Archive for March, 2009


29 March 2009 at 6:41 pm
by Jonah

So sleepy. I got almost two hours of sleep last night. I’d hoped I would sleep on the plane, but we boarded right as the sun came up. My body reacted by waking up.

Berck got back from his check ride at 1 in the morning. I’d stayed up, and we went down to the Foggy Dew, the Irish Pub attached to the hotel, to celebrate. At 1 in the morning on a Saturday night, the pub was packed, and a cover band was doing a pretty good job of the most popular rock songs of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Everyone was gathered around the bar, leaving the private tables in the back corner empty. We sat at one, and Cindy came to wait on us, just as Berck was thinking he had better just serve himself at the bar. He ordered a Harp and I a Ricker’s White, which I ordered by asking Cindy, “What’s the white that comes with an orange?” I’d been watching commercials for it on TV while waiting for Berck to come back.

Berck knows the names of all the waitresses in the pub and which ones will give him good service. He’s also had everything that has interested him on the food menu and has started creating his own special orders. “Can I get the burger but instead of the burger get the steak instead?” Last call was at quarter to 2, and Berck started getting antsy that Cindy hadn’t reappeared. At ten till, she dashed up to our table and announced hurriedly, “Last call! Two more?” I’d actually wanted to try something else, but we both just quickly nodded in relief. She dashed off to fill our orders.

We were celebrating Berck passing his check ride. He’d misread one of his approach plates, mixing up a bolded line for a non-bolded one, that meant something important about altitude, but first officers are allowed three mistakes on a check ride. Captains aren’t allowed any. Berck didn’t know he was allowed three on his very first check ride, and he’s been much more relaxed about them since then. He’s got one more lesson tonight, and then he comes home tomorrow morning.

I arrived in Vancouver on a gorgeous day. The sun was shining, and you could see the mountains. I was sitting the front row right behind first class, so I didn’t have to wait for everyone else to get off the plane. I took the stairs whenever I could and got in front of the rest of my fellow passengers, as well as the passengers of a flight that was just letting out at the same time. Our captain had proudly announced that we were 13 minutes early, and it was probably a good thing. After racing to immigration, I then had to wait in the snaking line toward the border agents. Our flight landed at 1:20. I didn’t get outside to wait for the hotel van until 2:40. Waiting in line with my heavy backpack was miserable, but at least I had a good book. I made it till I was almost outside and then started looking for a phone to call the hotel to tell them to send the van. There was a big information desk nearby with several people sitting idly at it, so I went over to ask where I could find a phone. The girl I asked glanced down at the phone at her desk and said, “Well, you can use this one. Let me just dial the number for you.” Canadians are awfully nice. There’s an episode of How I Met Your Mother where Robin, a Canadian, is feeling homesick and finds a Canadian bar in New York City. She tests to see if the patrons are really Canadian by bumping into one who is just standing there with his beer. He turns around and says, “Oh, excuse me!”

On the van along with me was a flight crew, and then we stopped by the simulator training facility and picked up what I later learned were Berck’s fellow students and an instructor. Berck came and found me when I got to the lobby and suggested we head over to the Flying Beaver. This is a restaurant and airport all in one. You walk in and have to step over people’s luggage as they wait by the airline gate with the gate agents in their ties and blazers. Then you walk by the crowded bar and out into the dining area, where a fire crackles in a huge fireplace. There’s a glassed in room tacked on where you can sit and watch the planes. If you’re feeling really adventurous, or need a smoke, you can sit at the tables outside. There are glass barriers set up to block most of the wind, but we bundled up anyway. We ordered the local beer that was on special (I don’t remember what it was, but it was very good), and Berck suggested we try the pyrogi topped with chili sauce, sour cream, and chorizo. Yes, pyrogi and chorizo. I love it when Berck is culinarily adventurous. It was actually really good. We ordered a couple more delicious local beers that I don’t remember the names of and tucked into an order of chicken fingers and fries. When the fries were running out, I put the ketchup bottle in the basket to keep it from flying away in the wind.

We were eating in a corner of the patio that seem to escape the brunt of the wind, sitting on couch by a coffee table. A guy came and sat at the end of the coffee table and struck up a conversation with us. Canadians are so informal. He is fascinated by airplanes too, but instead of getting a pilot’s license like Berck, he got a job assembling airplanes for Viking. They now make some of the airplanes that De Havilland made. De Havilland made the Dashes that Berck will fly, though Bombardier makes the newer versions. The guy said making Dash parts is hard. Making Beaver parts is easy.

