Cargo Operations


Well through the wonder of social media and a new follower on twitter I have discovered a few links for some great youtube videos showing the day in the life if you will of a Boeing 747-8 cargo flight, as well as a world record breaking cargo flight.

Enjoy

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PiOLvG12fkw&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DPiOLvG12fkw

Brrrr!


Blog Post 4

 

Well today’s work trip is quite an easy one for me.  I am sitting in business class of a Cathay Pacific 777-300ER enroute from Hong Kong to Vancouver.  It is the first work trip that has brought me to my home country Canada, albeit about 1200 miles short of my home town of Winnipeg.  That said, these trips that involve a PX (deadheading sector) are for me at least, a interesting change of pace.  Basically I head to work like usual, accept I do not go through the pre-flight routine of checking weather, NOTAMS, and other Flight Planning information.  I simply show up to the airport, and get on the plane in a nice comfortable seat with the usual great service our cabin crew have to offer, and a multitude of things to keep me busy for the 12 hour flight.  

 

Today I find myself reading a book I picked up in Anchorage last week.  “Arctic Bush Pilot” by Jim Reardon is an interesting read about a pilot who had his beginnings in the US Navy during World War Two, moving on to Alaska following the war to make his living as a bush pilot.  For an aviation enthusiast like me, it definitely has some interesting stories.  It has also jogged quite a few memories from my recent days flying in Northern Canada.  Particularly the cold weather stories bring back some chilling memories.  

 

I will start off by saying the best $300 dollars I have ever spent came in September of 2006 when I bought a used Canada Goose “Resolute” parka.  One of our most senior pilots at the time had been hired by Air Canada was selling off his things that he would clearly no longer need at his new job.  Air bridges at Toronto International Airport, just aren’t as cold as the ramp in Shamattawa in January.  So set I am with my new/used jacket for a Canadian winter that was sure to take me to colder places then even I was used too.  Before I go on, if anyone finds them in need of a good parka for any cold weather environment, the Canada Goose parka’s are worth their relatively steep new price of 500-1000 dollars.  Rob a bank if you have to, you won’t be sorry.  

 

Back to the point, cold weather adventures.  The first of the cold weather experiences I can recall came in the winter of 2006/2007.  Churchill Manitoba, a small port town of about 800 people located at the northern edge of Manitoba on the coast of Hudson Bay, was in need.  The only means of heavy transport in and out of Churchill is the rail.  No roads here, so the largest of shipments will come by train.  However the tundra approaching churchill is so uneven, that the train ride, despite being 600 miles or so, takes more then 2 days.  The uneven ground forces the train to slow to about 20kms an hour for the last few hundred kilometers.  This particular Friday night, the train which had a large load of fresh food onboard, was stranded in the heavy, drifting snow somewhere south of Churchill.  The local Northern Store was running dangerously low on food, so they called in a Perimeter Metro 3 to take a load of groceries to fill the void until the train could be dug out.  It was particularly cold in Winnipeg, somewhere around -30, the usual January deep freeze.  But 600 miles north, it was worse.  Much worse.  We filled our plane full of groceries, engine tents, survival gear, and as much gas as we could carry.  Unfortunately because of the long leg in front of us, our Metro 3 full of cargo couldn’t take enough gas to make the flight non-stop.  So we planned to refuel in Gillam Manitoba, about 200 miles south of Churchill.  I was flying with a relatively new Captain, and I had only been flying for Perimeter for about 6 months, so between the two of us, we had little experience to draw on with respect to cold weather operations.  We landed in Gillam, a balmy 40 below zero with enough wind to make it feel even worse.  The landing in Gillam was my first gravel strip night landing (of what became hundreds by the time my 6 years at Perimeter were up).  Landing on gravel provides its own risks like propeller damage, and steering capability among others, but factor in landing at night in Northern Manitoba and it became a very challenging experience for a new First Officer like myself.  Landing at night in these communities we flew too is not like landing at a major airport.  Typically the runway lighting is much weaker, the approach lighting is usually non existent, and the surrounding darkness of Canadian Boreal Forrest provides a black hole effect, as if the runway is just floating in space.  I managed reasonably for my first of these challenging landings, but the hard part of the night was yet to come.  

 

We filled our tanks and obtained our IFR clearance to depart Gillam for Churchill via the remote Winnipeg Center frequency.  Once departed, we had a quick 45 minutes up to Churchill.  We called the airport Shell Fuel provider and arranged for a fuel truck to meet us on the ramp.  We wanted to spend as little time as possible on the ground in an effort to keep the plane from freezing solid.  We also spoke to the office in Churchill and relayed our ETA so that the grocery store could also be ready with a truck to transfer our cargo into.  All of the things we needed to do for a quick turn were arranged, and we were set with our plan once we landed.  Shutdown, get out and put the engine intake plugs in, and secure the engine tents to preserve the heat.  Hustle to the back and unload the cargo as quick as possible.  Close up the cargo door, remove the engine tents and plugs, and get the hell out of there.  So as we land and taxi into the large apron at Churchill, we soon realize (as neither of us had been to Churchill before) that we have no idea where to park.  We decide the best place is behind our company Merlin near the terminal building.  Mistake number one.  As we set the park brake behind our sister ship, I bundle up in my Canada Goose and all the other winter gear I collected that fall, and open the door to step outside.  Then it hits me, the coldest I have ever felt to this day.  Air temperature -53, with a 20 mile per hour wind, that felt like the mid -60’s.  And much to my dismay, the Merlin in front of us is spooling up it’s number two engine, about to magnify the windchill tenfold.  I yell at Scott to get out quick, as we have little time to get the engine tents on before the propwash from the starting Merlin makes it much more difficult.  We manage relatively quickly, before the Merlin has started it’s other engine.  Good work I must say on our part.  Now we move to the tail of the plane where the large 4×6 cargo door is located.  The captain of course takes position well inside the fuselage which has retained some heat, while I am settled at the door ready to pass cargo to the truck drivers.  We move as quick as we can and almost make the entire offload without any problems.  That is until I let a 2 liter plastic jug of ketchup slip through my now frozen hands (mitts would have been a better option then the gloves I was using) onto the concrete below.  The Drop was about 5 feet, and in that time, from a plane that was still above zero (although not by much) the plastic had frozen and shattered into a million pieces by the time it hit the ground.  Cold.  Damn cold!  I figure that the loss of the ketchup is a small price to pay given the expense that charter would have cost, so I do not lose any sleep over it.  

