Friday, August 31, 2007

Classic Air Ralleye

Last Saturday the wife of my youth (and today) celebrated our 28th anniversary. "We" celebrated it by attending the Classic Air Rally (she has a lot of patience, not only during the exhibit day but also for 28 years). This is an annual fly-in at the Canadian Aviation Museum.

Vintage Wings Canada had a display of a Spitfire, a Mustang, a Harvard, and a Fox Moth, and another display with the internal workings of a Merlin.

There were 4 Republic SeaBees in attendence both in static attendence and a fly-by. This is one beautiful bird - or really ugly, depending on your perspective. Definately a practical, high utility, aircraft.

There a hangar beside the main museum where ?Northwinds? is restoring several aircraft, and they had a guided tour.

Free admission to the main museum was also offered. This is an impressive collection, with many "only one of two surviving in the world" units.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at home, so I have only a few really ugly grainy pictures. I may add them to this post later.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Security Lockdown

Whenever possible I like to fly direct - it is one less opportunity for the airline to misdirect your luggage, and on a direct flight you are not at risk of screwy things happening at an intervening airport.

Last trip I flew Ottawa-Toronto-Heathrow due to unavailability of seats on the direct YOW-LHR flight. The 320 we flew to YYZ had a problem with a sensor relating to the ground spoilers, and after some failed attempts to reset the gizmo, the flight deck got on the phone with maintenance to confirm (45 minutes later) that this was not a Minimum Equipment List items. Fortunately we had enough fuel to fly to Toronto without going back to the gate to tank up, so we could arrive 15 minutes after my connecting flight to LHR had left. AC put me on the next flight, I got to fly in the triple-7, and my suitcase arrived about 6 hours after I did.

On the current trip I flew Ottawa-Montreal-Heathrow, so my flight would depart at 20:30 instead of 18:00 (more time with family on the Saturday). When we arrived at Montreal the International departures area was in a lockdown.

We never get the full story on this at the time, of course, and Transport Canada isn't going to share their Standard Operating Procedures, but the airline was quick to point out that they were not the cause of all the delayed flights, and stated that there was a problem with the security checkpoints.

Apparently some Einstein took a knife through security into the international departures area. TC responded by removing all passengers from all aircraft, and all passengers from the area, and searched the area and all the aircraft. Total delay was 3 hours, though my flight was delayed "only" 1:40. Nothing to do except walk up and down the hallways, enjoy some kiwi gelato, and wait for the system to sort itself out.

At least my suitcase arrived at Heathrow at the same time I did.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

200kmph at 0' AGL

I am currently on a business trip. Yesterday was Munich.

Alas, I didn't have my camera with me, for at the entrance to the airport there is a static display of (I think) three vintage aircraft.

On the freeway / autobahn, from the airport to the hotel, the taxi (a very nice Benz) achieved a top speed of 200 kilometers per hour.

I've been terrified in a taxi in Manhatten, and a few other places. Not here - this guy knew how to drive, and kept his head well in front of the vehicle.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Smithsonian - Enterprise

Wayyyy back when NASA was designing the Shuttle, Star Trek fans started a huge campaign to have the first one named Enterprise. That plan was successful in the naming, but it resulted in the first test flight vehicle receiving the Enterprise name.

Enterprise was a test vehicle. All systems (computer, hydraulic, power generation, power distribution, control surfaces) had to be tested, as well as aerodynamics, structural integrity, gliding, handling and so forth. It's loaded with sensors, such as temperature and strain. It has never had "real" engines mounted in it, it was never sent into space (nor will it ever be sent into space). It was "launched" from the back of the 747's NASA uses to move the orbiters around. For the first landings it didn't even have landing wheels, but used skids instead.

It was one of two vehicles to have ejection seats (Columbia, the first orbiter to go into space, also had ejection seats for the first few flights - these were removed when Columbia entered regular service).

As a long-time follower of space programs, I knew the dimensions, weight, various capacities, unique manufacturing techniques etc. of the shuttles - but until I saw it in person I never realized just how honking huge these vehicles are. NASM also has Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules nearby - you can put a Mercury capsule into the back of a pickup truck, those things were tiny!

