Monday, April 30, 2012

What I've been up to... The Grind

More of the same today.  Concentrating on stable approaches.  I say stable, which in helicopters mean a constantly changing dynamic situation.

I'm still fighting my fixed wing habits.  I consistently ending up too fast at the end. Which means I end up having too much aft cyclic which translates into having to pull too much collective and rolling in too much power at the end, which means huge amounts of pedal too.  It's all pretty ugly.

The ideal is once turning final and setting that initial back cyclic, it's a steady deceleration from 60 to the hover right over the landing spot.  Which would mean, a more gentle collective at the end when you translate from flight to hover which would help slow down the helicopter more, which would require forward cyclic to keep from stopping, keeping a more level attitude, less required collective and power and anti-torque at the end.

I'm at that point in training where it's gonna be the same stuff over and over till I can actually do it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What I've been up to... some more.

More of the same today.  Hover, pedal turns, hover taxi (forward and left and right), patterns.  I'm trying to tighten up the hover stuff, now more bobbling around, keep it in the 3 to 5 ft. high realm, nice walking pace, stuff like that.

Patterns, more of the same.  Trying to get that pace on approach down, more coordination on collective/throttle, cyclic/pedals.  It's getting there, but I'm still pretty loose on that stuff.

At this point, I've been introduced and demonstrated all the basic stuff.  It's just a matter of polishing up the skills.  Not anything exciting, but it's stuff I have to master.

Oh! p.s.  My instructor, the suicidal maniac, is letting me hover taxi the helicopter more and closer to the helicopter stand that the bird normally rests on.  So, either I am getting better or his life is taking a turn for the worse.  I've taken to searching the flight school office for crumpled up half written "Goodbye, Cruel World" notes.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What I've been up to.... again.

Much to the wailing of my fixed wing friends (cough, Wing, cough).  I'm continuing my helicopter training.

Nice day today.  Light winds out of the north, cool, no clouds.  Basically a beautiful day to fly. Or in the case of helicopters, make the air my bitch.

We did the usual hover work, pick ups, set downs, then we did some more flying.  Just figuring out what cruise power setting are for different airspeeds.  How to do constant airspeed climbs and descents.  Then we got back into the pattern and worked the pattern and something new, the helicopter approach.

Okay, I'm just writing this up so I'll remember it, you can skip the next paragraph if you want.

The standard approach path in helicopters is about 10 degrees. That's a bit different from a fixed wing approach.  That's usually a 3 to 3.5 degrees.  So, we were trying to turn final at about 300 ft. above ground
and at a point that puts the landing spot at that 10 degree descent path.  Then an initial slight reduction in power/collective and back on the cyclic to start the approach.  The idea being that you're doing a constant deceleration and descent to the spot.  So, all things being perfect, you start the final at 60mph (this helicopter's airspeed indicator is calibrated in mph) and you use collective to control the descent and the cyclic to control, this is the different bit, the apparent speed across the ground.  So, at 300 ft. you look like your moving at a walk, the same at 200, as 100, etc.  This means as the ground gets closer, you're going to be decelerating to keep that same apparent pace.  Seems okay, right? It's just that as a fixed wing pilot I have trained and trained and flown and flown to set up a constant descent but a constant airspeed as well.  So, all my flying life, I'm watching the runway numbers pass underneath at whatever is the landing speed of what I'm flying.  so, 30-35 in a Cessna up to 120-130 in a Lear.  So, here I am, constantly fighting my tendency to push the nose over to gain airspeed again rather than keeping the nose up and letting the airspeed bleed off. 

And that's basically it today.  Aside from a couple of beeps on the collective and the throttle, I had the controls alone the entire time.  So, I must be getting better.  I think.  maybe.... who knows...

I still think my instructor is using me in some sort of convoluted suicide/insurance scam thing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What I've been up to.

So, the reason behind the whole contract trip from hell and missing all my friends in St. Louis is this.  I'm finally putting my money where my mouth is and getting my rotory pilots license.  My planning guess-timated that I'd need about $10,000 for my private, another 15k for my commercial and after that, basically chump change to add it to my ATP.

Why, no. It ain't cheap.

So, this week I started.  I'm driving about 90 miles one way to the flight school everyday and back.  Which is a royal pain in the ass, but I've driven longer for flight training before.  It works out to an extra 45 dollars a day in gas, but if I can find a hotel down there for that, I'll just commute once for the week from now on.

This is a bit complicated.  You see, I get 5 hard days off a month.  5 days when they can't call me and put me on a charter trip.  5 days when I don't have to be within 30 minutes of my airport. 5 days when they can't call me at 2 am to go to wherever ASAP. 5 days when I can have a beer without calling 3 people to get it okayed. So, I have to cram as much helicopter training as I can into those 5 days and then let the skills rot for a month till I can get the next 5 days off.  Anyone who's taking flying lessons can tell you, that isn't the best way to do it, but it's the way I'm stuck with.