The Flying Beaver juts out over the water and has stairs down to the docks below where the seaplanes pull up. The planes land and take off along the harbor pretty much constantly. Whenever one took off, Berck and our dinner guest stopped quizzing each other about their jobs, grew silent, and turned to watch. Berck described it as an aircraft strip show.

The guy finished his food and bade us goodbye. He had just come over during a layover at the airport. We finished and then walked back to the hotel. It was very windy but warm enough if you weren’t right on the water. The sea planes fly directly over the street where the hotel is, so we could watch them all the way back.

We got back to the hotel right as the phone rang. It was one of Berck’s classmates, who he invited over from across the hall. As soon as she walked in, Berck looked up from his e-mail and said, “We’re furloughing. 100.” She’s about 80 from the bottom. Berck is above the cutoff. She was very distraught, and Berck offered for us to accompany her down to the pub so she didn’t have to drown her sorrows alone. She doesn’t look like a typical pilot at all, 22, petite, with trendy jeans, cute top, and dark brown hair with heavily highlighted strips. But she kept wondering what kind of flying job she could possibly get. True pilots can’t imagine doing anything else. The instructors came in later and sat at a different table, but we managed to get them to join us eventually. We finally left around 1 when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. The pub has a 15% discount for airline crews, which is nice. Unfortunately, we had Molly for most of the night, and she gives terrible service.

Check Ride

29 March 2009 at 2:00 am
by Jonah

Berck passed and is now a Dash 8 pilot.

35th Birthday

26 March 2009 at 11:02 pm
by Jonah

Written yesterday

My flight doesn’t leave for another hour and a half. I woke up at 6:50 this morning sans alarm, and after I finished getting ready to go, I knew I would just sit around worry about leaving on time. So I just headed for Denver. There was snow on the ground though not on the roads, and I didn’t want to get stuck in slow traffic on Monument Hill. Maybe I should have spent just a little bit of time worrying; I forgot my hairbrush. Berck has one I can use, though.

As birthdays go, it wasn’t the worst. No one wished me a happy birthday in person, and I spent it virtually alone. After work I headed across the highway to the Texas Roadhouse, where I had a coupon for a free appetizer. It was only 4:30, so they sat me in the bar section, which meant I had the bartender as my waiter. Bartenders make terrible waiters. They need to be full time bartenders, but chain restaurants usually insist on making them wait the tables around the bar as well. All of the bartenders at Tony Roma’s were bad at bartending and waiting at the same time, or maybe they were good at it comparatively but it was impossible to do correctly. Two of them were actually very good servers when someone else was bartending. The main bartender, however, was terrible. He would chat with the folks at the bar while orders for drinks from the other servers piled up. He would take forever to make change; I learned the hard way to carry far more change with me than I thought I would ever need. The other servers would leave his food sitting in the kitchen and refuse to run it out to him because he would never give them their drink orders. I would run it out because I didn’t have anything better to do, and he’d always thank me. But he would still take 10 minutes to open a beer for me (I am not exaggerating). I guess the worst part of it was that we all had to give the bartenders 1 percent of our total tab for the shift, which he would split with the busboys. If I didn’t get a tip from some idiot kids, I personally LOST money.

So I pictured my sweet tea glass sitting empty and my chicken fingers getting cold in the kitchen. It was so slow, however, that the manager would fill my tea whenever it got slightly empty and brought out my appetizer steaming hot. The good thing about being in the bar is that you can watch TV. Normally, I don’t like having a TV around when I’m trying to have dinner with someone, but by myself it’s just fine. It was showing ESPN and college basketball, of course. I’ve recently taken an interest in college basketball.

This is because of my discovery that, if you sign up for chain restaurants’ e-mail lists, they’ll often send you a coupon for your birthday. A lot of them are for buy one entree get one free, which is pretty good, though useless if you’re by yourself. Others are for a free appetizer with an entree. But some are for something outright free. So far I’ve gotten a free burger and fries from Red Robin and a free breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe, though by far the best was anything on the menu at Zio’s Italian Kitchen. I ordered the $18 ribeye steak, which came with roasted potatoes and a loaf of bread.

