Sunday, July 31, 2005

Do The M!

I'm on a three day trip with Missoula and Butte layovers right now. This morning in Missoula, the flight attendants and I "did the M." For those of you who haven't visited Montana, just about every town has inscribed their initials on a nearby mountainside. In Missoula's case, it was done by students and alumni of the University of Montana. A fairly easy switchbacked trail ascends the 700 feet to the M and continues beyond it for panoramic views of the valley.









Tonight I'm in Butte. We don't leave until 2 tomorrow, but I kinda doubt that I'm up for hiking Our Lady of the Rockies.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Flying and Sailing

As previously mentioned, I just got back from a few days in MN and SD. Dawn and I went back to visit with our parents a bit, but also because her parents recently bought a 1980's-vintage MacGregor 25 sailboat. They're just learning to sail, so I wanted to go give them a few pointers and test out their boat.

I first learned to sail when I was 12, in the Boy Scouts, on a 12' Sunfish. It's a simple little dinghy, cat-rigged and designed for single-handed handling. There's just enough room for one additional passenger, so long as they're smart enough to duck when tacking or gybeing. Indeed, my first and last time going overboard was when my training partner gybed without telling me, while I was looking downwind. I heard a startled "oh!" and looked just in time to see the boom smacking me in the chest and dumping me into the drink. Live and Learn.

When Dawn and I lived in SoCal, we'd occasionally rent 16'-22' Capris at Marina del Rey and San Diego Bay. Capri's are the smaller cousins of the Catalina line of sailboats (they're all now called Catalina's, I understand). These boats are great for daysailing, with just enough room belowdecks to spend a night or two.

This was my first time sailing the MacGregor 25, and I was impressed with what a docile boat it is. If you're going to learn to sail in a 25-footer, this is a good choice. It features a swinging retractable keel, which results in a draft of 1.5 feet with the keel retracted. It has a tendancy to heel over pretty well when close-hauled in 15-20 kt winds, with strong weather helm required, but nothing a novice couldn't handle. Extra "rail meat" improves the situation a lot, all the more reason to take your friends along.

So now that I've sailed for the first time in over a year, I have the bug again. I'm checking the Oregonian classifieds and perusing craigslist. This happens every time I go sailing. It's a lot of fun, and can be challenging or peaceful by turns. In many ways, it reminds me of flying. Indeed, a sail is little more than an airfoil turned on it's side, with the forward component of lift your only propulsion when beating to windward. The authority and responsibility of a boat's captain is identical to an airplane's captain. Like flying, sailing involves using your knowledge and skill, as well as modern technology, to safely travel through a medium that is not man's natural domain. Docking after a good sail brings the same satisfied feeling as shutting down after a challenging flight - the satisfaction of a job done competently. Finally, flying and sailing both reward one with moments of great beauty, set against the dark understanding that things can and do go wrong up here, out here.

And unfortunately, they're both a bit expensive to get involved in. I could actually get a decent trailerable sailboat in the 25 foot range for $5000 or less, but that's a purchase that will have to wait. As with airplanes, the purchase price seldom tells the whole story - you can spend a ton on outfitting, upgrades, and maintenance. Dawn is an excellent crewmember, and would like to get a sailboat. Maybe we can do it in a year or two. In the meantime, I'm gathering what information I can on sailing in this area, and hoping to find somebody to crew for so I can learn more. If any of you ever need crew, email me pronto, I'll fly out on my day off.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Dear Starbucks Barista

Dear Starbucks Barista,

When I walked into your store yesterday, I was in a fairly good mood. My day was going well, and what better way to cap it off than a Grande Vanilla Bean Frappuccino Blended Crème? You were looking good - very cute in that starbucks barista outfit. You greeted me with a sunny "Hello!" and a pleasant smile. She's nice, I thought. I'll even deposit my change in the tip jar today. I usually don't do that. It's not that I'm horribly cheap, it's just that I know that Starbucks pays its baristas a good socially responsible wage, and you never know when those pennies are going to come in handy. But today my change would go in your tip jar, cute barista girl.

"What will it be today?" you asked. I took a quick glance around to see if anyone else was listening, because I was a little embarrased. This is Portland, a city that lives and dies by caffeine intake, and ordering a chilled non-coffee drink at Starbucks when it's less than 80 degrees out is a good way to earn oneself a disapproving stare. "I'll have a Grande Vanilla Bean Cream Blend Frappuccino," I stated discreetly. You smiled and repeated my order in a similarly mellow tone. Thank you, Dear Cute Barista Girl, you do not judge. I'm grateful for that.

But then you said it. "You know, you could upsize to Venti for only an additional 50 cents!"

Excuse me? Ahem! Dear Barista, I'd expect that sort of thing at McDonalds, but this is not McDonalds, is it? For starters, I'm ordering a drink consisting solely of crushed ice and malt powder, with a dollop of whipped cream, and it's costing me $3.89. This would be on the Dollar Menu at the Golden Arches. At least $2 gets added onto the price just because this is supposedly a more upscale establishment. When patrionizing my local Starbucks, I don't expect to have a gawky teenager attempting to sell me an upsize, supersize, biggie size, or Venti anything.