Anyway, Monday.  First hour. Sort of a combination discovery flight, first lesson.  We went off and did the 4 basics of flying.  Climbs, turns, descents and straight and level.  All flying is basically some combination of those 4.  At least for fixed wing aircraft. We then went to a big wide empty field next to the runway and I proceeded to make myself airsick.  My instructor, great guy by the way, sets up a hover and then give me the pedals.  My only job is to maintain a heading.  Keep the nose pointed at a big white pole just outside of this acre and a half field that we're in the middle of.  Not too bad.  Then he gave me the collective, throttle and pedals.  Now, I'm supposed to maintain heading and height.  A little worse, but okay.  I'm only bouncing up and down maybe 10 ft. and swinging back and forth maybe 30 degrees. Then he says he's gonna take back the collective, throttle and pedals and he's gonna give me just the cyclic. At this point I KNOW this man is insane and suicidal.

Oh, by the way, before this he'd just say, "Okay, you take the pedals now and hold heading.", or, "Take the collective too now."

Now he's like, "Okay, the cyclic is yours in three... two... one..." Right about the time he got to 'two', he had me wondering what the hell I was in for.

The first time, for about the first 3 seconds everything was fine.  Then it went... wonky.  You see the rotor on a helicopter is about the only thing that's really flying, everything else is just hanging underneath like a pendulum. And that's exactly how it went after those three seconds. I was making too large a control inputs and the lag in the pendulum that is the 'airframe' of the helicopter just got worse and worse.  So, he'd take the controls back, re stabilize, or as I was referring to it at this point, performing his voodoo/black magic on the infernal machine, and then, "Okay, take the cyclic in three... two... (for the love of god, I want to live, NO) one..." and we do it all over again.  This goes on for a good half hour. At the end of which, I'm turning green, trying to get as much air to blow across my face as I can and concentrating on non-throwup-y thoughts. 

End of my first lesson.  Looking back, I suppose each time he gave me the controls, the grace period between fine and wonky got a little longer.

Second lesson. We immediately hop over to that field and he proceeds to give me the pedals, then the collective/throttle, the the bastard give me ALL of them. pedals, collective, throttle and cyclic. and I try to hover.  I will say I managed to hover... in a field a good acre and a half on a side.  Then he has me do set downs, pick ups to hover and pedal turns.  Again, I managed to stay inside that acre and a half.  And I didn't get airsick.  All in all a good day. But, I'm still thinking of reporting my instructor to the mental health people at the local hospital.  He needs to be on a 72 hour suicide watch at the very least.

Third lesson. We discuss some of the forces acting on the helicopter and the rotor. Different types of rotors and some other stuff out of the FAA's FAA-H-8083-21 Rotorcraft Flying Handbook.  Part of me is thinking he's trying to distract me from my impending doom.

Part of me is right.

Today, he gets the helicopter off of the trailer/pad and then gives me the controls and tells me to hover taxi over to the compass rose.  This is a 15 ft. circle with the cardinal compass points painted on it.  It's a way for airplanes to swing their compasses and make sure they're accurate.

I get it there in mostly a straight line and then we do pick ups, 120 degree pedal turns and let downs for 45 minutes. All while trying to stay inside this 15ft. circle.  He basically made me stay on the controls alone the entire time.

Honestly. I figured we'd go from an acre and a half field, to an acre to 3/4 of an acre... you know, work me down to something less than a football field in nice easy steps.  Nope.

And to be honest.  My hovering skills are getting better.  As long as I remember to keep my control inputs small, smooth, and relatively slow, I can hover inside a 15ft circle and within 3 to 5 ft. of the ground.  Then we went out and looked at power/collective settings for 60 kt cruise, 80 kt cruise, and climbs and descents at both air speeds as well.  Then did an approach back to the airport to a spot landing, then he hovered over to the trailer and end of lesson.  I still think he's suicidal and I'm pretty sure now that I can take the helicopter with me when I crash, rather than somehow killing myself as I walk up to the machine.

If the weather holds, I'll have 2 more lessons this week before it's back to work for me.

By the way, the place I'm training at, Vertical Aviation in Lebanon, OH, uses Enstrom F28's for training.  The big difference between Enstroms and the more common Robinsons or Hughes 300's is no governor.  You see, Robinsons and Hughes both have engine governors that keep the engine rpm's in the green for any given collective setting.  Not the Enstroms.  You change collective, you adjust throttle, and vice verse. You move the pedals, you adjust the throttle, you move the collective and vice verse.  You move the cyclic... well, you get the idea. So, I actually set out and made learning helicopters harder than I could have.

Yes, I'm kicking myself over that. No, I don't need your help there.

Actually, I did that on purpose. I figured if I can learn to fly helicopters without the governors. Actually manipulating 4 controls to fly rather than just 3, I should be a better pilot in the end.  At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, so far, 3 hours of training, so good. Another 30 or 35 hours to go. I'll post updates as I fly. 

Oh, and as for the question, why am I learning to fly helicopters?  Well aside from the obvious coming zombie apocalypse.  It's just plain old fun.

