Saturday, 31 January 2015

In defense of winter

From reading my blog posts you might get the impression that I’m not a big fan of winter.

And you’d be dead right.

However, in all fairness, there are some good points about winter. Things that I either like or at least tolerate. Also, for various reasons, I’m having an easier time dealing with the weather in general this year, slowly conquering my fear of slipping on ice. There are many reasons that this whole concept is getting easier to deal with, maybe I’ll blog about it when I’m seriously short on material.

Anyways winter and good stuff:

·         The ice on the lake is just amazing to watch. It is dynamic and ever changing: retreating and expanding. You could sit by the window and watch it for hours. Sometimes I do!

·         Winter skies are incredible. Clear blue fading to orange at sunset. A sky lit up with orange and green and blue all at the same time. Pictures don’t do it justice; you have to see it to appreciate it.

·         Hot tea tastes soooooo good in the winter.

·         Curling up on the couch in Pjs under a fleece blanket while watching a good movie with RTH

·         Ramen – ramen is a scrumptious winter meal. I’m talking about the proper flavourful stuff from a proper Japanese restaurant, not the salty packet crap. You can’t eat ramen in the summer but in the winter there is nothing better than a huge steaming bowl of noodles in a rich, layered broth

·         Hot chocolate – preferably with the addition of baileys or amaretto or whipped cream. Or all of the above!

·         Sitting in the window with a glass of wine in hand, watching a blizzard, knowing that you don’t have anywhere to go

·         Knowing that it comes to an end – seriously you can’t appreciate spring, fall or summer if you don’t have the contrast of winter. Emerging from winter makes you see the world with fresh eyes.

Still sucks when it is in the minus twenties though!

Friday, 30 January 2015

The glamour of general aviation

In short, there isn’t any.

Longer version:

If someone is good enough to offer you a ride in their pride and joy (and FTLF is all kinds of beautiful!) then the least you can do is attempt to be vaguely useful.

I try, in some areas I’m more successful than others. For example I’m useless at pushing a plane into a parking spot on an icy apron because I can barely walk on it myself. However I’m not afraid to get under the belly of the plane when we are putting the plethora of covers back on. I’m short, It’s easier for me.

When I got down to the FBO before our flight, we had to spend a little bit of time getting her ready. The weather forecast that week had been off and surprised us all with a bout of freezing drizzle leading to some frozen stuff in places it wasn't meant to be.

D had scraped the worst of it off before I’d got there and parked her in the sun to sublimate the rest off. I assisted him in manually removing the few remaining bits of clear ice. This was actually more interesting than it sounded. A quick cursory visual glance and you may have missed them. In some places I thought that I was looking at a bubbly paint job, but a bit of heat from your fingers and the “bubbles” moved. It occurs to me that this is yet another thing I didn’t encounter in my training. The flight schools planes are hangared at night. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a contaminated wing surface before. On a high winged plane like the C172, it would be easy to miss.

Once you are airborne, winter air is actually fairly sweet to fly in. The plane performs like a dream with a fantastic climb rate. We happily cruised along to London, at one point reaching 176 Knots. The landscape below you is phenomenal. We get distinct snow belt zones in this area of Ontario and the differences in snowfall were very noticeable as we zipped along.

In D’s sporty little Mooney it’s a mere 40 minute trip back from London, despite Google’s concern that there was heavy traffic on the highway ( it was predicting an hour forty for the ride back! I love f#cking with Google’s location services)

The only problem is on your return, where after a 40 minute flight, it takes 3 of you an hour to turn the plane into this.

Still not a fan of winter!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Other things that fly

A couple of weeks ago I headed off to another local(ish) flying club, courtesy of W, who lives close to where I work and was willing to give me a lift. For that alone I’ll forgive the fact that she’s currently in Hawaii sending me pictures of Waikiki Beach, whilst I peer out of the window waiting for the inevitable snow to start, again.

Anyway the purpose of the meeting was for us to take a look at a new helicopter type thing, it’s either now available in Canada or soon to be, or something!