Here's the other thing. As previously mentioned, I was slightly ashamed to be ordering this drink to begin with. With those cute college girls studying dilligently at the next table, my first inclination was to confidently belt out an order for a "tall vanilla caffè mocha, skinny, not too hot," showing off my mastery of coffee chic. Such an order at the neighborhood Starbucks is intended to display one's status as a hip urbanite to his fellow hip urbanites, especially that cute one in low rider jeans. But the chilly scrumptiousness of the Vanilla Bean was calling my name; I could not resist it's alure. Then, after I risked public scorn by ordering a rather effeminate drink, you all but accused me of gluttony as well! "Not only are you a complete pansy, you also look pretty greedy too!" That's essentially what you were saying! Dear Barista, my 11 cents change went directly into my left pocket!

While I'm ranting, we need to have a word about the music you play in your store. Usually Starbucks plays crappy folk songs by hippy singer/songwriter chicks, whose CDs you sell at the bar. I'd never listen to that crap on my own, but at Starbuck's it's okay - it adds to the hip urbanite allure. But now you're starting to play bands I actually like, and it's completely ruining it for me. The other day you were playing Coldplay's "Speed of Sound" and selling their new CD. Now, I liked Coldplay. I have their two last CDs. The new one isn't bad, it's just overhyped and overplayed. Despite being bombarded with it 24/7, I still thought "Speed of Sound" was a decent song - until I heard it at Starbucks. Now I feel dirty and used...and completely disillusioned. What's next? Chemical Brothers, DJ Tiesto, and Paul Oakenfold? Radiohead? Depeche Mode? The Postal Service? The Grateful freakin' Dead? Next time, kindly let me know in advance so I can prepare myself by deleting their MP3s, throwing out their CDs, and burning their posters.

You see, Dear Barista Girl, we modern-day urbanite hipsters want to have it both ways: as hip as everyone else, but different. Despite not knowing our neighbors from Adam, we're decidedly self-conscious about the image we present to complete strangers. We need everyone to see that we're not just some country bumpkins who rolled off the last turnip truck (especially since half of us did arrive direct from red-state America!). We need to be worldly, confident, suave, yet unique and a little funky - in every aspect that defines us. So we all copy our hip neighbors - and all end up wearing North Face microfleece as we listen to The Kinks on our iPods as we walk our dogs from our 3rd floor brownstone walkup studios to the doggy park, and order a tall vanilla caffè mocha, skinny, from our neighborhood Starbucks on our way to the anti-war protest. And this lifestyle makes us feel uniquely urbane, so superior to those conformist sheep back in flyover land!

Dear Sweet Barista, Starbucks should be the very last place that'd want to shatter the illusion. It is the very bedrock that your store is founded upon. So here's some advice for a long and fruitful barista career: when I visit your store, treat me like the urbane sophisticate I want everyone to see that I am. Don't ask me if I want to supersize; it triggers repressed memories of midwestern McDonalds meals in a past life. Don't play my music, for I will be forced to either disavow that music or else acknowledge that I am, gasp, mainstream.

I was completely prepared to end this rant by departing your store in a fit of righteous indignation, but I've kinda lost the will by now. I really didn't mean to delve into social commentary, and it's tiring. Besides, all this talking has kinda made my throat dry. And I see that the temperature outside is a toasty-for-Portland 91, so that's my cue. I'll take a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino Blended Crème. Mmm, I can almost taste the frosty goodness already. Better make it a Venti.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ahoy, bloggers!

Just a quick post from Rosholt, SD, where I'm kickin' it with Dawn, my parents, and the inlaws. We launched the inlaws' MacGregor 25 last night and did a sunset cruise, and then I took my parents out this morning.





Above, my dad takes the helm as my mom relaxes. She took the helm once but panicked when a gust of wind heeled the boat to 15 degrees. Too bad I didn't get a picture of that!

PS...A shiny new dollar bill to any sailing-savvy reader who can tell me what piece of rigging is out of place in the above picture. I'm not referring to the fact that my dad doesn't have the mainsheet in his hand.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Return to Flyover Land

Thanks to all who commented on my CYA post. You all had some very good perspectives that will be excellent fodder for another post on the subject...when I get back around to it.

This last wednesday Dawn and I went up to Lost Lake to celebrate our 2nd anniversary. We went canoeing, camped overnight, and did some hiking the next day. Tomorrow Dawn is accompanying me on an overnight trip to Kalispell, then we'll be headed directly to MN and SD to visit friends and family. Yes, we were just back there, but that was mostly to collect our remaining belongings and drive straight back. This time will be more relaxed, just visiting. And oh yes, I have a MacGregor 26X to sail while we're at Dawn's parents. I'm looking forward to that, since I haven't done any sailing since moving up here from SoCal. Blogging may be light but I promise pics, eventually!

Edit: My inlaws misspoke, it is a MacGregor 25. Still a nice boat.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

IFR Pilot's Alaskan Adventure

Lately IFRPilot has been flying on a trip to Alaska and back with his Dad and C172. He's been posting lots of great pics on his blog, as well as documentation of numerous visits to DQ...

