Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and the Plane Weird

The Good, The Bad and the Plane Weird

I forget last night was the night when a group of us pilot bloggers was going to all make a similar post about our experiences. The topic for this first group post is The Good, The Bad, and the Plane weird. To check out some of the other's experiences follow these links below.

nec Temere nec Timide

Pilot in Training


Just to name a few....

The Good:

If you frequent my blog often you can see that I see many good things and have a lot of good times while flying. Pretty much everyday is great if I follow my three hard and fast rules.

1. Don't die (it's obviously number one because the next two don't matter if I break this one :)
2. Don't get violated (the office with a view is a privilege not a right :)
3. Don't have to send a flight report (company procedure for anything out of the norm)

The most recent Good time that I can remember was actually last year around this time. We had just came back from a 4 hour flight and it was sky clear and sunny the whole way. The winds were calm and there was nobody else coming into or leaving the airport as we approached.

So in the interest of aviation safety we decided what type of descent profile we could achieve if needed. So we did the math as best we could and figured we could easily drop 10,000 within 5 miles. We put in a bit of a buffer as to not create a go-around scenario which would violate my third rule :)

We let ATC know our intentions and he asked " Are you sure you can make that ?" Of course I replied in a somewhat confident manner. "Contact the tower now and let him know what you are doing, good luck!" the controller chided so over to tower we went. The tower's first question was "You are 6 miles and 10,000 feet are you gonna make it ?"...of course I said if I didn't make it I am gonna look like a tard for sure.

So as agreed between the FO and myself we pulled the airplane to idle, gear, full flaps and then descended at 100 knots. The descent angle was pretty crazy but it was stable and we were coming down at 6000 feet per minute, we quickly realized that we would end up short of the runway if we didn't add power to shallow the sink rate and around 2 miles back we started to intercept the 3 degree slope (normal) and had to add power and continue in as normal. Needless to say that airplane can drop almost vertically if need be. I have never practiced the high speed emergency decent and really don't want to. There is no need to put the airframe under crazy g-loading just for practice sake if we hit unexpected turbulence on the way down. My roommate is a Aerospace Engineer and he has me freaked out about g-loading and design load limits so I baby that thing as best I can :)

The tower was amazed at how quick we got it down and said that airplane is amazing, yep it sure is I replied....It is certified for 8 degree approaches so they planned on people dropping it into mountain side runways in the Alps where she was designed. Great airplane indeed.

The Bad...

Now I didn't want to sell myself out on this post and air my dirty laundry but when I think of my worst experience (there have been a few) I think of the one that I got into with my old roommate and Captain through no real fault of our own.

We were doing a scheduled flight to a familiar destination and because of the full load of passengers, freight and good VFR conditions "forecasted" along our route we went VFR with VFR gas (to the destination and 30 minutes extra on top of that for fuel).

As we made our way towards the destination we noticed that there was the odd rain shower around and in some places the clouds were a bit lower then forecast. So I checked the weather and no amended forecasts yet and our destination was holding up better then where we were already so things were looking up.

As we made our way farther and farther we kept asking other aircraft how the weather looked ahead because we started to notice low cloud and more rain in the valley. We were too low to get flight service but with the current weather at the airport things would have all checked out anyways and would not have raised any concern.

Photo courtesy of Lostav8r

We then were about 30 miles away from the destination airport and we could actually see the airport environment but there was now low lying fog in the area and it was starting to be raking in through the trees in the higher elevations. But since it looked good up ahead still we had no reason to be reverting to a plan b.

I switched over to the FSS frequency that ran the airport radio and everything seemed normal, weather was good, but on the initial call he told us that 3 float planes were holding outside of the zone. I asked if it was Special VFR and he said nope VFR at the field call 5 miles back. That was one of those times when you think....hmmm what is the deal with them holding outside the zone for ? This was the start of the feeling that grew into a situation.
Photo courtesy of Lostav8r

We were on the downwind for the runway and we could see this fog bank rolling in fast towards the airport, by the time we turned base the airport was consumed in fog and we entered into the top of it without even seeing it coming.

Now we are left at 700 feet above the ground, in cloud with hills to the north and east of us and flight service comes on the radio telling us it's now IFR, special VFR authorization is required, and what was our intentions. To two guys convinced till just 5 seconds ago they were landing we are now sitting there looking at each other going I guess we are going around.

Since we were VFR and to be IFR you need a clearance we decided that we needed to climb to the sector altitude because of the mountains (sector altitude gives you guaranteed terrain clearance). I quickly contacted center as we climbed up and she said unable the IFR due traffic, maintain VFR and I will get back to you. I told her, we were unable VFR and were climbing to 7000 on the 030 radial, this radial took us away from the approach end of the airport and because the FSS never passed us IFR traffic as far as we knew there was nobody on the approach to be concerned with.

