line that struck me in this article was, "Recreational drone users don't need approval from Transport Canada." Surely, however, they are restricted to uncontrolled airspace? It shouldn't be too hard to make it illegal to fly one in an airway or approach path. I will have to do more research on this in the winter.

I don't remember where I got this purported mid-air airplane repair. It must be staged, but it's still a pretty neat trick.

This caught my attention not only because it was an air accident involving a very respected Canadian operator with a lot of Antarctic experience, but also because it was on CBC North. Antarctica is the North of the South, of course. And it's likely that the crew although from Calgary, had ties to the North. I'm six minutes to boarding so don't have time to find if they managed to recover these bodies, or if the antarctic ice shifted and swallowed everything up.

Safe flying, people. Keep both arms on, and watch out for those drones.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Paper or Plastic?

So we're about to evaluate the electronic cockpit. That is have all the charts on an iPad. Eliminate the two boxes of maps in the cockpit, the express ordering of charts for regions we suddenly have to venture, the hunt for a vendor that has the new VTA in stock, and possibly the chore of checking the charts periodically to see if a new one has come out. (Canadian VFR charts do not have a predetermined expiry date: there is a website that lists the probable release date of updated versions, but that list is a bit like the to do list that indicates when I will clean my kitchen or get my hair cut: that is, almost never happens on time.

The proposal presents two contradictory reactions. The progressive, "hey cool stuff, think of all the things a computer can do that paper can't" is checked by "wait a moment, what about all the basic stuff paper can do that e-charts can't?" In this blog entry I'm going to ask the questions, kind of make myself a to-do list for research and experimentation. I'll start with the strengths and weaknesses of old fashioned paper because that's what I know best.

  • You can spread paper charts over the whole wall/bed/floor to get a big picture of where you are going. To be fair, this is also a weakness of paper. You have to have a large surface to see a long VFR trip in one go. Given that I can presumably scale in and out at will on the electronic one, I think the only thing I lose here is the physical scale, and to tell the truth I haven't done the multi-chart array thing for ages. Ooh, except that I had a couple of interns put together one on the wall of the office, and that's damned useful. But that won't go away.
  • Paper charts don't become useless when broken. Paper charts retain most of their usefulness despite being dropped on the floor, stepped on, ripped in half, slammed in the door, having water spilled on them (they're pretty good quality paper) and other indignities that they suffer regularly. The destruction of one paper chart does not eliminate access to everything else on board. The robust case Transport Canada requires for an iPad should partly address this, but is this concern founded or not? I've never heard anyone say, "Our iPad just crashed, in the missed approach." Does it happen?
  • Paper charts are temperature and pressure independent. (At least up to 451F). I have had electronic equipment fail for me because it got too hot or too cold, and I suspect my running computer stopped working because it was depressurized on a daily basis. We'll stress test one of the units (i.e. subject it to normal operations) and see how it does.
  • Paper doesn't glare or wreck your night vision. anyone who has tried to use a computer near a window knows how hard it can become to read in the sunlight, something my cockpit usually has no shortage of. Now the iPad has to score some points for being self illuminating during those times when the sun is not flooding the cockpit with light, but can it illuminate itself with a dull red light, making the chart visible, without reversing the up to thirty minute process my eyes eyes have undergone to make the optimum adjustment to darkness. Again, a point for testing. Perhaps the robust case can include an anti-glare screen cover.
  • You can write on a paper chart. The technique I was taught in low level mountain flying, and which I still use, despite all the augmentations of a terrain equipped GPS, is to mark with a pencil on the map where I am, and the time at each waypoint, so that if I ever get disoriented or discover I have taken the wrong valley, I have a track that tells me when and where I last knew where I was. Even without that particular navigational technique, it's useful to be able to write on paper. When the NOTAM says AMEND PUB, I'm supposed to actually amend the publication, to fix the incorrect frequency, the nav aid removed from service or the new restricted area. Does the electronic version support both 'pencil' (temporary, relevant to a limited number of journeys only) and 'ink' (permanent, to be retained until that chart is replaced) markings by the pilot? Done correctly, this could be a huge advantage for electronic: allowing markings to be searched, saved, scaled, and never obscuring map features. If Nav Canada would only update their NOTAM format (and I have faith that they will, someday) the NOTAMs could conceivably be applied directly to the electronic charts.
  • You can set up a series of paper charts to show the important stages in your journey. Let's say I'm departing Edmonton, flying through a mountain pass to stay out of icing, and then heading into Vancouver. Before departure I set up the Edmonton VTA to show the western portion of the zone. I fold the Edmonton chart to centralize the area of the pass I will be negotiating, I have the enroute charts handy opened to the correct area, and i have the Vancouver VTA opened up so I can just grab it as I descend into their complex airspace, to know whom to talk to and where. I need to find out how to bookmark certain 'views' on the iPad, for the same effect. I will be disappointed if it cannot do that, but the iPad scores points for its ability to scroll continuously from one area to the next without my needing to dig in the box for the next chart.
  • Paper is just paper, it can't do anything. A computer is a computer: it can compute. I imagine if I want to find Moose Creek airport I can do a search, rather than hunting all over the map for it, or looking up its lat-long in the CFS. If i want to know the distance and bearing from Moose Creek to Squirrel Pond, I expect the electronic product will draw a line on it for me, and tell me its bearing, distance and MEA. It would be nice if it could also line up the frequencies I should expect, but I'll be pleasantly surprised if it is that clever.
  • I've already mastered paper's sneaky tricks. The most hilarious thing paper does when you're trying to use it is be hard to fold, and take over the entire cockpit, or rip. Approach plates don't change, zoom, or close when you poke them. If i put my finger on the MAP, will I change my view?