 

With the offload complete we remove the engine plugs and tents, button up the doors, and start up our two Garret turbo prop engines.  By this time, we have enough gas to fly non stop to Winnipeg in a little less then 3 hours.  The downside?  The plane is now nicely chilled to somewhere well south of zero, and the cabin heating system doesn’t have a chance at warming it up even over the course of 2-3 hours.  Typically we preheat the cabin  and cockpit of the plane on right before we depart on flights in the winter.  Large Herman Nelson heaters with cloth hoses pump 100+ degree heat into the plane warming the entire cabin in a few minutes.  Pull the hoses out and close the door quickly and the plane will retain most of that heat for a good 15-20 minutes.  Once the engines are started, the cabin heating system can maintain that heat quite easily, but producing that heat from a cold soaked plane, is near impossible.  

 

So what followed was a shivering 2 hours and 45 minutes in a cockpit full of frost except for the portion of our heated forward windshields.  Wearing our parka’s, gloves, and a toque in the cockpit definitely helped, but cold was the dominant feeling for the evening.  

 

It wasn’t uncommon in the various types that I flew at Perimeter that we had planes with weaker heating systems, and even sometimes those systems failed.  So flying while seeing your breathe in the cockpit was not all that rare.  But that one cold night in the winter of 07 proved to be the coldest I have ever been.  Let’s hope it stays that way.  

 

Years later I found myself in another cold situation in Gillam this time.  I was a Captain on the Metro 3, and was sent to Gillam for an all day hold on a charter flight.  We landed with no incident and with the 40 below temperatures, ensured the plane was put to bed for 9 hours with everything plugged in we could find.  We had both engine block heaters plugged in and could hear them working, we had the intake plugs and the engine tents wrapped quite snug.  We had two portable heaters for the cabin, and they were functioning properly, so when we left the plane for the hotel for the day, we had every notion that we would be returning to a warm, ready to fly airplane.  How wrong we were. 

 

As it turned out, the power for the engine block heaters had tripped at some point much earlier then our scheduled departure time of 5pm.  The cabin heaters were plugged into a different circuit and were fine, so the inside of the plane was comfortable, but the engines were very cold.  

 

The Garret engine had a minimum oil temperature for starting of 0 degrees Celsius.  Our oil temperatures were sitting near -12.  I had stared more then a few engines near zero before, and knew that with good ground power, it would be a slower start, but still doable.  In Gillam however, the oil temperature was much colder, and there was no ground power, just two very cold 24 volt batteries in the frozen wing of our plane.  Our duty day was such that we had to be in the air by 5:30 in order to have a legal amount of time to get to Winnipeg.  As this was approaching quickly, we were running out of options.  Plugging the block heaters back in would mean several hours to get the oil temps back to above zero, and there were no hangars in Gillam big enough for our 56 foot wingspan.  I looked at my FO and said, well, we can spend a night here, or we can give it a try.  

 

To start the Garret, we placed one hand on the “stop and feather” knob in case we needed to abort the start for any reason, and the other hand on the start button.  Once pressed, the starter would engage and with power from our battery, would crank the engine.  Rotation comes first, and at 10% engine RPM, a yellow ignition light would illuminate over the EGT guage, and fuel would automatically be scheduled into the burner can for light off.  That process would usually only take bout 10 seconds.  On this day in Gillam, it took longer.  A lot longer.  We used a trick by flipping the battery switch from parallel into series, which effectively doubled our cranking amps as we used both batteries to start one engine rather then just the respective one.  This helped, but we still sat patiently with my thumb on the starter switch for what must have been close to a minute.  Beyond the starter limit of 30 seconds.  I was doing a few things this day that were well outside the prescribed method of operating the Metro.  But like any plane, there is what the manual says it can do, and there is what it can ACTUALLY do.  I learned what it could actually do that evening.  Once number two spooled up we let the oil temperature warm up well into it’s normal operating range, trying to be as careful as we could after having put the starter and oil systems through the ringer.  Once it was safe, I increased the engine RPM in an effort to recharge the over worked battery after the long start.  That process normally took 2-3 minutes to get the operating amps back below 100, a safe range to attempt a cross generator start on engine number one.  This evening, that took almost 20 minutes.  But eventually the amps dropped, the battery was charged, and we went through the whole process again on the number one engine.  Two hours later upon arriving in Winnipeg, I spoke to the mechanics (who I had a great working relationship with) and explained what I did.  They were to my surprise, happy to hear that I had taken a few risks, but ultimately got the airplane running and home.  If I didn’t, it would have likely meant a late night for the mechanics as they prepped another plane to send north to rescue my passengers.  They assured me they would look over the engines, but said they would be shocked if there was any damage.  Sure enough, my ego, and the engines lived to fight another day.  

