Where does it end?


So its been a busy few weeks since I was a part of jethead’s interview and podcast. I have just finished my line check with my new airline and can start to settle into the routine of flying the 747. There has been something I have wanted to write about for several weeks now, which I unfortunately had to put on the back burner until the check was out of the way. So here it is. I recently read an article online (linked below) about a Boeing test plane powered by Hydrogen. Have a quick read.

http://m.futureoftech.msnbc.msn.com/technology/futureoftech/boeings-hydrogen-powered-drone-makes-first-flight-814727

When I read this the first question that came to mind was, where will technology take us by the time I retire? Then I asked, how far have we come since my grandfather took to the skies in the 1930’s?

The first airplane my grandfather flew for Trans Canada Airlines in 1937 was the Lockheed 10A Electra. It weighed a mere 12,500 pounds. The same airplane Amelia Earhart attempted to fly around the world in. It held 10 passengers and could fly for no more then a couple hours at barely 150 miles per hour. I recall my grandmother telling me several times it used to take him a day to fly to Toronto from Winnipeg, with three fuel stops in Northern Ontario. A day to rest, and another day to fly home. Ironically I am on the same type of patters today, except I am traveling from South East Asia to Europe.

The equipment in these old piston airliners of the 30’s was not much more then a morse code signal being broadcast with poor range, and based on the letter you heard, you would know which side of the intended airway you were on. When my grandfather retired in the jet age he was flying the classic Douglas DC-9. He was able to fly to Toronto in the morning and be home for lunch. With much better equipment on board.

My dad entered the airline world on the first turboprop aircraft ever put into airline service, the Vickers Viscount. For it’s day, a terrific airplane with good range, carrying 44 passengers and great engines in the Rolls Royce “Dart”. The viscount flew about 275 miles an hour. The equipment was more modern, cockpits remained cluttered with hundreds of guages. But fast forward 40 years and retire on the 747-400. Glass cockpit, ultra long haul range with 400 plus people weighing 875,000 pounds.

Today I fly the same plane, as our airline approaches retiring this fleet that is almost 25 years old. I think, if all we have done is get bigger, and fly further and faster, what will I retire on? Safe to say The world is much different then it was. We seem to be shifting away from “bigger is better” (despite the advent of the super jumbo A380). The majority of aircraft orders are for twin engine fuel efficient aircraft with excellent range.

That’s where the article caught my attention. Hydrogen powered aircraft. The exhaust of which is water vapour. When you stop and think about this, its truly unbelievable. The list is long of the damages vehicle exhaust has done to our planet and our atmosphere. But imagine a world where the biggest concern vehicle exhaust is higher relative humidity! Now I am sure the environmental effects of that much water vapour being poured into our atmosphere are huge, and I’m also sure people smarter then me have been researching this for years now.

When I look back again at what my grandfather flew in the 30’s and where aviation was then, it was more or less a time when a jet engine was still an idea. It wasn’t until the German’s in late WW2 finally flew a jet powered aircraft. So if my grandfather lived through all of those technological changes, what will I live through? It is a very interesting thing to consider, that perhaps my last flight will be in an airplane that will only leave a trail of water vapour behind it.

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Like Father Like Son


Normally when the phone rang and I saw it was my Operations Manager at Perimeter Aviation, I usually debated answering the phone. Was I in trouble? Can’t think of anything I’ve done lately to piss management off. All kidding aside a call from the Ops Manager was usually related to something unusual at work. An incident that needed follow up, a charter that needed discussing before it departed to somewhere other then the usual destinations. Today was no different, something unusual. My Ops Manager called and asked if I could do a non revenue trip to God’s River Manitoba and take our “jack of all trades” Derek up to transfer fuel from our holding tank, to our pumping tank. Of course I was fine with that, I enjoyed flights that broke up the routine of the scheduled service we provided to 20 some destinations in Northern Manitoba. However there was an extra request from management that day, would I mind flying alone? We were short first officers at the time, so I wasn’t overly surprised by the request. However without hesitation I asked if I could bring my own first officer. Trevor knew who I meant and was the kind of manager that despite a grey area in the rules regarding this one, knew it was a great opportunity for a family of pilots to do something special.

