Please have a look and leave some comments on what you think.
A Day in the Life
After reading a few other blog posts related to the aviation business, I thought it would be fun (for me at least) to start a small mini series of “a day in the life”. I would like to think there are people out there who are curious about the life of an airline pilot, both on, and off the job. So what I have come up with is to write a series of posts on the following:
A day in the Life: Day Off – what does the typical day hold for an expat in Hong Kong? What is different then home in Canada, and what is the same? Just a few of the questions to be answered.
A day in the Life: Time to go to Work – the job begins when I get to the airport, but the preparation starts hours earlier. A daily routine before a long haul flight is very important and can make an all night challenge to stay awake, much easier if a few things are followed. So before I even start thinking about work, there are some must do’s to prepare. Then of course once I am in “work mode” I need to prepare for the flight of the day.
A day in the Life: Layover – One of the several perks about this job is that we get to spend 24-48 hours or more in some amazing places that we might not get to see otherwise. Virtually everywhere I have flown too has some unique experiences, so I will try and highlight some of these things in the various cities I have flown too. Those cities include, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Anchorage, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I will also discuss the routine while away from home to make sure I am rested, and prepared for the long flight home to Hong Kong.
I may also include:
A day in the Life: Recovery Day – obviously after a long haul flight crossing many time zones, through all hours of the day or night, it can be a challenge to re-acclimatize to a “Hong Kong Body Clock”. I will discuss some of my routines to help with this, as well as what I find works best when on a “super compact roster” where I return to Hong Kong with around 24-36 hours, before departing on another long haul flight.
I hope this has some interest to some of my readers, and will be working on these posts over the next few days, so please stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope everyone has enjoyed the Labour Day weekend in North America.
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)
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.
Well I have completed the study questions, spent two days doing distance learning on my Macbook, and yesterday finished the technical ground school for the 747-8F. Today we spent 4 hours in the Integrated Procedures Trainer. It is a mock up of the cockpit with several touch screens making up all the panels and displays. Very expensive software allows us to basically fly the airplane as if it were a full motion simulator or the real aircraft, all while sitting in an office chair. This set up however has no flight controls, so all the training is completed in automatic flight.
I will leave the flying for another post (as we have another day of IPT tomorrow, and my actual first flight in a few weeks. I will keep this post to some of the interesting changes in models from the 747-400 to the 747-8.
The 747-8 falls in the same category as the A380 (the only two passenger jets in this category) based on aircraft dimensions. The 747-8 in fact, is the longest airplane in the world. With it’s increased wingspan and length however, it limits the options for airports we can take the -8 into. Macau for example, a typical alternate for Hong Kong, is only 12 miles away, but it cannot handle the 747-8 on its ramp. We can however use this airport on an emergency basis. Thankfully the 747-8 is nowhere near as restrictive as the A380. As I understand it, we can use Ontario California as an alternate for Los Angeles (only about 50 miles away) whereas the A380 can only use San Francisco, several hundred miles away, costing much more to take the extra fuel to do so.
The first big change in the cockpit of the -8, is the TCAS and Weather Radar. The 400 has one of each, giving valuable information regarding other traffic and thunderstorms. The -8, has two of each. Well, to be accurate, one weather radar can provide two separate displays to each pilot, and two TCAS computers can do the same, giving a much better overall picture of potential threats to the aircraft and crew.
The -8 has triple GPS (only 2 in the 400) allowing us to fly precision, ILS type approaches to airports with GBAS (ground based augmentation system) facilities. These facilities send a correction signal to an airplane, creating and even more precise GPS 3D position, allowing us to land in low cloud/visibility, with both lateral and vertical guidance down to the runway threshold. We can even let the autopilot land of such facilities, a feature that used to be reserved for ILS only.
The flight controls of the 747-8 have undergone some upgrades. Through a Yaw Assist program, the -8 can now add spoiler input to help maintain directional control on the runway following an engine failure above 100 kts. An engine failure during takeoff is typically one of the more critical failures, as a runway is only 200 feet wide, and there can be a large direction change as a result of an engine failure. These combine to require pilots to have a quick reaction time in order to keep such a situation under control. Now, we have some help. Thanks Boeing!
The wing of the -8 was redesigned to be a super critical wing. The wing has become so efficient that the service ceiling of the plane had to be reduced from 43,100 feet, to 42,100 feet. This was because during flight testing, the -8 could not execute a rapid descent fast enough from 43,100 to breathable altitudes. The wing just wants to keep flying. It is designed to fly fast and high, and it almost does that too well. (I found this very interesting) The ailerons have an added feature, they droop when flaps are selected to 10 or more. This of course adds lift during takeoff and landing. (The outboard ailerons retract back up during landing while the inboard ailerons remain extended).