As you first enter the "Space Exploration" wing the SR71 would be immediately behind you. Rockest are ahead on the right, and the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo capsules are ahead on the right. And dead ahead is Enterprise.

Only a wannabe pilot would take a picture of the nose gear. The entire shuttle flight, including the landings, can be flown by the onboard computers (and for many phases of flight the flying must be done by the computers, as humans don't react quickly enough), but the gear bays can be opened, and the gear lowered, only by the onboard crew manually flipping a switch - the wires don't (normally) exist so the onboard computers cannot get that command to the hardware. There is no gear retraction capability, so the inadvertant deployment of the landing gear (for example, due to a computer program bug) would be an uncorrectable error, resulting in the guaranteed loss of the vehicle and crew upon re-entry. Recently the shuttles have been equipped with a short cable, so that if there is a major heat shield problem the cable would be installed, the shuttle would return unmanned (the crew would stay behind on the ISS if that was in the flight profile) with this little cable between here&there - so the gear can be deployed by computer

You can see the thickness of the tiles - about 6 inches IIRC.

The entry/egress hatch is on the left front side of the vehicle - at the round red dot below, behind the scaffolding. The crew-inhabitable section of the orbiter is the tile-covered area at the front, to the left of the "Enterprise" (you can see the lines of the cargo bay doors). The crew compartment is on three levels, with the lowest level being storage. On a full shuttle the flight deck carries 4 individuals, and four more (normally only three more) ride on the second level.

And below we have one the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME). Pound-for-pound, these are some of the most powerful engines ever built. Their fuel, lquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, flows into the shuttle through a 17" diameter pipe, and is then divided between the three engines. The fuelmixing/burning chamber is about 10" in diameter - the size of a basketball. Most of the burn is in the nozzle. One of the common questions on the newsgroup asked about wearing a space suit and hitching a ride into space. It wouldn't work - the noise level in the engine chamber would turn you into jelly within a few seconds.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Smithsonian - SR71

I had two hours to kill before a flight back (business trip) from Washington. Sitting in an airport bar for 4 hours is not my idea of a fun time. Besides, if you go through security at Dulles well before a flight then they get suspicious and sent you through the extended security check (the sniffer machine, digging through luggage, etc).

So I made my way to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The museum is in a corner of Dulles airport, and the transfer bus to the museum (or back to the terminal) is 50 cents.

Except for two exhibits (one is a Cessna, one is a simulator with a long lineup), NASM is a no-touch museum. It's huge. I had minimal time, so I flew through the place. There is an IMAX theatre, but I didn't have the time (this trip).

Greeting you after security is the SR-71 Blackbird. Upon retirement, it was flown from Palmdale California to Washington/Dulles/NASM, a flight which took 68 minutes and 17 seconds.

Here's the bird, nose-on.

Friday, August 10, 2007


[This is a story from a while ago - passenger access to the flight deck is now strictly verbotten.]

A "snowbird" is a Canadian term for someone (usually a senior or retiree) who spends most of the year in Canada, but heads to the south for an extended visit during the winter. Many snowbirds own a condo or trailer or house down south. The popular locations are Arizona and Florida.

My mom is a snowbird, spending 4 or 5 months a year in Phoenix, rather than winter in Northern Ontario. For her first winters she/we would drive both ways so she can take more luggage, her dog, and her car. One year, when I was driving her back, I left Ottawa at 6am, arrived in Phoenix in the early afternoon, and by 3pm we were on the road back home. That was the last car trip - she's getting on in years, shouldn't be driving that distance (4-6 days in a car is tiring), and she couldn't see the sense of taking 6 days to make the trip when she could do it in 6 hours.

In the fall (of 1999, I think) I had driven her down, and was flying back. I had some expired upgrade coupons, but the aircraft was only one-third full so the gate agent said "why not?", and upgraded me from budget tourist el-cheapo to business class.