A family came and sat across from my seat, which is at the gate next to mine but is next to an outlet. They distributed various McDonald’s breakfast items among themselves and began eating. The tween girl greedily ate her chicken biscuit and then stood up and brushed herself off. An enormous cascade of white biscuit crumbs fell to the floor. I looked up first in surprise then with what I thought was an appropriate level of disapproval. Apparently, her father was thinking the same thing, because she paused, looked up at him, and said, “What?” Now a female house sparrow has discovered the crumbs. House sparrows abound in the terminals, and I’ve never seen any attempt to get them out. After a few minutes, the sparrow had cleaned up most of the crumbs and flew off. I think the birds relieve themselves on the criss-crossing beams far above the terminal floor, so their poop is largely unseen. Yet my sparrow cleaned up a mess pretty well. Maybe that’s why they are suffered to stay. I’m eating a loaf of bread Nikki made for me and brought me yesterday as a birthday present. But I’m not leaving any crumbs.

My gate moved, and I’ve lost my outlet. There are several empty ones, but the people sitting next to them aren’t using them. I’ve been assigned a boarding pass for seat 6A! This is fantastic because I’ll be near the front of the line to go through customs.

So I was going to the websites of all the chains I could think of in town and signing up for their e-mail lists. I have a junk e-mail account that I use to give out to all institutions. If I buy anything, I give out my junk e-mail address. I only check it if I need information about an order. Otherwise, it accumulates with junk that I never or rarely look at. I even have a special e-mail address just for Amazon, though that goes directly to my mail program. So I never actually see any of the stuff that gets sent my way unless I specifically log into my junk account to look for it.

I went to Buffalo Wild Wings to sign up, and they had a big banner ad on their homepage advertising a March Madness contest. Now, I’m a sucker for contests, especially online ones for restaurants. I won $600 worth of gift certificates from Macaroni Grill, which came in handy when Berck was stationed in Chicago and could eat at the Macaroni Grill in the airport there for free. So I went over to the contest page and started filling in my bracket.

Now I know next to nothing about college basketball. I know that Duke has a good team, but that’s about it. So I just filled in teams that I’d heard of. For instance, I picked West Kentucky versus their first match because I’ve heard of the state of Kentucky, but I hadn’t heard of the college they were playing against. I was very pleased the other day to see in the news that West Kentucky had won an upset. So I watched the game in Texas Roadhouse with interest, because I figured I had bet on one or the other of the teams playing.

The appetizers at Texas Roadhouse are huge. My chicken fingers came with fries. You also get as many delicious yeast rolls you can eat (I had all four in my basket and refused more) AND a bucket of peanuts. So with my coupon I got so full I couldn’t even finish all my fries. I did have three glasses of sweet tea, though, and was happily surprised that it only took me an extra five minutes or so that night to fall asleep.

When I couldn’t eat anymore, the bartender came over and asked if I needed anything. I told him just the check. He took a long time getting the bill, during which time I nursed my tea and watched the game. He finally brought it over around 15 minutes later, apologizing for it taking so long. He hadn’t charged me for my tea (the only good thing about being waited on by bartenders) but hadn’t applied the coupon either. He took the bill back. Another 15 minutes passed, and the manager stopped by apologizing for it taking so long, but that the bartender had given her the wrong table number. The appetizer was removed, but the tea was still missing. My total was 0.00. I left my last two ones and decided that could be a tip or pay for the drink.

So now I don’t have any ones to give the shuttle driver when he brings me to the hotel in Vancouver.

Berck asked me how I would spend my birthday all alone. I told him I would spend the evening talking to my family. I’d already talked to Dad that morning. Indeed, as soon as I got home, Ben called. In the middle of talking to him, Berck called. He bought a calling card for $5 that has like 400 minutes on it. Then while I was talking to him Mom called. Then I had to call UPS to tell them to hold the map of Vancouver i’d bought from Amazon with 2-day shipping but which UPS refused to leave at my house because I was at work. While I was on the phone with them, Steph called. So I called Steph back and then Mom back, and then it was time for bed.

Free appetizer

Sim Lesson 6 and 7

25 March 2009 at 3:54 pm
by Berck

This is the third sunny day out of the 10 I’ve been here so far. It doesn’t rain that much up here; I don’t know why people think it does!

My last couple of lessons in the simulator went pretty well. Lesson 6 was a sign-off for single-engine procedures. I forgot the occasional dumb thing, but my flying was solid and on track for Lesson 6.