The engines of course are noticeably new design from the 400. The GEnx-B-67 have a trademark “chevron” design to the rear cowl, which lower noise emissions substantially I’m told. The -8 engines also have an auto start feature (available on late model 400’s) that protect the engine from potential start faults. The engine is sophisticated enough that it will manage any start fault, and try up to 3 re start attempts, all the while requiring no input from the crew. In flight, the engine will detect a flameout, and apply both ignitors in an an “auto-relight” attempt as well. When I told my sister about this, she asked why the -8 even needs pilots!
One of the biggest changes in the flight deck is the Electronic Checklist. The ECL is something that has existed in the 777 for years, but it now integrated into the newest 747. It is a very nice feature indeed. It makes normal checklists a breeze, with many completed actions (such as arming the speed brakes prior to landing) already checked off when the Descent Checklist is called. It reduces the workload and allows for fewer “oversights” you could say. It also prompts automatically to the next available checklist. Paper checklists have been around for decades, and for the most part, have been with very few faults. The ECL however adds an extra layer of protection in the realm of human error. Of course when non-normal checklists need to be accomplished, the ECL presents the information in a much clearer format, allowing items to be disregarded automatically (based on a simple yes/no question) again reducing the chance of human error (i.e.. continuing to a non applicable checklist).
I could go on (to the tune of the 40 pages of notes I have made over the last week) about the changes Boeing has put into the 747-8. But in the interest of boring people to death, I will leave Part 1 of my pilot report at this. To be continued of course with some real world, flying experience on the 747-8 in early September. I am hoping to get some pictures up close both inside and out of this great airplane to share with you all. Until then, fly safe. Paris for me on Monday for 3 days…
Well it has been a few months since I have been in North America, and this upcoming San Francisco trip had me excited. I have only flown the Pacific route once here at Cathay, so the change in scenery and Northern California scenery at the other end had me really looking forward to a 48 hour layover.
First things first, head to the airport for a refreshing 12:55 PM check in as opposed to the usual midnight European check ins. After a quick look at the usual pre flight package (weather, NOTAMS, and the flight plan) it looks like an easy crossing of the Pacific today. Our route took us south of Taiwan and south of yet another Tropical Storm in the region, crossing the Pacific at no further north then 50 degrees North Latitude. My rest schedule for the flight meant for the first 6 hours I would be free from any cockpit duties. I chose to use our business class seat to watch a movie or maybe read. But after our In Flight Service manager needed to switch a passengers seat, I found myself in our first class. After the flight I would learn that I was sitting behind Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield of the latest Spiderman movie. They must have been on a promotional tour in Hong Kong, but I didn’t have the chance to ask them, found myself taking a 4 hour nap before I knew it.
Anyways, back to the interesting stuff. I jumped in the seat around the international date line. Crossing the Pacific these days entails very little work as far as a pilot is concerned. ADS-B surveillance, and CPDLC auto reporting more or less means we only had to make one radio call on HF at 150 degrees west. Then of course re-establishing VHF communications once in line of sight from the west coast of the USA. The weather for my half of the flight was as close to perfect as you could get, a nice 50 knot tail wind, and the only clouds were several thousand feet below us. Nothing but clear sailing all the way into SFO.
The first thing I had in mind for this layover was walking across the street from our Hilton hotel at Union Square to one of my favorite restaurant chains in the US, Chipotle. My brother in law spent a year playing hockey in Phoenix and got hooked on this food. My wife and I tried it a few years ago in Palm Springs, and really enjoyed the mexican food they have to offer. So needless to say, after dropping off my bags, and getting out of the uniform I spent the last 18 hours in, I made for Chipotle. I had been battling a bit of a cold for the last few days, so after a post lunch nap, I found myself feeling pretty bad. I had to bail on dinner and drinks with the two pilots on the layover with me and decided to get some more sleep.