So the next morning in the frigid February that Manitoba is known for (-40 this particular morning) I went to work with my dad. Kind of like take your kid to work day, but the exact opposite. I did the usual flight planning and talked to Derek to see how much gear he had to take with us. Then my dad and I got the heaters out to the plane and started to warm the frozen Merlin up. We were flying a long bodied merlin to be precise, configured for Cargo with a few jump seats in it. So there was more then enough room for the three of us and a few hundred pounds of cargo, as well as fuel for the return home, something that was rare, and a nice treat to not have to refuel the plane up north where it was even colder.

I asked my dad what he wanted to do, fly, work the radios, a bit of both. So we decided that I would takeoff and he would handle the radios out of Winnipeg (an airport he spent 20 years flying from for Air Canada). We were operating under my charter number, Perimeter 947 (all of our charter numbers started with 9, i chose 47 for obvious reason, my lifelong dream to fly the 747).

When we got airborne my dad out of 40 years of habit contacted departure as “Air Canada 947”. I guess when you start every radio call for a 40 year career with “Air Canada” it’s tough not to say it when your finger keys the mic for the first time in a while.

My dad took control for a bit in cruise, and despite complaining about the noise (the merlin is one of the louder turboprops around, and much louder then the passenger friendly 747 he flew last) we were having more fun than I thought possible. We were both smiling from ear to ear. The weather in God’s River was overcast at a few thousand feet, so nothing more then descending to a 25 mile safe altitude and joining the circuit would be required for our arrival.

My dad again doing the radio work in the uncontrolled environment of northern Manitoba, struggled between Air Canada and Perimeter. I had been a Captain for more then a year at this point on the metro/merlin fleet, so I was comfortable in my chances to show my dad my skills landing this plane. The runway had a light dusting of snow, which helps in creating a cushioning effect when touching down. I saw there was a couple of knots crosswind from the left, and managed to gently touch the left main wheel, followed by the right, holding the nose off while I applied reverse thrust to help slow down, and around 70 knots, gently letting the nose wheel onto the snow covered grave runway. My dad and I were still smiling.

We helped Derek with the fuel for a while, and had a laugh that our two tank years supply for gas in God’s River was about 3/4’s of what the 747 held with full fuel tanks. We have up to 5 airplanes a day take fuel from these tanks, albeit a couple hundred liters at a time. But it was still interesting to figure that a years supply of fuel for a our fleet was barely enough for a 747 to cross the pacific.

After some hot chocolate and a quick warm up in the terminal building the three of us set for Winnipeg. My dad and I decided he could land when we got home, landing a turboprop is something he hadn’t done since 1967. Having never flown a metro/merlin before, it can be a handful. But to no surprise, and only after letting my dad know the flap and gear speeds, he did a better job then most of the FO’s I fly with who have been flying that plane for a year or more. I guess hands and feet don’t forget how to fly, and 40 years of practice sure helps. He looked at me and said “that sure was fun.”

This was a flight that I will never forget, it was something my dad or uncle never got to do, fly with there dad, so I know how special it was for our family. I am sure I will never fly with a First Officer again that has the experience mine did that day. If I learned anything from that flight, it’s the importance of taking something memorable or fun from every flight. It doesn’t have to be once in a lifetime event like this particular day, but as long as I can walk off a flight and think, “that sure was fun” I know I will have a good career.

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The Last of Something Great


I remember dressing up for Hallowe’en when I was younger, it was almost always as a pilot. Whether I would wear my dad’s old uniform, my grandfather’s old leather flying helmet from his open cockpit bi-plane flying of the 30’s, it was usually something to do with flying.

Well this past Hallowe’en, 2011, like usual, I dressed up as a pilot. Because I had to go to work. This day of northern bush flying in my Fairchild Metro was going to be my last. I had given my two weeks notice, landed (excuse the pun) that dream job overseas, and in 6 short days, I would be leaving Canada for what my wife and I are planning to be a very long time. (Of course we will come home to visit, but we are starting a new life in Hong Kong from this point on).