You may have surmised (correctly!) from the above that I’m not exactly au-fait with the world of rotary wing craft. In fact I’d go as far as to say, I think they are rather a silly idea. As far as I can tell, you apply stupid amounts of power and defying all the known laws of physics, the thing lifts off the ground. What it should do, of course, is screw itself into the Earth’s crust!

Apparently this beast is much better than your average helicopter for all kinds of reasons that I either don’t understand or care about to be honest. In hearing about it’s wonderful features I was rather concerned to discover that many ‘copters can suffer from something called “Mast Bumping” which, as far as I can tell, is a process by which a copter will happily slice off its own tail.


Anyway apparently this helicopter is better than other helicopters. It is also shiny and red. Here are some pictures…….

shiny, red and a helicopter
the pitot cover is an optional extra!

still shiny, red and a helicopter

these bits make it work

sticks and buttons to press

apparently these blades are carefully designed
not to slice your tail off
How thoughtful.

more buttons

I think these cover the inner workings
not a helicopter, it was in the same hanger
I get easily distracted by shiny planes

see I'm not the only one

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

A Capital Flight

I haven’t been flying for nearly two months now.  I’ve not even bothered to make bookings, it’s really too damn cold at the moment. Which is having interesting effects aviationwise. Last week the Density altitude at Buttonville airport was minus 3500ft! Something which I’m still struggling to get my head around the implications of.

At the kind of temperatures we are having at the moment if you don’t have a permanent block heater installed, you are looking at needing to preheat your engine for a good few hours before you even think about starting it.

Still, when I found myself with an invitation to join D and E (of takeoff speed fame) on a weekend lunch flight, I didn’t hesitate to accept. FTLF has a newly installed block heater and a full set of covers. Despite being tied down outside, she’s more than ready to cope with the winter temperatures.

The initial plan was for what I call the “South to North Run”. A few years ago Toronto City Centre Airport was renamed Toronto Billy Bishop Airport, in honour of a local aviation hero. Only Owen Sound Regional airport had kind of beaten us to it. The standing joke is that the airport has a north and south terminal, 200 Km apart.

Anyway that plan fell by the wayside as it became apparent that streamers from Georgian Bay were causing marginal conditions to the north. This is not uncommon in the winter, meteorologists call it “lake effect”, pilots call it “a pain in the ass” because conditions can change very quickly.
We poured over the chart looking for somewhere new to go. Rumour had it that London (CYXU) had a decent café, so off we headed.

I took the back seat for the trip out. FTLF doesn’t have an intercom in the back, so I sat there silent and content to watch the winter world unfold below us. As I sat there, alone with my own thoughts, I had time to contemplate many things.

·         My headset actually has fairly crappy noise attenuation. I suspect that the difference with and without the headset isn’t as good as it should be. Maybe now I see why people spend thousands on ANR headsets

·         The world surely is very pretty at this time of year, especially when viewed from the air.

·         I really, really love flying! Even as a passenger.  

·         There really aren’t a lot of features out west to navigate by

·         There are however, a lot of fields if you need to find one in a hurry!

I took some video of the flight which I’ll get around to doing something with eventually. It was literally handheld Go Pro stuff, so no idea how it’s going to turn out. I took one picture with my phone, just for purely show off factor.

I took this photo and texted it to my friend K with the caption “I’m in a plane”

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Little things that please me.

I’m trying hard to stick to at least one of my resolutions, I am reading almost every day and always something new. Helped by my shiny new Kobo e-reader.

Now I’ve had an e-reader for a long time. My previous version being the now defunct Sony reader. I both loved and loathed this device.

I loved the fact that I could carry around literally hundreds of books with me on something that weighed about the same as a small paperback.

I loathed the Sony store, it was clunky unresponsive and had a limited range of books available on what was initially its own proprietary format (they changed this so that it could deal with standard ePubs eventually)*

I loved the battery life, measured in weeks in some cases.

I loathed the fact that thanks yet again to Sony’s weird ass way of dealing with things you couldn’t charge it straight from the wall, it had to be via a PC.