He got a little more adventure than he bargained for a few days back. While in cruise, his engine started running rough and losing power. He suspected carb ice, but by that time applying carb heat only killed the remaining power. He did end up regaining power, but did the prudent thing and put it down at the nearest airport. If that weren't enough "excitement" for one day, very shortly thereafter a LongEz crashed on the airport, killing its pilot. I'm sure IFRPilot needed no reminder at that point, but it drives home the point that what we do carries inherent risk. Let's all be careful out there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

C-Y-A

Yesterday I was in the crew room when I saw Debbie, a flight attendant I've flown with before. We exchanged pleasantries, and then she exclaimed, "Oh, I heard that you do the blogging thing!" Oh, really? I certainly don't advertise the blog to Horizon crewmembers. "Yeah, I heard you have Sacramento pictures on there." I wasn't sure what she meant. She'd apparently been told this by a Q200 captain that I know, although I hadn't told him about the blog either.

Afterwards, I realized that I had indeed taken a picture of Debbie and the rest of the crew at a mexican restaurant in Sacramento, and it was on a post talking about how a good crew can make the difference between a so-so trip and a great trip. At the time, I didn't really give it a second thought. Now I wonder: would Debbie, or for that matter, the other crewmembers, be upset at their picture being on a public blog? It was one thing when I had a tiny circle of readers, mostly friends. Now that the blog is apparently becoming better known, such considerations take on a certain importance.

It can be awkward when the flying blogosphere meets the real world. Any honest portrayal of the airline world will include descriptions that are unflattering to certain companies or individuals. Bloggers must accept that there could be real-world consequences to what they post online. One blogger who found this out the hard way is Ellen Simonetti, aka Queen of the Sky. She was fired from Delta Airlines for posting provocative pictures of herself in uniform. Delta had no policy concerning employee blogs at the time. Many airlines still do not, including Horizon. The lack of clear guidance constitutes further risk.

The aviation blogosphere displays widely varying degrees of wariness. Aviatrix uses pseudonyms, not only for herself but the people and airlines she deals with as well, and she posts no pictures. Her identity is effectively hidden. Dave of Flight Level 390 and John of Freight Dog Tales keep their respective employers discreet, although it's easy to deduce who they work for. Although their identities aren't completely hidden, their employers would have less reason to take disciplinary action, since the airlines are not named. I myself don't use my last name but given that I disclose that I'm an ultra-junior FO on the Q400 at Horizon, anybody with a seniority list could figure it out in a heartbeat - to say nothing of the pics I post. My only protection, then, is watching what I post. I try to provide an honest portrayal of the job but CYA has to come into play.

This was seen in action recently on Glenn Calvin's RantAir. Glenn obviously uses his full name, and is upfront about which airline he flies for. One of his most recent posts was about a grouchy, somewhat overbearing captain he had to fly with (the guy shaped up after the first day, though). Initially Glenn provided details on what exactly this guy was doing. Then a reader commented that he could be opening himself up for trouble with the airline, and Glenn edited the post to include far less detail. It's too bad, because it was interesting to read and think what you'd do in that situation, but I think it was wise move on his part.

So. In my situation, having effectively disclosed my identity, what do you think I should and should not post? I still think criticism of upper management is fair game, as is comment on contract negotiations when they open next year. I'm inclined to be more discreet when talking about specific incidents on the line - in most cases, I should omit names, dates, and places. Aerial pictures and pictures of aircraft I don't see a problem with, but I'm going to try and refrain from posting pictures of fellow crewmembers. Your thoughts?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Got Wings?

I've been hanging around at the flightinfo message boards for around a year and it's gone steadily downhill. Although there are some good, informative threads, you have to wade through a whole lot of name-calling and flame-baiting to get to them. Airliners.net, despite a great database of aviation photos, runs a message board that's so stupid and juvenile that I visit it about once a year. For a great sardonic takeoff on it, visit airwhiners.net.

My buddy Glenn of RantAir recently started up an alternative aviation BB, called Got Wings? . So far we have like 7 members - mostly aviation bloggers - but Glenn and I seem to be the only ones doing much posting yet. I think this is a good chance for the budding aviation blogosphere to interact and get some good discussions going, beyond what we post in our blogs. So I'd highly encourage ya'll to sign up & start posting.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Life and Death on AMF132

While I'm on the subject of my freight doggery, I should write about the route I flew for most of my full-time Ameriflight career: Amflight 132.

At the Burbank base, every Ameriflight new hire started out in the Piper Lance, a 300 horsepower single engine airplane. At the time, expected upgrade into the Chieftain was around two months. I did indeed upgrade into the Chieftain within several months, but due to a number of circumstances, including the incident I'll relate below, I was unable to hold a Chieftain route until just before I left for my current company.

At Burbank we had four Lance routes. The layovers were Bakersfield, Calexico, San Diego, and Mammoth Lakes. The Mammoth Lakes run in particular, AMF 132, had a nasty reputation, so as the youngest and most junior member of my class, it was the route that I ended up with. I stuck with it later because neither Bakersfield nor Calexico appealed to me. AMF 132 was my route from October 2003 to April 2004.