Day 2 in SFO, I woke up at 530am. Relaxing in the room, with the current USA today, I went for a Starbucks start to the day. Next on my SFO to do list, head to Safeway for some North American food we just can’t find in Hong Kong. Kraft Dinner (10 boxes) Rotelle Tomatoes (13 cans) and Lipton soup mix (7 boxes) and some other odds and ends. After lugging the groceries back to the room, I realize its 8am, and breakfast time. A tradition I hope to continue is visiting a Triple D’s restaurant. Chef Guy Fieri has a show called Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (Triple D’s) featuring family run, home cooking, feel good food. After visiting “Schooner or Later” in Long Beach a few years ago, it was time to hit up “Dottie’s True Blue Cafe” just a short walk from the hotel. A basic scrambled egg breakfast comes with the house specialty, a spicy cheddar corn bread. Delicious I must say, and well worth the 45 minute wait to get in. Next, shopping for board games. Shawna and I love having board games around the house, just for us, or when guests are over, but unfortunately finding them in English has proven to be a bit of a challenge. I grabbed Rolling Stones Monopoly, and Apples to Apples on this trip. Starting to run out of room in my suitcase. Good thing I brought the big one. Of course I had to grab a San Francisco 49ers, and LA Dodgers hat while in California. So that was it for shopping. Back to the hotel about noon to drop off the bags, and hike over the hill to fishermans wharf. Plenty of things to see and do here, but I decided to spend 15 dollars on a boat tour of the bay area, around Alcatraz, and under the Golden Gate bridge. Well worth it. After wandering around the wharf for a few hours and grabbing a bite at In and Out Burger (another American favorite of mine) I decided to hike back over the hill to the hotel for an early night. Or so I thought.
When bored in a hotel, I often find myself wasting several minutes on facebook. However tonight it wasn’t a waste. I saw that my cousin, and Airbus Captain with Air Canada had just checked in to the Hyatt at fisherman’s wharf. I called him immediately and put off an early sleep to catch up with Dean. He lived a block away from my parents, and we played on the same hockey team for years, so he was definitely one of my closer cousins. Such a small world that we run into each other thousands of miles from our homes. And thanks to facebook, as I would have had no idea Dean was 10 blocks away. And and even bigger coincidence that his flight to Montreal was parked next to my flight to Hong Kong the next day!
Dean was flying with a First Officer I also played a lot of hockey with. So Dean, Warren and I met for a few beers, and a late dinner (clam chowder at fishermans wharf, in a bread bowl of course). There was lots to catch up on as we hadn’t seen each other since last October, one of the last times I played hockey back in Winnipeg. We sure did have fun though. Dean wanted to hear all about Cathay and Hong Kong, and I wanted the latest on his family, and Air Canada. I returned back to the hotel around 11PM exhausted from a long day, but very satisfied with everything I accomplished. North American shopping, sight seeing, catching up with family, and of course, good food.
Our flight the next day didn’t leave until 2PM so I had a great rest and spent most of the morning relaxing in the hotel, and trying to cram all my things back into my now full suitcase. Im pretty sure if I was a paying passenger I would have been paying for over weight charges on this one. One last thing to buy was some Ghirardelli chocolates for Shawna.
Back to the fun stuff. Again Pacific Ocean weather was near perfect, and crossing around 39 degrees north, we had a rather unusual tail wind on our west bound flight for most of the 13 hours. I worked first, and again had very little to do other then hourly fuel checks, and chatting with the American captain. One HF radio call once again, and we were set up to cross the great big blue ocean that covers most of the globe. It really is something crossing an ocean that large. Our diversion airports that we plan in case of depressurization, or multiple engine failures were spread all over the map. Portland Oregon and Comox BC on the west coast. Honolulu, Midway, and Guam in the Pacific, Anchorage, Cold Bay, and Shemya in Alaska, and finally Osaka Japan. Depressurization is the most critical of failures, as we need to descend to a low enough altitude that every one on board can breathe. At lower altitudes, jet airliners burn more gas, in some cases, much more gas, per nautical mile flown. Quite often going across the Pacific we can have much more gas on board then is needed to fly from say San Francisco to Hong Kong, the extra gas being for diversions at low altitudes for what could be 3-5 hours. Of course the biggest concern when the nearest airport is 1000 miles away is a cargo/cabin fire. Stats show that if a fire inside the aircraft cannot be controlled, hull loss takes place in an average of 15 minutes. Un-nerving to think about ditching and floating in the Ocean for hours until a rescue can take place. But the likelihood of such an event is so low that I chose to dismiss the grim thoughts, and just enjoy the view over the Pacific.
Again around the international date line we switch crews, and I’m off to the bunk for a 5 hour nap before getting home for dinner with Shawna. I must say I enjoy the US every time I get to fly there. I am already looking forward to my next visit. In the meantime, some 747-8 training later this month, and a 53 hour Paris layover. More posts to follow on both.
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.