 

Here I am 7 years removed from my trial by fire into the cold weather operations of Canadian flying, sitting in the warm cabin of a brand new 777, sipping a piping hot jasmine tea.  Times certainly have changed, but I wouldn’t have traded those cold winters day for anything, especially with the lessons learned that will hopefully one day make me a successful Captain at Cathay Pacific.  

 

Fly safe (and warm if you can) 

 

Jeremy 

Wild Alaska


So on a recent layover in Anchorage i picked up a mountain bike at Walmart to leave in our crew storage room at the hotel. It certainly makes getting around Anchorage a less time consuming task then walking (although I do enjoy going for a walk around town). So this time in ANC I was looking forward to putting some miles on my bike. Unfortunately rain dominated the weather forecast for Anchorage this weekend, but I grabbed my rain gear and threw it into the suitcase before leaving Hong Kong.

After landing at about 5pm and having dinner, I managed to get some sleep for a few hours despite it being 2pm Hong Kong time. Sleep is always important when you fly long haul, and the easiest way I have been able to fight fatigue, is to just sleep when I’m tired. The trick to to be sure you are not tired when you are reporting for work and about to sit in the seat of a jumbo jet with 400 people on board. This usually means fighting through a little fatigue in the hotel/on a layover to be sure you can get the right amount of sleep when you really need it most. So I wake up at the crack of 2am Anchorage time and do the usual shuffle between watching tv or maybe some movies on Netflix. By the time morning comes, I head to Walmart at 6 am. I am in the market for the biggest gas BBQ I can find, and North America is much cheaper then Hong Kong. I find the one I want, but soon realize I grossly under estimated the size of the box. No way I can handle this thing with my usual load of a suitcase and flight bag. So I decide to put it on hold until the next trip and bring an empty large suitcase. I will unpack the box in the hotel and then repack it into something that rolls. Too bad I didn’t think of that a few days ago. I waste some time wandering around the near empty store and stumble onto a hiking book for the Anchorage Area. Perfect. Between my mountain bike and my hiking shoes, I hope to cover more then a few trails while I have the chance on these trips.

Back to the hotel to find myself tired after some breakfast. It’s raining still, and the local forecast calls for clearing skies in the afternoon. So what better time to get a few more hours sleep.

I wake up at 3pm and eagerly get ready to get on my mountain bike as some blue sky creeps through the hotel window. I read the trail guide for the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The trail starts in downtown Anchorage just a few minutes ride away from my hotel and leads all the way to Kincaid Park on the other side of Ted Stevens International Airport (PANC). It’s a 22 mile round trip that is sure to offer some great scenery and maybe a little wild life. The guide cautions for bear and moose encounters and offers the standard “what to do if” so I make sure to read that twice. As the trail leads me by the airport, I make sure to bring my camera’s in hopes of catching a few planes passing over top. The first few miles of the trail take me along the mud flats of Bootlegger Cove. The smell of the pine forrest the trail cuts through is reminiscent of Canada, and certainly nothing like the smells of Hong Kong. It is a crisp 12 degrees in Anchorage today, coupled with the humid air, I can see my breathe for the first time since last winter here, as I puff along the 11 mile trail. The first point of interest is Earthquake Park. In 1964 the largest earthquake in the history of North America (and second largest in worldwide recorded history) struck the Anchorage and surrounding areas. This park used to be home to residents of Anchorage, but after dropping almost 40 feet during the quake, it has since been turned into a park. After a few more miles I realize I am getting close to the airport. I do a quick lap to the end of the trail and then back to a great spotting location at the departure end of runway 33 at PANC. There is a 150 foot bluff just behind me over looking downtown Anchorage and Cook Inlet, a spectacular view for those willing to venture close to the edge.

As I park my bike, drink some water and get my camera’s out of my bag, I take a moment and smile as I realize I flew a 747, 4700 miles across the Pacific, then biked another 11 miles only to sit and watch planes takeoff and land. I used to skip class in University and do the same thing about 12 years ago in Winnipeg. Even while flying at Perimeter in Northern Manitoba, I would often run outside our passenger lounges to see the occasional C-46 or DC-3 takeoff after having dropped off a load of freight for one of the communities. So here I am sitting under the runway when after only a minute or two I hear the roar of four Pratt Whitney R-2800 Super Charged Radial engines lifting the 100,000 pound Douglas Airliner first built in 1946 into the sky. It’s a sound I have always loved. It’s a sound that reminds me of what my grandfather heard every time he pushed forward the throttles of his airliners of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s before entering the world of turbo props and jetliners. This particular DC-6 belongs to Everts Air Cargo. Everts specializes in cargo delivery to the most remote parts of Alaska (and the world) in some of the most vintage airplanes still flying today. There fleet includes DC-6’s, C-46’s and DC-9’s, among some newer turbo props they use on passenger runs. I have been in touch with the company and will hopefully have a jump seat ride or two arranged for my next visit at the end of the month. As the DC-6 disappears on the horizon, Fed Ex is next in line for departure. There MD-11 lifts off on the Anchorage 6 departure, which calls for a left turn 30 degrees at 600 feet. There is something very pretty about a heavy jet, gently banking in the evening sun as it heads for a part of the planet where English is foreign, the food is different, and the street signs confusing. Simple, but beautiful. The next departure is the one I have been waiting for. Cathay Pacific flight 074 (CX074) departing for Miami Florida. It is the continuation of the same flight I operated the day before from Hong Kong to Anchorage. I manage to get what I think (you can judge for yourself once I have uploaded the photo’s) are some very nice shots of our “Hong Kong Trader” Boeing 747-8F. It is much quieter then the older MD-11 it followed, as the General Electric GENx-67B engines are a much more modern design with a higher bypass ratio, thus reducing the noise.