AMF 132 has a bad reputation at Ameriflight. The routing was from Burbank to Inyokern to Bishop to Mammoth Lakes each morning, then the same airports in reverse in the afternoon. This took you up and down the middle of the Owens Valley, a deep depression bordered by the escarpment of the Sierra Nevada to the west and the Inyo Mountains to the east. When fronts pass through the Sierras, especially in winter, 80+ knot winds howl over the peaks and through the canyons, resulting in legendary turbulence in the valley. It's one of the premier wave-soaring spots in the world. In the 1950's, the Sierra Wave Project studied the then-unknown phenomenon of mountain waves using beefed-up sailplanes based at Bishop. One of them was lost when torn apart by rotor turbulence that induced wind gusts estimated at well over 100 mph and loadings around 16 Gs (the pilot miraculously survived, and still hangs around the Bishop airport). Ameriflight has had pilots quit on the spot during harrowing days in the Owens Valley. Other pilots took along football helmets.

Most days, I enjoyed flying AMF 132. The scenery was stunning, and the layover in the mountain town of Mammoth Lakes was enjoyable. When the weather was bad, though, it was miserable. At best you'd spend a few hours slogging through moderate turbulence. I can honestly classify the turbulence on several occasions as being thoroughly severe. On really bad days, you'd fly the route at 500 feet off the valley floor, keeping most of the rotor above you. If it was bad down there, you'd go back up and cinch down your seatbelt until it hurt, and slow the plane down.

The really ugly thing was that you knew exactly where the next blast would come. You'd see the next canyon outlet coming, and you could count down the seconds until you hit the shear. Three, two, one, BAM! You be holding on to the yoke with one hand and the instrument panel with the other, and would be thrown violently up into the seatbelt, often smacking your head on the headliner or side window. The severe beating would continue for several seconds, then settle down to a mild thrashing until the next canyon. I came away with bruises on several occasions, from the seatbelt as well as the headliner and side window.

Besides turbulence, the route had other weather hazards throughout the winter, including high ground winds, low ceilings, and snow. The company had a high amount of flexibility - whatever I wanted to do went unquestioned. If I saw ugly stuff moving in, I'd have the couriers show up early, or else reposition further down the valley and have them drive part way. On one particularly ugly day, the weather chased me down the valley on three different repositioning legs, and I finally flew into Burbank empty rather than have weather strand the plane in the high desert. I got trapped on only one occasion, when a unpredicted snowstorm socked in Mammoth Lakes before I could race to the airport and take off for Bishop. I was actually taxiing out when the fury hit; I simply turned around, shut down, and called the company to tell them I wouldn't be making it home. At the time, I was "cross-training" another Ameriflight pilot, Mike Ahn, on the route. We settled in at the company's condo in town and watched two feet of snow bury the town.

In January 2004, I was pulled off the route to do training in the Chieftain. Mike Ahn was my replacement pilot during training. The first several days, it was poor weather in the valley. I felt bad, knowing he was taking a beating in my place. January 21, however, dawned clear and bright, with little wind. I flew a Chieftain run to Oakland in the early morning and was done by 9AM. The next morning, I checked in for another training run when my eyes caught a posting near the dispatch desk:
1/21/04

Ameriflight regrets to announce that AMF132, a PA-32R, crashed near Big Pine, CA, this morning. The pilot, Michael Ahn, was killed instantly....
It was a boot kick to the stomach. Before I got to the part about Mike, AMF132 jumped out at me, and my first thought was "that's me!" A millisecond later I realized it was Mike, and that's when I read that he was dead. I'd known Mike for a while. He instructed with me at ADP, and also was hired to fly freight at AEX at the same time I was. He left AEX shortly before I did, and was in the class after me at Ameriflight. And now he was dead. And I had to go fly. As I preflighted, I called Dawn and told her the bad news. Then I called Mark Webster at ADP. He'd already heard. My training captain arrived, and I took off to fly ILS approaches and holding patterns through tears.

It was good weather on the morning he crashed. His last communication, about 15 minutes before the crash, was when Joshua Approach cancelled VFR flight following just north of Owens Lake. He flew straight ahead, at around 6500 feet, and impacted an old volcanic cinder cone just south of Big Pine, CA. The wreakage indicated straight and level flight. Although the final NTSB report isn't out yet, everybody's best guess is that he simply fell asleep. Mike wasn't a morning person at all.

Going back on the route was tough. The first day, there were lots of hugs and tears from the couriers. Subsequent days, they were on the phone to company if I was even 5 minutes late. By this time, I was familiar to a lot of people in Mammoth Lakes, and the next time I saw each of them, it was like they were seeing a ghost. They'd heard of the crash & assumed it was me. When the local librarian saw me, he went white and muttered an expletive. He'd also met Mike, so I then got to explain that while I was alive, Mike was indeed dead.