I loved the e-paper which was non backlit and just as easy on the eye as normal paper and yet would allow me to bump up the font size if I didn’t have my contacts in.

I loathed the awkward position of the next page buttons

After a few years of using my e-reader, sometimes sporadically, other times diligently, I noticed that the battery life was getting shorter. Even worse it would go from 4 bars to zero in very short space of time.

RTH had noticed the same with his**. In the meantime the Sony store had closed and chucked all its business and accounts onto the Kobo store anyway.

It made sense that my next device would be a Kobo one. RTH and I got a pretty sweet deal over Christmas on two shiny new readers complete with cases. Coinciding nicely with my resolution to read more.

Now, a month in, I’ve spotted a small problem.

I’ve forgotten how quickly I read stuff. I don’t just read books, I demolish them. I read at a phenomenal pace, which makes the time it took me to plow through “From the Ground Up” both pitiful and inexcusable. It also means things are going to get kinda pricey in the new book department. Now I don’t mind spending money on books but combining this with the fact that I’m trying to cut down on clutter not create it *** I needed a solution.

And I’ve found one, one that makes me very happy. Our public library system has a thing call Overdrive. You can “check out” ebooks. If they are not available then you can place a hold on them and it emails you automatically when they become available.

It was simple to set up (once I ironed out the self-inflicted kinks with adobe digital editions) and now I’m happily browsing their extensive catalogue. I’m like a kid in a candy store; I’ll have one of those, one of those, one of those and oooh! One of those too!

Then I realised that not even I read that much in 21 days, so I cut back a little bit, before discovering that you can access magazines too, including “Flying” magazine. Sweeet!!!!!!!!

I know this post has pretty much zero aviation content but it’s something that’s making me happy at the moment. I like books. I like reading. And if I’m honest the stupidly long and protracted way that I tackled my PPL written exam kind of sucked the joy out of reading for me for a while.

Now I’m back into it and stupidly excited by the number of books that I have available to me. It’s going to make those long winter evenings just fly by !

*RTH and I had ways of buying non-Sony books and stripping the “wrapper” off them but it was a pain in the neck and involved editing command line code. Sometimes it was more hassle than it was worth.

** We had identical readers, the only way to tell them apart was the serial number on the back. It did happen that if we were reading the same book, I’d pick his up and carry on reading from a different point to where I’d left it!

*** When we moved to Canada we donated around 2000 paperback books to charity. Our entire house was one giant bookshelf!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Single point of failure

Never a good thing and more than amply demonstrated at work yesterday. Bear with me, there’s something vaguely flying related here… I promise….

Our network went down.

This meant that for a large portion of the afternoon the following things weren’t functioning or available

1)      The internet
2)      The phone system (VOIP, you see)
3)      Email
4)      Network printers
5)      Network drives
6)      The photocopiers

You try doing an office job with the aforementioned failing to cooperate and see how far you get!

The last one on the list may surprise you, but indeed not a single copying function could be coaxed from these errant beasts. You see, a couple of years ago, someone decided it would be a great idea to install card scanners onto all of our copiers. They are linked to our security cards, you send a print job and then zap your card to release it. Allegedly they monitor paper usage as well (this may have back fired though*). If this device doesn’t work then neither does the copier. A small box the size of my fist rendering 10s of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment useless.


Even better when your boss is stressing over a meeting that she needs 50 plus copies of a schedule printed for. After trying every trick I know to prod any printer into existence (including a few that I’m fairly sure aren’t approved by our IT dept!), I resorted to plan “U”. Plans A through T having been exhausted a while back.

Plan U consisted of me rounding up every single USB key I could get my hands on and dumping them in the meeting saying “here copy this onto your laptop”.

I like to think I’m resourceful. Which is why I’m currently photographing documents with my phone and texting the resultant images to one of our suppliers who needs a signed contract today.

While other people were flapping around like the proverbial headless chicken. I’m leaving our IT guys well alone, figuring that answering a million “what’s going on?” questions is the least of their priorities at the moment. In fact when I discovered the issue I stuck my head around the door said “Am I going to tell you anything you don’t already know?” the answer was very obviously “no”. I turned around and then didn’t bother them for the next 24 hours.