For me, my evening at the departure end of runway 33 will not get much better then that. So I pack up my gear and head for Lake Hood Seaplane Base. Lake Hood, the world’s busiest seaplane aerodrome, is located immediately adjacent to Anchorage Airport. We share the airspace with the small float planes, as they often pass underneath us while we are on final approach to landing as they position for landing at Lake Hood. I pedal my bike past the two terminal buildings, around the corner to the first of several parking apron’s of Lake Hood. There is also a gravel strip which services the wheel aircraft here so there are plenty of bush planes to see. As I scan the ramp, I can see so many of the planes I have flown in the past. Cessna 152’s, 172’s, and 182’s. Cessna 185’s, there are even a metro or two on the other side of the fence. I stop and try and recount all the different planes I have been checked out on. Here is the list I could come up with:

Cessna 152

Cessna 172 (Land and Seaplane versions)

Cessna 177 RG

Cessna 182

Beechcraft Musketeer

Diamond DA-12

Piper Seneca

Cessna 414

Beechcraft King Air 100

Fairchild Metro’s (SW2, SW3, SW4, SW5)

Beechcraft 99

DeHavilland Dash 8

Diamond DA-42

and of course the Boeing 747 (-400, 400F, 400 BCF, 400 ERF, and -8F)

As I notice the Era Alaska Dash 8-100 takeoff, I realize that almost all of those airplanes I just listed can be found at this airport. I have recently started calling Anchorage “my home away from home, away from home” and this is another reason why!

Now I start pedaling again and head for the largest concentration of seaplanes in the world. I park my bike next to the 3 foot chain link fence and get lucky with my timing. There are two Dehavilland DHC-2 Beavers taxiing for takeoff, as well as a Cessna 185 (an aircraft I have a few hours of seaplane time in) and two Beaver’s on approach to land. Five planes will land and takeoff in the matter of a few minutes. Luck is on my side. I get some pictures and videos of the movements at Lake Hood. There is something romantic about float flying. I got my seaplane rating in the summer of 1999 while I was 16, and flew a total of about 50 hours mostly on a Cessna 172, and a few hours in a Cessna 185F. It is still the most fun I have had flying, even though I did little more then take the plane to a friends cottage and go fishing every other weekend for a summer. I guess the idea of landing anywhere there is water gives the typical seaplane pilot a huge sense of freedom that you just don’t get when you are forced to land on a runway that was built for planes. Lakes, rivers, inlets and the like weren’t built for anything, they are just there for seaplane pilots to use. To fish, to hunt, to canoe or mine, whatever the purpose, they are just there for enjoyment one way or another. As the evening rush at Lake Hood appears to be winding down, I snap one more picture of our 747-400 lifting off in the distance destined for New York. With that, I start pedaling the 11 miles back to the hotel. I really hope I can arrange that jump seat ride with Everts next trip, and I just may have to see about a ride in a seaplane for old times sake. A ride, into wild Alaska.

Fly Safe,

Jeremy

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New Post’s Coming


Good day to you all,

I am sitting here in Hong Kong paying attention to the weather.  We have a Tropical Storm a few hundred miles away so we have seen the sunshine and calm winds be replaced by showery weather and gusty, cloudy days.

 

I am looking at a busy month in August, 2 Anchorage trips, an LAX and Vancouver trip as well.  I am hoping to finalise a jump seat ride in a DC-9 Freighter in Anchorage next week into Northern Alaska.  I am also trying to arrange some time getting recurrent on floats this month in ANC as well.  So between these two potential adventures, I am hoping to have another blog post soon.

I am also working on some older stories from my days flying in Canada at Perimeter Aviation.

More to come soon!

Fly Safe,

JG

Chiming in on the Asiana Flight 214


Well yesterday was a sad day for many as we all heard news of the crash in SFO.  The first wind that blew my way about the accident was over Japanese Airspace at about 3:30am Hong Kong time.  I had departed Hong Kong just prior to midnight, and was lucky enough to have first rest on our freighter trip to Anchorage.  After a few hours of slumber in the bunk I jumped in the left hand seat to take over for the Captain who was now headed for a snooze.  The first officer briefed me as per the usual on the aircraft, and flight to bring me up to speed.  The next thing I know, Singapore Cargo Flight 2 was getting a re-route via Tokyo ATC.  I didn’t think much of that until later in the flight when we first looked at the ATIS for Anchorage.  “Ground stop in effect for all San Francisco departures”.  It’s 2013 so the first thing that crosses my mind is terrorism, followed quickly of course by, an accident.  It must be something major for a ground stop.  Although a brief check of the SFO weather confirms that fog/foul weather is not to blame.  So we pull up the SFO ATIS via the onboard ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) and discover that there are runway closures, and taxiway closures, much more then usual.  Having been to SFO just the day before, it seems obvious that something is wrong.  Maybe a disabled aircraft?  

 

Turns out the aircraft was much more then disabled.  When we got out of the aircraft in Anchorage, we soon rallied around our customs officer’s computer to see the news.  A crash.  A bad one by the looks of it.  Initial reports suggested an emergency prior to landing.  But after a quick search online upon reaching the hotel, it appears the accident WAS the landing.  A coworker had a link to the audio tapes and it appears nothing is wrong until the final seconds.  

 

Opinion time.  The weather, good.  The airplane, also appears to be fully functional.  What I do know 9again from having visited SFO the day before in our 747-400) is that Runway 28L had many closures to some of it’s normal navigation aids.  The Glide Path for Runway 28L was off the air, and approach lighting was also unserviceable.  