I stayed on the run, flying over the crash site twice a day. Mike's absence, as well as several junior pilots washing out of training, meant that they needed me to keep flying the Lance, so the Chieftain routes remained out of reach. I renewed my efforts to get hired at my current company. I got an interview in March and was hired for the 8 April class. I flew the Mammoth Lakes run for the last time on April 1.

I made some good friends on that route. I especially miss talking to Greg and Elise at Hot Creek Aviation. I still call on Unicom occasionally when flying over. I'm hoping to go skiing at Mammoth Mountain next year. Maybe I'll jumpseat to Burbank and catch a ride with AMF132.



The wreakage of AMF132, Lance 8701E.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bad Attitude, The Captain AND Blog...

Remember when I described the difference between a good captain and bad captain? Well, this week Glenn has the misfortune of flying with a overly demanding captain with a chip on his shoulder. Doesn't sound like fun.

On the other end of the experience spectrum, Aaron of Bad Attitude is starting out young and blogging his experiences.

Job Satisfaction

I started flying at a young age (13) but didn't decide to make it my career until a few years later. I'd only flown a few times previously, and the unfamiliar beauty and power of flight had a firm grip on me. I knew I had to fly, sooner or later. I chose sooner. That it could turn into a career certainly crossed my mind, but that was secondary at the time.

After flying for a few years and logging some hours, I made the decision to pursue flying as a career. By then, flying was an absolute passion; nothing in my young existence had made me happier, and I could think of nothing I wanted to do more than fly for the rest of my life. If somebody would pay me to do it, then, how could I resist?

I distinctly remember the first time I really did not want to fly. I was at college and was working on the instrument rating. I'd flown three or four times that week and was supposed to do a cross-country that night; however, I was repulsed by the thought of going up again. I wasn't having fun flying so often. I considered calling the flight off. Then I realized that if I was serious about flying for a career, I had to be absolutely committed, flying whether I felt like it or not at the time. I did the flight, and another the next day.

It was then that I realized an unpleasant truth about a flying career: when you fly every day, and it's your job, you won't get the same satisfaction out of it that you did when you flew for pleasure. There's a whole lot of boredom, fatigue, frustration, and hard work. Many days, it's "just a job." Then you see all the turmoil in the industry - bankruptcys, furloughs, paycuts - and you sometimes wonder if getting into a flying career was such a smart choice after all.

But then there are flights where it's just like those first flight lessons. It might be a tough approach flown well, or glimpsing a moment of immense beauty, but you find yourself completely happy and satsified, and you wouldn't trade your job for any other in the world. You have a strangly full, peaceful feeling as you leave the airplane, and you look back at her at least once as you walk away.

I've had a few really memorable flights at my current airline, but most are utterly routine and quickly disappear down the memory hole. Interestingly, I find more satisfaction every time I fly for Ameriflight. I fly the Chieftain too infrequently for it to be routine, and without dispatch, flight attendants, rampers, or another pilot, it's a far more self-reliant kind of flying. The Chieftain lacks FADEC and FMS, which results in a higher workload, but a purring engine and accurate course is far more satisfying when it comes from one's own knowledge and skill.

Truthfully, that's the main reason I fly for AMF on my days off. The extra cash and PIC multi time is fine, I guess, but that's not really why I do it. I do it for that last look: the waning moments of the day, when the engines have fallen silent and I've thrown 1200 lbs of bags out of the plane, and I walk slowly across the ramp, adrenaline slowly dripping back down my veins. That's when I look back at "my" airplane and feel the pride of a job well done, and the satisfaction of a day well spent.





Monday, July 11, 2005

Franklin & Younkin Die in Collision

Last night, airshow performers Jim Franklin and Bobby Younkin died when they collided during an act at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Franklin was best known for his jet powered Waco, pictured below, while Younkin often flew no less than four aircraft in an act ranging from his biplane Samson to a Lear 24 business jet. I've seen them both perform at Oshkosh. In Franklin's case, it was the first time he flew the jet-powered Waco at an airshow, and the first time he spooled that jet up, the entire crowd started giggling simultaneously. This is a fate shared by too many airshow performers. They'll be missed.

Insomniac Blogger Theatre

I just woke up at 2am and was completely confused about where I was. I was in my bed, but was still clothed and had my glasses on. I didn't remember going to bed. In fact, I couldn't remember any of last night. And I was pretty sure I didn't drink until I passed out. Then I realized that I must've fallen asleep around 7pm. Crap.

Sunday was day number three of a three day trip. All three days involved 6am show times. Today is my additional day of reserve, which was scheduled to be AM home reserve (4:30am-6:30pm). So what does the company do, now that I've been getting up early all last week? They rescheduled me for PM home reserve (10:30am-midnight). I resolved to stay awake as long as possible so I could sleep in. I then promptly layed down in bed to rest for a few minutes, and slept for 7 hours. I'm so screwed if I get a trip that ends around midnight. My plan for now is to stay awake until about 6am and then try to get a few additional hours of sleep. Which is why I'm blogging at 3am.