After stating what we were doing I thought to myself that I just violated my roommate. Specifically saying we are climbing through cloud without a clearance but we literally had no other options. There is a quote I read on a pilots signature in a forum that said " I would rather be judged by 12, then carried by 6" and this was one of those situations :)

Center quickly got back to us and we got a clearance to 9000 feet or so and to intercept the arc and then follow the DME arc to the NDB and hold inbound on the localizer. Sweet I thought, straight back to the airport for an approach and land this is great news !. We had pulled the power right back to get the least fuel burn (as in my previous sentence about VFR reserve, it is 30 minutes of gas) and by this time we had eaten 5 minutes of it. She gave us an expect further clearance time of 10 minutes or so from that current time. We figured that by the time we flew the arc we would get approach clearance and be on our merry way.

That was until she said we were number 4 for the airport, that would mean at least 40 minutes of holding till we could shoot the approach. The Captain looked at me and said declare the wasn't a simple hey dude declare the emergency, it was a DELCARE THE EMERGENCY we need to get down fast, well there was no need to tell me twice and now center was treating us like gold :)

So after declaring the emergency we got vectored to about a 5 mile final, what we hadn't know was there was a Navajo on the ILS when we missed and we came within 2 miles of him but on a diverging course, and that we were now being vectored behind him on the approach.

The Captain and I briefed the approach, we had about 20 minutes of gas left and briefed that under the circumstances we would make it an auto land approach if required (there is no auto land but with auto land there are no mimimums is what I am getting at :) Till this day I have not seen such a perfectly hand flow ILS to minimums in my life. Everything was counting on us landing on the first shot because there wasn't enough gas to go around for a second try.

After touchdown my feet were shaking on the rudder pedals and I have never felt so glad to be on the ground. I mean not the feeling of being on the ground was what was important but the stress of not knowing how this was all gonna play out was over. We looked at each other and then the fuel gauges and we had about 10-15 minutes left in the tanks . We then looked at each other again and the Captain said...the beers are on me tonight....those are the best 6 words that can be said to a poor FO :)

As I exited the plane I could hear the fire trucks and ambulance rushing out from town because we had declared an emergency. Because they are not on the field it took them about 15 minutes to get there, this is why it is important to declare an emergency even if you think you are gonna be ok because it might take them awhile to get to you if you end up not doing ok.

I met them outside and told them everything was fine so they turned around and went back to town. I was trying to run the whole scenario back through my mind to see where we could have stopped this whole thing from developing into what it did...the only thing I think that would have helped us was if I would have talked to the float planes who were holding outside the zone.

They knew of the fog that was out to the east and were taking their turns going in for landing because the could hardly see each other so if I would have asked "what the hell are you guys doing" we might have just landed straight in on the opposite end of the runway before the fog covered the other end.

A little more background into why we had to shoot the approach at the destination is that the weather forecasts were being amended everywhere about the same time and we didn't want to fly to the next airport and have to waste more gas to have to shoot an approach there, took the lesser of the two evils and well I am here to blog about it now.

It still pisses me off that mother nature had us beat and we had nothing we could do about it. That's why I respect her and when I get those gut feelings of "Hey this seems odd" I start to really step back and look at the situation to see if I have an emergency situation arising :) I have learned that when things don't seem right, they usually aren't !

The Plane Weird,

This story is on a much lighter note but is definitely weird.

It was -35, freekin freezing and I had to come in for one afternoon flight on the Caravan. I was doing a scheduled flight up to Tadoule Lake, Manitoba in my least favourite Caravan. This one had been having autopilot problems where it would start to porpoise in cruise so bad you couldn't let the autopilot fly anymore. Also, the week before someone had bent the ground heat cable so that it was sticking sometimes when you tried to close it, the problem is that when it's -35 you want maximum heat on the ground but it has to be shut off for take off and can only be used on the ground (hence the name ground heat). The only way to shut off the ground heat after it got stuck was to shut down the engine to get rid of the back pressure on the cable so it will close.

Before you start a plane when it's this cold you pre-heat it with a Herman Nelson. Basically it is a burner can that burns diesel and a big fan blows around the can blowing it out a 8 foot hose which you throw in the front seat. It warms up the avionics and also the cabin for the passengers.