Lesson 7 is the sign-off for special airports. We go to four airports in the Dash 8 that are special enough that the captain has to go there with a check airman and get signed off on it before he can go there by himself. Few airlines have airports like that. They are: Telluride, Aspen, Eagle County and Gunnison. You’ll note that all 4 of them are in Colorado.

In the simulator, they have us go to Aspen and Eagle and fly the engine-out procedures, balked landing procedures and a couple circle to land maneuvers. It’s all very tricky because in marginal weather you can’t see the rocks that will kill you if you deviate from the very complicated procedures even slightly.

Here’s some videos of what these approaches are like: Aspen, Telluride, Eagle County. As you can see, the terrain could be problematic, especially if it’s in the clouds. Those airports are also generally one way in, and one way out.

So that was my lesson last night. I had a new instructor, and one of the girls in the class who wanted some extra time flew with me. After practicing all the crazy engine-out departures, the circling approaches and balked landings, we did windshear demonstrations. The first one happened while I was still on the ground. We just noticed an airspeed hesitation, but weren’t really sure what to do about it. The end of the runway was coming up, so I hauled back and rotated for all I was worth. We cleared the lights at the end of the runway by a couple of feet. After that, I realized that we should have simply aborted the takeoff. I was worried about doing it because we were eating up runway, but having enough runway to abort is predicated upon getting to V1 in a reasonable time. I was reminded that we weren’t in a Jet, a Dash isn’t going all that fast at V1 anyway, and as long as we haven’t gotten there, I’m still legal to abort. We did it again, this time I aborted and still had a bunch of runway left. Lesson learned.

The next one was a huge tailwind shear right after lift off. I called for max power, pitched to the stick shaker and aimed for an angle of attack right below the shaker. I got the shaker again, dropped the nose too much, and it looked like ground contact was imminent. My nonflying shoved the power levers to the firewall (guaranteed to trash the engines, but still better than hitting the ground), and I held the nose high and rode the shaker. I was sure we were going to hit a fence. I’d never really noticed a fence in the sim before. Somehow we cleared the fence, and climbed safely. The sim instructor and my non-flying who’d done the lesson were both impressed. They said that at that level of windshear, most folks crash the sim. I think I just got lucky.

On one of the engine failure scenarios we committed a classic multi-engine mistake that kills people. We had a #1 engine failure with no uptrim and no autofeather on takeoff. It goes something like this. (I’ll do dialogue. K is my non-flying.)

Me: Set Max Power, Memory Items
K: #1 power lever, confirm and flight idle.
At this point, she’s pointing at the #1 power lever. I confirm that’s the correct one and say, “Flight idle” and she moves it to idle. We do the same thing with the condition lever.
K: #1 condition lever, confirm and fuel off.
Me: Fuel off.
K: #1 alternate feather switch selected, propeller has feathered.

At this point, the engine is secure with the prop feathered, so we concentrate on flying the airplane up to acceleration altitude, get the flaps retracted and then…

Me: Continue memory items
K: #2 fuel pull off handle, confirm and pull
I look up, she is indeed pointing at the #2 fuel pull off handle.
Me: Pull.

At that point I think, “Was that the correct engine? Well, it must have been, because the engine’s still—” And then it got very quiet as the other engine quit. We both felt really dumb because now we’re flying a complicated single-engine departure procedure out of Aspen with no engines.

My instructor: “All right Sully, what are you gonna do now?”
Me: Vectors to the Hudson?
K: I’m so sorry!
Me: Hey, I told you to pull it! Put it back in and and restart it!

Mercifully, I only lost about 800 feet while she got it restarted. The whole confirming thing is intended to prevent just this sort of stupid mistake. It was just as much my fault for confirming the wrong engine as it was hers for pointing at the wrong engine. In a lot of ways, I’m glad we made that mistake in the sim, because now I know how it happens, and I’m not going to do it in the plane.

I’ve got today and tomorrow off. Jonah’s flight landed in Vancouver an hour and a half ago, but I still haven’t heard from her. I’m sure she’s stuck in the many hour line to clear immigration. I hope she gets here while it’s still sunny!

Off to Vancouver in the morning

24 March 2009 at 9:59 pm
by Jonah

I fly out of Denver at 11:30. Like Berck, I won’t be able to use my cell phone up in Canada, but I will have e-mail access.