*****

Ah, the dangers of music piracy. I downloaded a mp3 that was labled as the "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" LP by the Chemical Brothers, and completely fell in love with it. It's one hour, thirteen minutes of very good techno. But when checking out the amazon.com listing of that album, I listened to the samples, and realized that I've been listening to something completely different. So now I have no idea whose music I like so much. It seems like every other mp3 on morpheus is mislabled. The upside is that if the original artist happens upon this post, they won't know that they should be sueing me.

*****

I just finished reading "The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mt. Rainier" by Bruce Barcott. I enjoyed it immensly; it's an informative and enjoyable read. Barcott is an unlikely, reluctant mountaineer (gangly, anti-macho, bookish) who nonetheless is smitten with Mount Rainier and spends an inordinate amount of time on and around "his" mountain. What results is a beautiful portrait of (and paean to) the mountain. Barcott dives into biology, geography, theology, entomology and etymology, plate tectonics and volcanology, history, alpine literature, and climber culture, yet the book is never erudite. Wry, self-depreciating humor prevails throughout, and Barcott manages to expound on his own feelings towards the mountain without sounding self-indulgent. Some of the cultural references, such as Barcott's spot-on description of the "REI Army," might be lost on a non-Northwesterner, but it should be an enjoyable read even for one who has never laid eyes on Mt. Rainier.

*****

Now this is a funny story, although I don't think AFP meant it to be. I mean, the death of the photographer on Greenpeace's ship was tragic, but every bit of the remembrance ceremony is a little...crunchy, shall we say.

*****

A good friend of mine is in class at Skywest right now. They are growing like mad, hiring something like 400 more pilots before the end of this year. This is Brad's third airline: He flew the Be-1900 at Great Lakes, then for my airline. He couldn't stand how GL treats their pilots, and couldn't bear the slow movement here. Hopefully he finds a happy medium at Skywest.

I've had a few captains ask me why I don't go to Skywest, since I'm so disillusioned with the lack of growth here. There are a few reasons. First, this industry changes quickly. My airline probably won't always have a six year upgrade. Skywest's upgrades will certainly not stay at two years. The only certainty is that today's upgrades are 6 year FOs here and 2 year FOs at Skywest. This industry has seen many a pilot get burned when they gave up a seniority number to go chase faster growth. Secondly, I couldn't afford to go to Skywest. You aren't paid in training and make $19/hr the first year. After that, pay increases dramatically - particularly when you upgrade - but I'd lose my house long before I upgraded. Third, I don't want to move and don't want to commute right now. Of course, if my airline opens a LAX base for my airplane (it's been rumored), I'll be commuting anyways.

Of course, it comes to mind that the above three reasons are why there are so many lifer captains in my airplane. This last trip, I flew with Yokko. She's a younger Japanese woman who is married to an American corporate pilot. I think she could get hired at any major in a heartbeat (well, the ones that are hiring, that is.) She's not willing to give up this gig to risk it, though. Oh well - I enjoy flying with her, as she's an exemplary captain and a good person as well.

*****

This faux-Chemical Brothers album thing is really bugging me. Maybe somebody can help me figure out who it is that I'm actually listening to. Around 40 minutes there is a track whose sole lyric is "no more mind games - don't waste my time." The last track features a sample of a tv program narrator - BBC, maybe - asking: "Is this the face of Christ, perserved by a miracle?" Does this ring a bell for anyone? Lemme know.

*****

Dawn went with me on my Sacramento layover on Saturday. We spent about three hours by the pool, just reading and soaking up those wonderful California rays. Yesterday morning she flew Southwest from SMF to Burbank. She'll be spending the week in Glendale, visiting her friend Taline. So in the meantime I'm once again living the bachelor life up here in P-city. Tennis and hiking partners may apply here. Readers with regular entourages of hot women are encouraged to come over for hottubbing. And I'm ever willing to get together at McMennamin's to share a pitcher of Ruby Ale.

Update 7.13.05: I found it! The DJ is Tiesto, and the album is Forbidden Paradise 7: Deep Forest. Noteable tracks include The Face (Heaven Remix) and The Wave. I'm off to download some more Tiesto tracks....

Friday, July 08, 2005

Procedure vs. Technique

As I've previously noted, the modern airline expects its pilots to know and follow the published procedures for the airplane they fly. There is little use for mavericks that do it "their way." This lesson has been learned the hard way, through wrecked airplanes and lost lives. Everybody recognizes that there's more than one way to fly an airplane, but flying "by the book" keeps everyone on the same page and prevents crews from inadverdently becoming test pilots. Doing so is not as restrictive as you might think; there is a lot of leeway given for individual technique. Here's an example of how "by the book" pilots can use widely varying techniques, even while adhering to the letter of the procedures.

At my airline, each airplane has published profiles that will normally be followed when flying an approach in instrument conditions. For example: when flying an ILS in my airplane, you should be at 170 kts and Flaps 5 when joining the localizer; crossing the outer marker, you should be gear down and Flaps 15. Landing flaps must be set by 1000 feet above ground level (AGL). When in visual conditions, the requirements are considerably looser: landing flaps should be called for by 1000 feet AGL, and by 500 feet the airline should be at final approach speed (Vref) with the landing checklist complete. How one meets these requirements can vary from person to person and situation to situation.