Photo courtesy of Lostav8r

I pulled the Herman Nelson all the way across to the Caravan I was going to be flying (of course it had to parked what seemed like a mile away) and I then fired up the Herman Nelson only to realize the burner wasn't firing !!! This was to be the first sign of clouds on the horizon before it started to dump on me :)

So I dragged it all the way back and got the backup Herman Nelson. So now I am a bit frustrated because I still have to get the ladder, sweep the wings, flight plan and then help load the damn thing. This was starting to make me a little grizzly and I enlisted the help of the ramp guy. We drag the other Herman over to the airplane only to realize that the pull start cable is missing !!!! Ok fine I am gonna be late on the sched flight and there is no other way to warm up the airplane. So I just figure I will use ground heat and sit for a bit on the ramp and to Cessna's engineers triumph it will heat up in 5 minutes or less.

So I get everything done, load my passengers in the back, and of course the first thing they observe is how cold it is. I apologize and promise that with ground heat I will get them warm in no time at all, I give them their briefing and I hop up front into the freezing cockpit.

Chocks, park brake, prop tie, pogo and pods is the first thing that runs through my mind before every start on the Caravan. If anyone one of those things is forgotten after you start the engine you are going to have to shut down and get out, or in the case of the prop tie get out and look for an ingested or extremely damaged prop tie.

So after that I spark up the PT6-114A and in my mind I can imagine the heat that will be being pumped out as soon as I flick that heat switch. Heat on turbine engines comes from the engine in most cases. It is called bleed air, which is air that is "bled" from the compressor section of the engine where it is compressed and bled off before the compressed air is thrown into the combustion chamber, and is nice and hot. The Caravan is not pressurized but on the PC12 and every other pressurized airplane, the air used to keep the cabin pressure to levels not requiring you to wear oxygen masks is taken off the engine and pumped into the cabin.

Now with the engine fired up, I am doing my after start flow (basically a organized movement from the bottom of the panel up and finishing on the left side putting switches and levers in the proper positions for flight) I turn on the heat and then pull the ground heat valve. Air is wooshing into the cabin so fast and loud I have to wait to make my radio calls because you would be unable to hear me over all the noise in the cabin.

About 5 minutes in, the cabin is nice and toasty (at least upfront :) and I am going to call for taxi. I thank the ground heat valve for making me warm and I reach over to close it. I push with the normal force required and nothing happens, so I give it a little more love and nothing !!! The damn thing is stuck open again ! I am now in the position where I have to shut down the airplane, close the valve and restart. Knowing I can't use the valve again to warm up after I shut down the engine I am a little upset but I gotta get moving so I shut down, the valve easily closes with little effort and I go through the motions of starting up again.

We are now started, checks are complete and in position on the runway. I advance the throttle and more bleed air starts to come into the cabin making it a little warmer as we take off into the nice clear sky.

Just as I am in the turn departing the circuit I hear the bleed air kick off and I start to freeze. Well this aircraft also had a new thermostat put in and it just overheated and kicked off the bleed air. I turned it to half and the air started to flow and then I found the point where I could get maximum heat without it kicking off. It's only a 50 minute flight today I figured let's just get these guys home and then maintenance can have fun when I get home.

After about 30 minutes in cruise the temperature was warm and I checked out the passengers and they were doing fine. One was asleep and the other looking for the caribou that were in the area. The sun was setting and it was beautiful out. The autopilot was working like a champ and all was well.

While I was enjoying the scenery I could feel the airplane start to oscillate a bit similar to what the autopilot was doing before it was "fixed". It started to trim around a bit then restablized and all was well. A little background on one of my passengers...he had been drinking a bit before the flight but was very polite and there seemed to be no problems at all at check in. He also was missing one arm and had the jacket sewn up where the arm pit would be.

Again the autopilot was starting to oscillate and then stabilize oscillate then stabilize, I was cursing the damn thing for not being fixed when I heard some cursing from the back. Well first things first...the autopilot was broken after all :)

I look back to see that my one armed passenger could no longer hold his fluid and had to go to the washroom. On a Caravan there is no washroom so what he was doing the next best thing and that was balancing himself at the back of the airplane, a puke (pee) bag in one hand and his head on the wall trying to keep balanced while he pee'd into the bag ! The cursing came from when each time he would lose his balance the autopilot would re-trim making it even harder for him to balance using his head as he pee'd !!!

So I took off the autopilot and made the guy's life a bit easier by dampening out the oscillation's but as I flew into the sunset I pictured an Air Canada pilots reaction coming into the passenger cabin while a passenger was peeing in a sick bag :) The only other thing I could think of to help the guy was to ask the other passenger to hold the bag for him! I don't think he would seen the humour if I had asked him ;)

Sorry to go on and set the stage for this weird story but by the time this incident happened I was so frustrated with the afternoons events that after seeing this guy having so much trouble just trying to relieve himself in my plane it all just slipped away. I also thanked God for the use of two arms and a big bladder :)

Fly safe out there :)

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