I was in the field for the meeting at which this purchase was decided, so I asked if it was intended to be supplemental or replace the paper charts. I got one answer (supplemental) from the ops manager and the opposite answer (replacing) from the pilot who I think is spearheading the project. So it's the old busted versus the new hotness. Any experience, tips, or features I've not thought of?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tell Me Something I Need to Know

When I was a student pilot I bought a trifold kneeboard. It consisted of a small metal clipboard inside a sturdy nylon array of pockets that could open out to cover slightly more than my lap, with a velcro strap to hold it on my leg. We almost all bought that thing. I know there were a few hardy students that made do with ordinary clipboards, or who made their own, but in general we thought this piece of technology would increase our ability to juggle map and nav log, pens and E6B, so we paid the money and strapped it on our knee.

I never quite figured out what to do with the black nylon pockets, so eventually I reduced it to the metal clipboard. As well as holding my operational flight plan and my weight and balance forms for me, it has some cheat sheet type information printed on it. There's an RVR to statute miles conversion chart, alternate airport rules, position report items, VFR cruising orders, standard holding pattern entries, components of a PIREP, required and recommended IFR reports, transponder codes, a Celsius/Fahrenheit conversion chart and a flight plan form. Problem is that the most of those items are either things that I know well enough to not need to look up, never have to look up, or are given for USA requirements only. I laminated (with packing tape) some Canadian information onto the back. That has long since worn away, and most of what I need to know has probably changed. And now the clip on the clipboard has finally worn out, leaving my papers attached with a big binder clip.

I ordered a new clipboard, and it has arrived, but I discovered to my chagrin that I seem to have a sentimental attachment to the old one. It's battered and bent and scratched. It was there on my lap when I did my first solo cross country, and had a stuck mike while I coached myself down final. It has gone to all the corners of the continent. I think it has been used as a pry tool and a hammer. The velcro strap is stretched and fuzzy. (But I notice that the velcro on the new one doesn't go far enough around the strap. When I put it on securely the hooks will not have many loops to mesh with). The new one is on my desk at work. The old one is in the field with me. Maybe it's just that I don't want to sort through all the papers on it to transfer them to a clipboard that doesn't hold as much as the big old binder clip.

By way of encouragement to use the new one I'm going to make up a new Canadian cheat sheet, with the flight plan form, company phone numbers, the changeover altitude between squawking 1000 and 2000 for uncontrolled IFR, and maybe some things out the CAP GEN that I keep having to look up.