After enjoying the meal and the wine, I noticed that the flight deck door was open. Myself and two other pax spent the trip on the flight deck. The captain was the PNF and chatty, the FO was doing all the system monitoring and was flipping the jeppesen charts to the next available airport.

Flying over southern Ontario it was absolutely clear. At that time I lived in the area, and I could point out the small towns and name them - the crew could name only those with an airport.

I got the jump seat for the landing in Toronto. It was a Saturday evening and things were very quiet, but we did some racetracks northwest of YYZ - apparently there was a new software load in the ATC computers, and they were being very careful with the traffic load for the first few hours.

The captain did the landing - and he greased it.

Thanks to OBL et al, flying the jumpseat on that flight will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Driving Lessons

My daughter is learning how to drive. Dad (moi) is sitting in the right seat as we slowly roll around the parking lot of ScotiaBank Place. After she gets the basics under control we went for a drive on the quiet back roads, then residential areas.

My hands were firmly clenched around the door handle most of the time. She didn't hit anything, or even come close, but I had more than a few nervous moments.

I can only imagine how clunky my flying looks to my instructor. But she has dual controls.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Airborn once again

After spending most of yesterday digging crabgrass out of the dirtpile that used to be my front lawn, today I decided that it was time to break the 8 month 8 day drought.

Today I went on a flying lesson.

I qualify with "lesson" because I've flown 25 legs (I think) so far this year due to work. And last Sunday I engaged a pilot and aircraft to take a friend and I sight-seeing tour around Ottawa. But it was time for me to drive.

Before leaving home I read through all of my notes from the last spate of lessons, and arrived somewhat prepared, but fully expecting that I've forgot most everything. We started with a very brief pre-flight briefing, but she (and I) thought it best to have a list of things to do, get back into the air, get to know each other, and get a realistic assessment of what the next steps will need to be.

I did the W+B correct (I asked the instructor to check it in detail since it had been so long since I completed that last one), pre-flighted the bird, then we climbed aboard. I scanned through the checklist and realized that I had not checked the (wooden) Sensenich propeller, so I called myself on the oversight and climbed out, did the check, then climbed back in.

Run-up etc - good (but slow due to unfamiliarity with the checklists).

Taxi - good. I think back to the drunken-sailor taxiing I did when first learning, today was decent (the Eclipse does not have nose-wheel steering, so it's rudder and tow brakes). I may have set a land speed record when backtracking, comment was that I should be slower - but at least the rudder was effective.

Take-Off - one of my best (so far). I've managed to create a few hairy take-offs, with wheel barrowing, wild weaving, yank-it-into-the-air-and-nearly-stall, etc... but this one was pretty unremarkable.

Radio work - good, somewhat stumbly due to rust.

Upper air work - turns good, altitude holding poor, straight flight (including drift) not bad.

Slow flight - not bad. No problem with stall recognition and recovery. I was always trying to hold the nose way up until we have a honking good stall and then recover (student procedure), but in The Real World you start recovery at the first sign of a stall.

Turns - OK. I hold altitude better in a right turn than in a left turn.

HASEL, observation, eyes-outside - very good.

Climbs and Descents - good. Actually, I spent most of the day climbing because I tended to lose altitude in turns, and because we were doing stall recovery practice.

Slips - new. I had not had a lesson those in power flight, flew a few in a glider some time back, and we covered those today. I think I want the rudder pedals a bit closer next time.

Circuits - I'd never done circuits before, always just coming in for a landing. But we did two touch&go, followed by a full stop, with a gentle 80 degree crosswind. Flared a bit high on the second T&G with a somewhat firm Tough, the third (the landing) had a not-too-bad flare and touchdown.

Total Hobbs: 1.7

Next lessons: Slow flight, I need much work on holding altitude in straight flight and turns (no surprise), but ready to start circuits.

Really good: percentage of time with eyes-ouside was very high.

Needs work: Altitude maintenance.

Surprise: I was uncomfortable with slow flight (it used to be fine). 80kt - 120kt was comfortable, when we got slow my spidey sense was tingling. More air time in slow flight will bring this into my comfort zone.