 

One way or the other, I believe that these two items, specifically the ILS glide path, will be found to have contributed to the accident.  There are other methods for vertical guidance in this situation, like a LOC/VNAV approach.  Where the aircraft uses the lateral guidance as received from a ground transmitter to direct it laterally to the runway centreline, but uses onboard navigation sources to determine the vertical path.  On a good weather day such as yesterday at the time of the accident, the operational difference would be little to none.  There are certain steps that must occur in the programming of this type of approach that would be different, and could ultimately lead to a mistake if it was something that the crew was not used to.  

 

There are also reports of the aircraft being too slow prior to impact.  What I do know of the 777 is that is is normally flown with the autothrottle engaged, whether or not the autopilot is flying.  So if a pilot has disconnected the autopilot to “hand fly” the autothrottle computer stays engaged and controls the speed.  Perhaps this was not functioning properly on Asiana flight 214, or perhaps as a result of improper programming of the approach, and being too high (also reports of being too high on the approach) the pilots elected to intervene and disengage the auto throttle (non standard).  

 

Like we see in many accidents, there are usually a chain of events that occur to lead to something like this.  If those things occur in a short period of time, they are also more likely to lead to an accident or incident.  

 

So my quick analysis is as follows.  

 

Routine services were not available for landing on 28L, which led to a “infrequently used” LOC/VNAV approach method for the crew.  The potential unfamiliarity with such an approach could have led to the mismanagement of the approach.  This mismanagement appears to have resulted in a speed issue – perhaps from being too high on the approach, which led to the crew disengaging the auto throttle.  This removed any speed protection offered form the onboard computers and resulted in a slow airspeed/low altitude situation. Too high, disengage the A/T and cut he power and push the nose down.  Perhaps too much so to overcorrect the high on the profile situation.  There was not enough time to recover properly from this and the resulting impact just short of the runway occurred.

 

 

Again, this is just my two cents, and will very likely be proven wrong.  Just hoping to open up some potential discussion amongst anyone who reads this (aviation experts or otherwise) as quite often an education can come from such discussions.  

 

Fly Safe

 

The Things You Miss


Here I am yet again sitting in an airplane crossing the Pacific. Sapporo Japan to our left, Russia to the right, and Hong Kong ahead. Unlike the last year and a half of these crossings, today I am riding as a passenger. Seat 50H (thanks for the emergency exit row to the Air Canada gate agent in Vancouver) on board a 777-300ER. Not Cathay Pacific, our flight was too full. But rather Air Canada. Appropriate I figure, as I am on the return leg of my first trip back to Canada in almost 20 months.

It’s a long time to be away from something you know so well. And it’s a long time to be away from so many people you love so much. That is what this trip was about for my wife and I. We got married before I left for initial training in Adelaide Australia, in a small ceremony in my parents living room. Just a few family was there. So this trip meant a lot to us both, to get to spend some time with those loved ones who weren’t there that day.

Before leaving on the trip I had many mixed emotions. The easiest one to explain would be sadness over leaving my two young dogs at home (well looked after I might add) as this would be the longest we would leave them to date. Of course the next emotion was excitement. Mostly to see my grandmother. With her age (95), this trip would mean a lot to my wife and I. So far her health hasn’t failed her, and the way she is going she will be around for a while yet. But she was still by far, top on my list. We had many other relatives to visit, and stay with. Some of which my wife hasn’t met in person yet. This led to creeping feelings of not wanting to go at all, too much to do in such a short time. Why not just stay home? We would never obviously, and as things would turn out, the zig zagging trip across Canada would prove among the most rewarding of my life.

So off we went to Canada. After a long night of flying from Paris to Hong Kong for me, I arrived at home to finish some laundry and packing. We took our dogs to our courtyard for a play (and a cold beer for my wife and I) before heading to the airport. The local shop near our house that sells the beer is run by a family that has a young boy (7 or 8 maybe). He is our unofficial Cantonese tutor, and has been friendly with us and our dogs for a while. This time we are in for a nice treat. He has convinced his mother to invite us in for dinner. With only a little English from the boy, we aren’t quite sure what we are getting into, but my wife and I enter their home with a smile on our face. The mother points to the chair and hands us a plate. First on the menu? Duck feet. Okay, what the hell. We start chewing and gnawing at this mix of skin and cartilage (literally nothing else). It doesn’t taste that bad, but there is not much to digest. The family smiles when I say “ho may do” (delicious in Cantonese), they clearly can tell I am being polite. Next up, some fresh clams from our Silvermine Bay. Garlic, spring onion, steamed to perfection. I can’t slide enough of these slippery little guys into my mouth. But as we finish our beer, and our meal, it’s time to get into the shower and head to the airport. As we collect our now exhausted puppies, and head for home, we decide that we will bring this family a gift from Canada on our return.