So flying then LFE……?

Yeah well flying tries very hard to avoid this “single point of failure” mentality. Even the checklist for my humble 172 mentions safety vital points more than once. Things like the mixture, for example, appear multiple times. And it’s a good job because, as careful as you try to be, sometimes you miss stuff. On my flight with my first passengers I’d taxied out to the practice area on one mag, until I got to that point in the checklist and picked up on my mistake.

Similarly planes often have multiple fuel tanks, with the ability to switch between them, dual ignition systems, alternate static sources and so on. A single failure shouldn’t be catastrophic.

Whereas most of our IT systems seem to be built the other way around. Yep it’s a great idea to save your files “in the cloud” until your network dies. And if your phones and email are on the same system then how the hell can you even tell people that there’s a problem?

Please don’t misunderstand, our IT support guys are fantastic. We have a lot of mutual respect. I appreciate the job that they are doing and the fact that they usually have very little say in the systems they are called to support. In turn I get pretty good service from them because they know when I call with a problem, it tends to be a legitimate one; a “I need help disassembling this 3 page long SQL query” rather than a “I can’t figure out how to plug in my mouse” kind of thing.

I just wish that the powers-that-be would take some lessons from aviation in general.

Single point of failure = BAD!!!

*rumours that we used to have impromptu competitions to see who could hit the highest usage figures are entirely false...... honest!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

He may have a point.

Whilst on our way back from the local flying club meeting, I was chatting to my friend about his Foreflight subscription and set up. It looks kind of funky and shiny and a legitimate replacement for replacing the ongoing tide of the never ceasing CFS issues that I need as well as having other useful features.

I put forward the suggestion that the next time I needed to fly to keep current, I’d take him up and we could plan a short local flight using his IPad and Foreflight for the navigation.*

Having two pilots on board would allow me to play with the navigation stuff whilst having someone to delegate stuff to if needed.

We spoke every briefly about the logistics; I’d be PIC but we’d brief very thoroughly on who was doing what and when.

“So,” I joked” you trust me enough to fly you then?”

“It’ll be fine” he replied.

“Thanks, that’s a nice vote of confidence.” I remarked, a little pleased with myself

“Well, I reckon I could take you out with a single punch, so it’ll be fine. Never fly with someone you either don’t trust or can’t easily overpower” he commented.

I have a suspicion that this is actually good advice.

I think!

*Yes I'll still have paper charts as a back up. Paper doesn't run out of juice on you! 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Maneuvering Speed.

Every good PPL knows all about this speed and the associated fun facts.

In official blurb it is indicated as Va.  It’s one of those speeds that you have to memorise for your check ride. To the lay person it is the maximum speed that you can fully load the control surfaces (full deflection) without bits breaking off your plane.

Student pilots also struggle with the fact that unlike most of the stuff we are forced to memorise, it increases with increased weight.  It’s placarded on the plane somewhere (or should be) but isn’t actually indicated on your ASI.

I always floundered to remember it. For some reason it just wouldn’t stick in my long term memory, or I could remember 2 out of the 3 weights I needed to know it for, the last one eluding my mind at the last minute. So on my flight test, I kind of cheated.

As soon as we launched into the ground portion of the test, I pulled my scratch pad towards me and discreetly wrote the three numbers in the corner while I still remembered them.

The practical applications of Va is that as soon as you hit bumpy air, you should throttle back to ensure that you are below it. Otherwise an accidental gust of wind could see you exceed it and risk structural damage.

I would just like to point out though that the above only works for airplanes.  My own research has led me to discover that for humans, manoeuvring speed is a function of both weight and temperature. You see as it gets colder, you are forced to don what feels like 20 pounds of winter gear over your normal clothes. As far as I can measure the added weight, combined with the sheer bulk of the duvet like objects, reduces your manoeuvring speed by a factor of about 50% and incidentally, increases your turning radius by about the same factor.

Yes, I’m sorry, the above post actually had very little to do with aviation and was LFEs way of saying, yet again, its bloody cold.