I put on my uniform for the last time at Perimeter Aviation, my home airline like it were my home team in Hockey. When I became a Captain when I was 25 my grandmother at the young age of 89 years young, gave me a gift. They were the captains epaulettes that my grandfather wore on his retirement flight after a 30 year career at Trans canada Airlines (became Air Canada). They had been sitting in a dresser for about 40 years,waiting for someone else to take the honor and privilage of wearing these bars. He put those 4 bars on each shoulder that morning of December 8th, 1968, just as I was the morning of October 31st 2011. I wondered to myself when I would put them on again. Chances are at Cathay Pacific I would become a Captain again within 10-15 years of joining the airline, so these were among the first things I packed when I loaded my bags with my belongings for a new life in Asia. With the promise to myself that when I once again make Captain at my new airline, I would put those old worn out bars on my shoulder again.

The morning trip was an uneventful, routine round trip to Northern Manitoba. Good weather, flying with a First Officer who was very good at his job, which makes mine much easier. My old bosses at Perimeter were among the best I’ve had. They gave me my choice of flights for that day, knowing I would want to make it as memorable as possible. So I chose an easy run to the north in the morning, but for the evening I chose the courier run to Brandon and Dauphin. About a 2 hour round trip, it was the best flight to bring people along. So, with very little argument from my boss, I had a seat reserved for my mom, dad, mother in law, and beautiful wife. Shawna (a great chef) made picnic sandwiches and salads for everyone (including our regular passengers, the ones I wasn’t related too) and even packed a 6 pack of personal bottles of Champagne. Obviously we saved mine for after the flight.

The flight was memorable to say the least. My dad was plugged in to the cockpit intercom with my sisters headset, so we could chat the whole flight. The second leg of the trip took us right over Shawna’s family cottage, where we spent a lot of time in the summers. So clearly I needed to “buzz” the property at a few hundred feet and 300 miles an hour. After all, when would I ever get the chance to do that again?

We landed back in Winnipeg, with what I would call one of my better landings. I felt like I needed to impress my family you see, so I tried awfully hard to make that landing a nice one. My dad was emotional, and so was my sister who landed a few minutes after me on her flight from Northern Manitoba. But everyone was happy. Especially me. My 6 years at Perimeter taught me countless lessons on how to be a better pilot. It gave me over 4000 hours of valuable experience which got me to where I wanted to go, my dream job in Hong Kong. I sat in those airplanes on the hottest of summer days, and the absolute coldest of winter nights. The hottest my cabin air temperature ever reached was +46C on the ramp before we could start the engines, while the coldest temperature I ever flew into was -56C with the windchill on the coast of Hudson’s Bay in February. But I left there with no regrets, and the fondest of memories. What has happened since that day has been an amazing journey, that will only continue as we live our new lives in South East Asia, I can only guess what will happen next.

One thing I do know, I was lucky to have those 6 years in Northern Manitoba. Great people, and great memories.

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The Jumbo Dream


As long as I can remember, I have wanted to fly. It seems obvious coming from a family with as many pilots as we have. Dad, Uncle, Cousin, Grandfather, great Uncle, my mother and two of her sisters were Flight Attendants, and of course my sister and I. I am convinced growing up in that family gave me an introduction to flying that I may not have otherwise had, but I fell in love with flying on my own terms.

When my dad received word from the bosses at Air Canada that he would begin training on the brand new 747-400, he was excited to say the least. At the time it was the world’s largest passenger airplane ever built. It was a newer, more technologically advanced, and efficient update of the original 747 built in the late 1960’s. And my dad was going to be a Captain on it. He was so excited that when Air Canada took delivery of their first 747-400, my dad took me out of grade 5 for the day to show me what his new office looked like. By this age of course I was well on my way to being an aviation nerd. Models, books, home made airports, I basically spent most of my spare time learning about and playing with airplanes.

So when we arrived in Toronto my dad took me to the hangar that barely fit this giant of an airplane. We walked up what seemed like dozens of steps from the hangar floor to the upper deck. My dad led me all the way to the front and showed me the cockpit. A bunch of blank screens (part of what was then new design glass cockpit technology, replacing dozens of old dials with one screen). I sat in awe that my dad was going to control this monster, full of people and cargo everyday. The wing tip was 2 feet taller then I stood. I just couldn’t understand it. What I remember most about that day was my dad opening the emergency escape hatch in the roof of the cockpit, some 35 feet in the air, propping me on his shoulders and letting me look out. Being afraid of heights has never affected me in a plane, but this was a little different. It was a long way up for a short 10 year old boy. I walked away from that day with a dream that grew every time my dad took me for a ride on that huge jet all over the world for the next 10 years until he retired. I wanted to fly it.