The usual ensues next, say goodbye to the dogs, taxi to the airport and check in for the full flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. We get a seat but not together, less then ideal, but a seat nonetheless. A few hours into the flight my wife taps my head to wake me and invites me to the back of the plane to chat. We kill an hour and a half doing that, then back to the seats. Halfway across the Pacific now I can feel the excitement building. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone. As the flight comes to an end, we approach Vancouver and my first “forgotten gem” if you will, about Canada. It’s about 9pm local time, and the sun is still out in BC. In Hong Kong the sun is gone by around 7pm almost everyday of the year. I forgot what it was like to see the late twilight of the north. After collecting our bags and checking in for our connecting flight, we are off to Calgary. We order a few Molson Canadian beers for the short flight across the rockies. Starting to feel Canadian again. Landing there at about 130am, we are met by my uncle in law. We always have a good time in Calgary, and the next two days are no exception. Joining up with my wife’s great Aunt next, we tour Canmore and have dinner in Banff before a quick sleep and off to Winnipeg for my grandmother’s 95th birthday surprise party. It goes off without a hitch and the old gal was as shocked as ever. All but two cousins made the trip, so it was nice to have near the entire family with her that day. Next order of business the following morning is to help my in laws pack up the last of the boxes as the movers show up to complete the move from their Winnipeg home. They have officially moved to the lake where they own and operate a general store. After some dinner with my brother in law, the four of us head out to Clear Lake. I get another rush of Canadiana as I sip my Tim Horton’s coffee while cruising the Trans Canada Highway. The first thing I smell getting out of the car is something I haven’t experienced for a while, the smell of Canadian wilderness. Pine trees, a breeze off the lake carries the smell of the water, and of course, outboard motor exhaust. It’s a nice feeling breathing it all in again. In no time the next morning I am behind the deli counter slicing and pricing cold cuts at the store. Some baking, and butcher shop duties round out my experience there. I must say if I wasn’t a pilot, running a general store (despite the long hard hours) is very rewarding and would make a great career. After working at the shop everyday I take a swim in the lake to cool off before dinner. I am feeling more and more Canadian. We can’t stay at the lake for very long though as we have to drive back into Winnipeg for my cousins wedding after 3 days in cottage country. A great night the wedding was, and another great chance to catch up with some relatives. When the bar closes, we head back to my parents house for another short sleep before hitting the highway for Saskatoon in the morning. Three sets of grandparents to visit over the next few days. Twenty four hours in Saskatoon, then off to Jackfish lake where another set of grandparents await. We spend time visiting and catching up, and make some time to visit the local golf course where the owner keeps his Cessna 185 on floats in a hangar. A bush plane? That I used to fly? Now I am REALLY back in Canada. After another couple of nights back in Saskatoon with the final set of grandparents, we are headed for Regina, where my wife’s Aunt, Uncle, and cousins await. This will be my last stop of the trip before jumping on Air Canada to Vancouver, and then Hong Kong. As we did in all of our other stops, we spend the days visiting the family, doing a little shopping, and the nights grilling on the cue outside and drinking cold Canadian beer. I miss Canadian beer. The beer in Hong Kong is cheap, but it just isn’t the same.

Along the way we have made a few purchases for our home in Hong Kong that we think will remind us of Canada. Molson Canadian beach towels, a Saskatchewan Rough Riders flag, a Trans Canada Highway sign, and several others that will be a daily reminder of what this trip was. A great time with great family, in a great country. I must say looking back on the trip, every moment of it was special. Almost every day someone would ask us what we miss the most. The answer is simple. The people that made Canada our home for so many years. Moms, Dads, Sisters, Brothers, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, and cousins. Canada is great, it always will be. The smells, the prairie skies, the northern lights. But those won’t be the things I remember when I’m sitting on my rooftop in Hong Kong. It will be the people that I experienced those things with. They are, and will always be what count the most. Otherwise the rest is meaningless. We spent 18 days, in 9 different homes, with 47 different relatives, a wedding, a 95th birthday, and a shit load of Canadian beer. And despite the short nights, and long days, it was worth every minute.

With that, I am excited to be home with my dogs in a few more hours. My wife will join me at home in Hong Kong after a few more days of time with her parents at the store. I have to work 2 trips back to back (San Francisco and Anchorage) the first of which will be my annual line check. So a few days of reviewing the study notes I prepared back in April and I should be up to speed for the check. Then with the next two weeks off after those trips, it’s off to Kata Beach in Phuket Thailand with my wife to refresh after a busy trip to Canada.

More posts/story telling to come. Stay tuned and fly safe.

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A Whirlwind 5 Days


A simple Friday morning. I am sitting in the dining room, having enjoyed breakfast with my wife. The dogs are slowly waking up and we are messaging our Canadian friends who have recently moved into our village on Lantau Island. It’s hot in Hong Kong. Barely 10am and its already well above 30 degrees, approaching 40 in fact with the humidity. I love it. The quiet morning with my wife, my dogs, the heat, I love all of it.

Brandon and Carrie to no surprise suggest we head to the water fall to help with the heat. We were there the day before in fact, dogs swimming, adults chatting, tanning, and enjoying a cold cocktail or two. We have had a lot of heavy thunderstorms this spring, so the waterfall is in full flow, and all the pools beneath it are full. Perfect for us, and the dogs.

Before we go, I decide to take a quick look at my online schedule. I was to start a reserve block of six days the next morning. When I opened my schedule, I see I have a notification. There must be a trip. Another Anchorage freighter I assume (it is where our 747’s are most used with a Second Officer like myself). But no. It’s a trip that for an SO is as rare as they get. I am to passenger to Mumbai (formerly Bombay, and still coded ad “BOM” on our schedule) on Saturday night. After a 30 hour stay, I will operate a 747-400ERF freighter to Paris. Once there, catch out 777-300ER flight back to Hong Kong in the comfort of business class.

I suppose most of my excitement, despite this being a change from the routine, was that I was going to India, a place I have long wanted to visit, but have yet had the chance. I love Indian food (most food in fact, as was evident at the weigh in during my last medical – fitness training has commenced). But I have a few friends who have visited and really enjoyed the experience. “Eye opening” was a common description of others trips to the sub continent.

So to the waterfall we go. Excited to tell my friends of my trip, and looking forward to cooling off. I soon realize that not only is the trip going to be exciting and new, it is also going to be quite easy. Four day pattern, and I only operate one 8 hour 30 minute flight, wile the rest of my globe trotting will be done in the comfort of business class.