Down low, my airplane is very flexible. With 50% torque, you can tool around at redline (245 kts below 8000'), but when you need to slow down, moving the power levers to flight idle will add a lot of drag. High gear and flap extention speeds mean that you can go from 245 knots to 120 knots (landing configuration) in a very short distance - if you keep the airplane level. No jet can do that. They have less drag, so they require early slowing if you want a stabilized approach.

One of my techniques for long visual approaches is to keep the speed at 240 kts while descending to pattern altitude early, in order to intercept the glidepath from below. When about 3 miles from glidepath intercept, I'll go to flight idle. By the time I've intercepted the glidepath, I'm at 200 kts and can go Flaps 5/Gear Down. Following the flap schedule, I'll call for landing flaps by 1000 feet and be at Vref before 500 feet, at which point I bring the power levers back up to maintain Vref. It's a slick technique that will smoke a 737 or MD80, but can only be used under the proper conditions. You wouldn't want to get below glidepath when wake turbulence is a factor. Speeding up on traffic ahead of you is a bad idea. Actually blowing by a 737 that's approaching a parallel runway will get ATC hopping mad at most airports (it's okay at SMF, though!).

The other day we were running late into Seattle. When approach cleared us for the visual approach we were 20 miles out and number one for the runway. I used the above technique, minding a crossing restriction over Boeing Field. I'd just decided to bring the power levers to idle when the captain growled "I wouldn't be this fast at this point!" He'd been tensing up as I got closer to the airport. After we parked at the gate, I apologized for making him nervous. He said he didn't mind, it was just the first time I had used that technique in front of him and he wasn't sure if I really knew how fast I was going. This captain usually descended on the glideslope, slowing gradually from about 15 miles out. If wake turbulence was a factor, that'd be how I'd do it, too. Under the actual conditions, the FSM contained enough leeway for both techniques to be acceptable. That said, it's important that the captain be comfortable with what his FO is doing, and the FO should adapt his flying accordingly.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

God Save the Queen

...and bless the peoples of Great Britain as they once again face the scourge of terrorism.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Helena, Montana

The last two days I was on an overnight trip to Helena, Montana. I was hoping to stay home on 4 July, but flying during the fireworks was pretty fun, too. We departed Seattle at 8:30pm, with a stop in Great Falls before continuing to Helena. The timing was just right to catch the official fireworks displays in Coure d'Elene, Kalispell, and Missoula. In Montana, though, the official displays are nearly matched by the citizenry. When we landed at Great Falls around 11PM, there were huge fireworks being shot off all over the city. We departed on Rwy 3 twenty minutes later, over the city, and as we lifted off, fireworks completely filled the horizon. Landing on 27 in Helena at midnight, we passed low over some developments that were so thick with mortars and bursts that I though we were going to get hit. Apparently, they take fireworks very seriously in Montana!

The next morning I set out on a walk across town and then a hike up Mt. Helena. On the way back, I snooped around in the Montana State Capitol building a bit. Here's some pictures.





The Cathedral of St. Helena.



Midtown Helena with 5400' Mount Helena behind.



The city of Helena as seen from the summit. It's a pretty easy hike up the 1906 trail, and I ran the steeper shortcut down.









Respectively: the Capitol exterior, an atrium, bronzes in the rotunda, and the House of Representatives chamber.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Alpine Lakes Backpack Trip

For the second part of my week's vacation, I had a brilliant idea: having completely exhausted ourselves with 26 straight hours of driving, let's go backpacking in the Northern Cascades! Over Memorial Day, Dawn and I had camped just outside the boundaries of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, and I was itching to explore it more. We decided to hike in the Cle Elum watershed, on the south side of the Wilderness.



We arrived at the Tuaquala Meadows trailhead around 6PM on Thursday, having slowly bumped over 11 miles of horribly potholed gravel road to get there. Our plan was to make the short hike to Hyas Lake and camp there for the night. Friday, we'd make the strenuous hike (and 3000 ft climb) to Robin Lakes, 6200 feet high in the alpine zone.



The hike to Hyas Lake was an easy two miles, since it followed the valley floor. We didn't see anyone until the next morning; all the campsites around the lake were unoccupied. We pitched the tent, made supper, strung up the bear bag, and enjoyed a nice sunset over Cathedral Rock before going to bed.

The next morning, we had breakfast and broke camp fairly leisurely before setting out for Robin Lakes. Our hike was compised of three roughly equal sections totalling 6 miles. First, we followed the Deception Pass trail from our campsite to the Robin Lakes Trailhead, climbing about 800 vertical feet in the last mile. The Robin Lakes trail climbed another 1100 feet of steep terrain to Tuck Lake; this section was, at parts, little more than a deer path. Above Tuck Lake, it became part goat path, part granite-strewn scrambling route marked only by cairns; this final push to the top was around 1000 vertical feet. It's a tough climb, particularly for inexperienced backpackers. My pack was also grossly overweight, thanks to equipment that I had been purchased for car camping. Still, the views were quite rewarding. Here, I rest about halfway to Tuck Lake on the second section of trail:



From slightly below Tuck Lake, a view of Hyas Lake and Little Hyas Lake with Cathedral Rock towering overhead:





Dawn and I stopped at Tuck Lake for lunch. Above, fallen logs choke the outlet from Tuck Lake; Below, Dawn and I enjoy the expansive views of Cathedral Rock and Mt. Daniel.