Shortly after my dad retired in 2002, Air Canada sold all of it’s 747’s, and I thought, well so much for that dream. But after a series of events (to be described soon in another post) I found myself moving to China to work for an airline that had almost 50 of these now old mammoths of an airplane. Not knowing what fleet I would be assigned to for the first two months of training merely added to the excitement I felt when I found out in February of 2012 that I would be taking over where my dad left off. Flying a 747-400. I couldn’t holdback the excitement and had to call my dad from Australia even though it was 2 am back home. He didn’t care. He was just as excited as he was back in 1992 when he found out he would get to fly the world’s most recognizable airliner ever built. Maybe even more excited. It has been a long 20 years of dreaming, but this is one dream that finally came true.

I can’t imagine what the next 20 years will bring in my aviation career. But I’m not going to stop dreaming.

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Its All in the Shoes


I’ve heard before you can tell a lot by the shoes someone is wearing. I guess in a lot of ways that is completely true. But in some ways, its total horse shit. Let me explain.

Fourteen months ago, someone making a judgement on me at the line up in Tim Hortons for my morning coffee based on my shoes would have seen this. They would have seen a pair of winter boots that were coming to the end of their 6 and final winter. They had scuffs on them from baggage carts, stains on them from de icing fluid and jet fuel, and even some glue on a recurring eye that needed re-attaching so I could keep my boots tied. On long days walking back from refueling the airplane, or unloading 3000 pounds of cargo, I would often find my head hanging (from exhaustion) mindlessly looking at those boots. Step after step across ice, snow, mud and dirt, some quicker then others trying to escape the harsh windchill of northern bush flying just to get a quick coffee before the return south. I told my girlfriend at the time (wife today) that despite my absolute love of aviation and my job, I would know I really made it in the aviation business when I could look down at a different pair of shoes. A nice pair of leather shoes, shined and polished, stepping through customs at some major international airport grabbing a coffee again (yet more gourmet I might add) on my way to a large jet liner destined to some far away city.

Last week while walking from customs with the three pilots I shared the cockpit with that trip, I took a quick look at my shoes as we headed for a cappuccino in the San Francisco airport. This time I saw something much different. I saw a fine pair of Italian leather loafers (Donald J Pliner to be exact) that mold to my feet with perfection. These shoes were a gift you see. The day I found out I got that dream job, my wife had a pair of shoes waiting for me. At the end of the day, I’m still the same person, who loves his job, and loves being a pilot. But rather then notice my footwear as a result of total exhaustion, I now find myself admiring my new shoes as I rest one on the lower dash of the 747 cockpit. Yes it has built in footrests. For both feet in fact.

Its funny what you can find out from a pair of shoes.

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Friendship


It’s hard to imagine how far a couple of kids who grew up across the street together can go in this world. When I say that, I mean that as individuals. Any one person on this earth has potential to do with their lives, anything they want. Some have more advantages then others to make those dreams reality, this is a fact. The people who aren’t grateful for those advantages and use of them, well that is another story.

My story is about a couple of kids who met in the fall of 1992. The only reason we met was because our dads worked for the same company, knew each other reasonably well, but they lived a block away from each other. As it turns out I had been looking at my future best friends house from my bedroom window for years before I even knew he was there. It started with a football game in my front yard. Since then, we would hang out every chance we could. Mountain biking and swimming in my pool in the summer, snowboarding off garage roofs and soaking in his hot tubs in the winter. We would go on camping trips in the summer, and snowboard trips to the rocky mountains in the winter. We never went to the same school, but somehow no one else ever came close to being the best friends we were to each other.

When we were 15 years old, we started flying lessons and ground school (my older sister had to drive us to the airport, luckily she was learning to fly at the same time). We studied together, talked about where we wanted to fly when we grew up, and imagined working for the same company all the way through our careers. As it turns out, between Chris going away to college while I stayed in Winnipeg, and the both of us working for several companies in our region of “northern aviation” but never the same company, and the fact we never lived in the same city for 10 plus years, we remained best friends.

Today we find our selves coworkers, inhabitants of the same Asian metropolis on the other side of the world from where we grew up in Canada, pilots for the same international airline, flying the same airplane, and still best friends. From a pool in the backyard, to the South China Sea, still together. Glad he has been with me this far, and looking forward to the rest of this trip together.

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