We enjoy our afternoon at the waterfall, and meet some friends, mostly all Scottish, in Hong Kong for dinner that night. Again excited to tell them of my trip the next day, I soon meet a friend of a friend who highly recommends a seafood restaurant in Mumbai. So, “Trishna” is now on my list of to do’s on my short layover.

Saturday afternoon brings another few hours at the waterfall and a beachside lunch with the my wife and Canadian friends. I leave the group before they are done a few more glasses of Sangria to pack and leave for work. To those wondering, despite being just a passenger on the flight, we are under the same rules for drinking before flying, so it was water for me at lunch.

I get to work with about 30 minutes to kill before I check in. I google a few quick things about the area surrounding the hotel, and come up with a plan for the day. As we arrive around midnight Mumbai time, it will be straight to sleep. Wake up, breakfast (probably in the hotel) then spend some time at the pool before heading into downtown Mumbai mid afternoon for some sightseeing and dinner.

Once we get to the plane, I am PX’ing (riding as a passenger on our own flight) with three other pilots. No one booked in first class for this flight, so the cabin crew offer it to us, so we have our own private 9 seat (actually called suites in Cathay First Class) cabin in the nose of the 747. Full service from our lovely crew, soup, fresh bread, I choose the vegetable curry dish to keep with the theme of my Indian weekend. I fall asleep towards the end of a movie, and before I know it, the quick 5 hour flight is over.

The drive to the hotel was the first glimpse of India. In a word, extreme. There is some extreme wealth, and unfortunately, much more extreme poverty. People sleeping on the sidewalks, slums around almost every corner. Dimly lit fruit and snack stands offering what most need in India, a light snack and a cold drink to deal with the heat. Despite it being after midnight at this point it is still well above 30. When we arrive at the hotel, a truly palatial entrance complete with security checking under our crew bus, and all around, I soon realize this is one of our nicer crew hotels. The security of course is a welcome sight, as India is frequented by terrorism and violent crimes. Check in and to the room. More then adequate. Larger bathroom, queen size bed, and a great view of the Indian Ocean and pool.

I wake up around 6 am, and play around on my phone as I do for a while. Fall back asleep (kind of) but by 830 I decide the hotel buffet breakfast is in order (as it comes highly recommended by other crew). Breads, pastries, eggs to order, bacon, sausages, potatoes, enough fruit to start a farm, yoghurt, juices, coffee, espresso. There is literally nothing missing. The price, 350 rupees, about 6 dollars US. The service (despite it being a buffet) is remarkable, and I soon realize that India is known for service in these high end hotels. I meet up with a First Officer (also a Canadian, from Toronto – who actually used to work for my uncle at Sky Service) and he recommends the same seafood restaurant my friends did two nights before. He was there last week and really enjoyed it. He also gives me a tip that our hotel has a free car service to its sister hotel, just a short 15 minute walk to Trishna for dinner. So after breakfast I book my car for the afternoon. About an hour drive they tell me, but I am sure to see a lot of Mumbai and its surrounding suburbs.

To the pool, swim, tan, hydrate, repeat. With of course a peach iced tea (again no alcohol as I am starting duty around 2 am that night) and a foot massage from the “pool menu”. The foot massage was performed by a blind man. Another first on this trip for me. I also keep in touch with my wife and friends, as the wifi by the pool is strong. I also check my online schedule to see if I have any changes (common when operating freighters) and discover that once I land in Paris, I will no longer be headed for Hong Kong, but in fact taking British Airways to London where I will enjoy another day off, before flying back (as operating crew) to Hong Kong. I send a note to my childhood friend who lives near our hotel in London, and make plans for dinner.

Once i realize I am soon running our of sunscreen in the intense Indian sun, I head to the room to clean up and get ready for my evening in downtown Mumbai.

The driver picked me up at the front door to the hotel, white glove service with refreshments and a local paper to keep me busy on the one hour ride. I am too fascinated with the world outside to pick up the news paper though. We pass rich areas and poor areas, beaches, a mosque that is set in the middle of a bay and can only be reached during low tide. We also pass a building that is the world’s most expensive private real estate. Two billion US the driver tells me, 28 stories with a helipad on the roof. All for one man, his wife, two kids, and mother in law. The last few blocks to the hotel are some of the wildest traffic I have seen in quite some time. People and cars moving in every direction, and even a few horses.

Once let off at the hotel, I take a deep breathe and head into the crowd. The hotel is right next to one of Mumbai’s well known monuments, the Gateway to India. The crowd surrounding the monument is dense to say the least. I see a woman with her baby on the sidewalk, she points at her baby and gestures to put food in her mouth. I know what she is saying, she needs to feed her baby. But what I also know from doing a quick scan of the crowd, is that there are dozens more like her, and if I offer even a dollar to them all, I would soon be out of money. I move into the monument area, having walked by another woman with her baby. Accept she isn’t holding her baby, she is working the crowd in a small circle around her completely naked child sitting bare on the concrete behind her. I am at a loss for words. I reluctantly decide that I simply don’t have enough for everyone. I complete a lap around the monument, however I can’t get more then a few meters before being hustled by someone to by whatever they are pushing. One man, offers to take my picture in front of the 85 foot 100 year old monument. No thanks. How about a post card he insists. No thank you. Maps, you must need a map. No thanks, the hotel gave me one. Weed? You want some grass? I start to laugh (as I was not expecting that) and say “not day my friend.” Not today, of course, is a common expression in North America and elsewhere, but apparently not in India, as the man looked at me and said, “ok great, come back tomorrow.” I smiled and continued on my way.