Almost there! Having scrambled over numerous boulders and crags on the hike up from Tuck Lake, Dawn makes the final push up the granite face just below Robin Lakes.



As we were about to crest the rim, Dawn and I walked hand-in-hand, anticipating a gorgeous view. Instead, we found ourselves facing a mountain goat about 40 feet away. We were upwind of him; he may have smelled the food in my pack, because he started coming my way. I didn't feel like having to fight a mountain goat for my food; his horns and the terrain gave him a bit of an advantage! I tried to make myself look larger and growled "Go Away!" in my most threatening voice. The goat and I stared at each other for a few moments, then he turned and trotted away. I managed to get a nice snapshot of him.



Convinced that we didn't have a hostile goat stalking us anymore, Dawn and I enjoyed the views of the alpine lakes below. This is Lower Robin Lake.



We camped on a spit of land between Upper and Lower Robin Lakes, with our door facing west. This was the view out of our tent flap:



During the night, the wind howled and rain moved in. By the time we got up this morning, the lakes were enshrouded in clouds. There was enough visibility to keep the cairns in sight, and the trail wasn't too slippery, so Dawn and I broke camp and started trudging our soggy selves down the mountain.

As we got lower, it became apparent that the rain was going to continue throughout the day, so we decided to hike all the way to the car and head for home. Going down was mostly easier than going up; it took us about 6 hours to hike 8 miles with a 3000 ft descent. Still, we were exhausted by the time we got to the trailhead. Our respective emotions:



It was Dawn's first time backpacking, ever. She was impressive - trucking right along with hardly a complaint. She thought it was an insane amount of work, but said the views were worth it. In retrospect, this was a tough hike to take her out on for her first time. Most hikes we do now, though, should be easy in comparison! As always, you'll see the pictures.

Roadtrippin'

My week of vacation started on Monday. First order of business was to get myself to Rosholt, SD, to visit with Dawn's parents for a day or two, and then accompany Dawn back here in our Blazer (she drove rather than flew because she had some things still back east that she wanted to bring here). I was supposed to get off work at 2:45PM, Sunday; I was hoping to get into Fargo that night.

So I had a brilliant plan: I'd run to catch the 3PM flight to Seattle, then Northwest's 4:20 flight to Minneapolis, to connect to their last flight to Fargo. At first, all the stars seemed aligned. It was a good weather day, the plane didn't break, and even the winds aloft cooperated to let us get into Portland a bit early. After running the parking checklist, I bolted for the Seattle flight's gate, getting there at 2:50PM...to watch them push back 10 minutes early! Instead, I jumpseated on United PDX-DEN-MSP, then flew on Mesaba MSP-FAR the next day.



Here, Gary and Rick (United 757 crew), review their weather avoidance systems in preparation for an arrival into Denver hot on the tails of a big ole' thunderstorm. Twenty flights from United alone ended up diverting; our timing was just right to make it in.



An excellent example of mammatus clouds, as seen from the 757's jumpseat on the way into Denver, with a nice rainbow below.



Lake Traverse is directly on the border between Minnesota and South Dakota. Dawn's parents recently sold their house in Wheaton, MN, to live full-time in their cabin on the South Dakota side of the lake. On days like this, I envy them.



I abhor North Dakota. I spent several years there while attending UND, and vowed I'd never go back to Grand Forks if I could help it. Still, the state does have it's moments of beauty, such as this sunset seen from I-29. So much for "red sky at night, sailors delight" - a few hours after this, we were driving through severe thunderstorms.



Montana, like Colorado, has a Front Range. This is on Wednesday morning, on I-90 between Billings and Bozeman. I see Montana from the air all the time; it's nice to get another perspective on the state.





Both of these pictures were taken near Missoula, where I-90 parallels the Clark Fork of the Lewis & Clark River. Montana really is a gorgeous state; I love flying there in the summer. It's winters, however, overshadow ND and MN in their ferociousness. Layovers in Butte when it's -40d F aren't too fun.



Almost home! Late afternoon on Wednesday, we enter the Columbia River Gorge east of The Dalles, OR. Notice the contrast in vegetation between this picture and my pictures of the west Gorge a few weeks ago. The Cascades act as a rain curtain, making for vastly different climates beween the western & eastern portions of Oregon and Washington.



What to do when you run out of room for your wife's stuff in the back of your Blazer: pile on and around, a la Beverly Hillbillies!

Whew!

Dawn and I drove back from MN & SD in 26 straight hours from Tuesday night through Wednesday night, then went backpacking in the North Cascades from Thursday until today. Fortunately, I have one day of vacation left to recuperate before going back to work on Monday.

I have a lot of great pics from both trips, and will be posting them tonight and/or tomorrow.