Another man hustles me to by his drum, after he followed me for about 20 minutes, I turn and offer him 10 dollars (he was asking 50) and say take it or leave it. Of course he took it, so now not only am I the only western guy in the crowd, no I am the only western guy carrying a drum aka a huge target for everyone else. The next hour was more or less a war. I couldn’t escape the hustling. One man offered to show me where my restaurant was, but only if I visited his friends shop. I did of course and found a silk/cashmere pashmina for my wife, and was again on my way. I walk by another store, and feel the cold rush of the air conditioning burst from the doorway. I decide it looks as good as place as any to escape the heat, as I still had 30 minutes until my dinner reservation. I find a nice set of brass, Indian made cheese knives. As I wait in line at the cash, I see soaps, to which I think, how appropriate to bring home soap from one of the most polluted countries I have visited.

Dinner time. As warned the waiters know the restaurant is highly acclaimed, and thus think they must be as well. Despite there “lack of give a shit” I have some spring rolls, and garlic ginger prawns. Oh, of course I had naan bread as well. Overall, a very tasty meal, and I would go back if in downtown Mumbai again.

Back to the hotel by 9 pm for a quick 4 hour nap before heading back to the airport and off to Paris. I was particularly looking forward to the flight, as our routing brought us from one end of Iraq, through to the other. Transiting nearly the entire conflict stricken country. When lining up to takeoff on runway 27, it is obvious where the neighboring slums have been relocated to make room for a runway extension project. And when I say neighboring, I mean if the window opened in the 747, I could throw a baseball 5 shacks deep. Once airborne we almost immediately find ourselves over the Indian Ocean, our setting for the first two hours of the journey this morning. A few air mass thunderstorms to avid, but nothing too big to sweat over. Soon we are talking to Muscat control in Oman, and the Persian coast is glowing on the horizon. Muscat to the left, Karachi Pakistan off to the right. It’s important to keep aware of the closest airports, if an emergency takes place, the first thing we do once it has been handled as per the check list, is consider diverting. Thankfully no emergencies to deal with this morning. It’s 430am over Dubai, and the Burj Kahlifa is visible from 50 miles away as the tallest building in the world stands out, even from 33,000 feet. Once talking to UAE control, having been handed off from Muscat, I am greeted with an American voice working the skies. To busy to ask him where he is from, but like me, he is living a long way from home.

Dubai is of course home to Emirates airlines, and we see the fleet climbing up all around us like a squadron off on a bombing mission. Something this part of the world has seen plenty of, however today their mission is delivering 300 passengers at a time to all corners of the world. We soon meet up with a slower 777 and wonder if their on board wifi would reach us 2000 feet below him. We will ask for the password next time. Bahrain is the next airspace we transit, but it only lasts for a few minutes as the country is barely bigger then some large cities. Same goes for Kuwait, and then it’s into Iraq. Not that long ago, and pilot flying where we were that morning, probably had a letter to his loved ones in his pocket in case he/she was shot down. Today I just have my iPhone. Ready to take pictures. It’s over Iraq that the Captain and I begin an early morning discussion about how so much of this earth looks the same from the air. Iraqi desert? Could be Texas, could be Mongolia, could be Sahara. If it’s not that different from up here, how can it be so different a few miles below us?

Once exiting Iraq airspace, it’s into Turkey. It’s here I tell my Captain how my mother in law was given some “turkish towels” by her sister in law after a trip there. And how she now features them in her grocery store in their summer lake community back in Canada. Don’t ask me what a Turkish Towel is, but while I stare down at this muslim nation, those towels are on a cabinet for sale in Clear Lake Manitoba on the other side of the planet in my in laws store.

Time for my rest, 3 pilots break up the flight, so I have worked the first two thirds and can stretch my legs in the bunk for the last two and a half hours or so before landing in Paris. I wake up around 20,000 feet on our approach to Paris, enjoy a quick piece of birthday cake (the first officer was celebrating his birthday) and hop back into the seat. We touch down a little before 9am in the French capital and park at the far end of the airport on the cargo ramp. We set the brake next to an old Lockheed 10-11 Tristar, that I’m told has been sitting in Paris for a number of years with unpaid bills. It’s obvious it hasn’t moved in a while, it could use a bath.

I part ways with the crew, two gentlemen that made the morning fly by (literally). Off to terminal 2A where I catch British Airways flight 309 to Heathrow. It’s an Airbus 320, the smallest plane I have been on in almost two years. Times sure have changed for me. Land in London, clear customs, and hop on the tube conveniently at Heathrow’s terminal 5. The Picadily Line takes me from the airport to Hammersmith station, across the street from our hotel in under 30 minutes. It’s a nice day in the the UK, so I take the time to enjoy the passing scenery and listen to some Led Zeppelin. I was in this hotel just last week, so familiar with the area I am. I decide that as it is 2 pm, I will relax in my room until the evening until I meet my friend.

Ginny lived down the street from me in Winnipeg with her tow sisters. Her parents and mine have been friends for years, her dad and I sharing many golf carts over the years as well. We go to a nice Italian spot near her house and catch up on our mutual friends, her new niece, and whether or not we get home sick. It was nice to criss cross the globe and find a friend at the other end. We part ways until my next London trip and I head back to the hotel for some sleep.
Another buffet breakfast in the morning (nice, but not Mumbai nice). Shower, pack and back to the airport.

While waiting to take off I manage to snap a pic of an Air India 787, the wing flew on this machine is quite impressive. The flight from London to Hong Kong was as routine as can be, little to no thunderstorms to deal with, and a nice tailwind almost all the way home. The rising sun near Chengdu China does light up some thunderstorms in remarkable colours, thankfully a few miles off our track. Eleven hours later, we are at the gate in hot humid Hong Kong. My dogs and wife awaits, and perhaps another day at the waterfall.

It’s good to be back.

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