A Day in the Life of a Charter Pilot, or Repo Wrap Up

Okay, finally found how to get the old interface back.  Yeah, blogger is free and you get what you pay for.  Remember when free software was unsupported and would stay the same, never changing.  Now, I guess free means, "lets fuck with it till it pisses everybody off."

Anyway, as promised, my contract trip wrap up.

First off, the plan was originally, this:
Get to India on Thursday, spend the day and night in the hotel and get an easy start around midday Friday.  There were 7 planned stops. Kolkata to Fujairah, then to Luxor, then Majorca, then Santa Maria, St. John's Bay, Green Bay, WI, and finally Grand Junction Co.  With planned overnights in Majorca with friends and good seafood, and possibly St. John's Bay to rest up after the crossing.  The ferry company, of course arranged handlers, factors, landing permissions, fuel contracts and everything in all these places before hand.  It was, as contracts go, an easy show up, fly the plane, go home situation. 5 days, Wednesday to Sunday. Easy.

But as many military commanders will tell you, a plan never survives contact with the enemy.  The enemy in this case is Bureaucracy, with a capital B.

First, it suddenly became a "DO IT NOW!" situation.  So, instead of mailing my Indian visa paperwork in to the consulate and getting them back 3 to 5 business days later by mail, I found myself on an airline to New York on Tuesday at OMG in the morning to hand walk them through the agency that India outsourced their Visa process to. I had done the online stuff then night before and had everything printed out and ready to go in a nice neat folder sitting by the door, so I wouldn't forget it in the morning. You see where this is going, don't you.

Okay, on a side note, seriously, India has outsourced it Visa application department to a company with 4 offices around the country in the US.  India is where WE outsource everything to! How recursive do we need to get?

I realize I've forgotten my all important paperwork and 2x2 passport sized photos in my nice neat folder by the door where I wouldn't forget it just after checking in at the ticket counter, but not before going through security theater.

I have an hour till the plane closes its doors and leaves.  My car is on the other side of the airport at the FBO where my plane is. (Hey, I park free there.)  So, I run back out to the White-zone-is-for-loading-and-unloading-only. Grab a cab, through the guy in there out, in a panicked voice explain to the driver that I have to get home and back to the airport in basically 20 minutes. We did it in 24.  I cleared security theater in 15 and I was NOT the last person on the airplane.  But not by a lot.

Seeing as how there were no guarantees that the visa would be issued, but it usually was, it was a fretful day, to say the least.  But at 5:30, they called my name and handed me back my passport with a freshly minted 6 month tourist visa to India.  Big BIG Kudos to the people who work at their NY office.  These guys and gals from the security guard at the street door to the process clerks to the managers made this process as smooth and painless as possible.  You guys RAWKED.

Then it's run back to the airport, grab a flight to Chicago, because that's where my Air India flight is leaving from on Wednesday.

End Day One.

Day Two starts with me meeting up with Vincent, the lead contractor on this ferry at the hotel.  We finish some paperwork, make sure everything is packed and hop the shuttle to the airport with plenty of time.  At which point I realize I've left my phone at the hotel.  No big deal.  We planned on 2 hours to clear Security Theater, so Vin gets off at the international terminal and I just ride the shuttle around back to the hotel and there's my phone at the front desk. 

Thank you thank you thank you.  You don't realize how much of your life is on your phone till you lose it.

I get back on the next shuttle to the airport and call Vin to tell him I have my phone and the day's panic is over.  At which point Vin tells me he's left his visa back at home in Kansas.  You see, his visa is in his OLD passport. He remembered his NEW passport.

Airlines will not let you one their airplane without a visa.  They're liable for HUGE fines and sundry if they do, not to mention the sundries that the foreign country has waiting for you.

No way around it, his visa will get to him no sooner than Thursday.  And since international flights tend to run once a day.  He won't be able to get to India before Friday.  We decide I'll go ahead and go over the airplane and books to make sure there isn't anything that will keep us from launching as soon as Vin gets there.  So, off I go.

I will not get into the flight.  Anybody who's flown internationally on any airline knows what it's like.  Everybody else just couldn't understand.

I land in Delhi around three-ish, India time, with an expected 7pm flight to Kolkata.  Of course the Kolkata flight is late, by 2 hours. And I should have known that was the norm, not the exception.

By the way, when and why did they change the name of Calcutta to Kolkata?

I meet my factor at the airport and he gets me to my hotel with no problems.  By the way, I have to send out electronic Kudos to Dipankar, my factor, Swissotel Kolkata and it's staff.  These guys made the stay as easy and painless as possible.  Are you getting that painless was becoming the goal of this trip?

Anyway, after much shuffling, hemming, hawing and a couple of sticky fingers I finally got a pass to get onto the airport to inspect the airplane, logbooks and paperwork.  Normally, India won't let crews onto the airport till 2 hours prior to flight.  This wasn't going to do, since I needed to be there early enough to get whatever passed for a maintenance facility to fix anything I found wrong.  They coughed up the pass about 4 pm local. Luckily, the maintenance guys were there till 5.

All this time, Vin is either flying to Delhi or waiting on his Kolkata connection.

The airplane was, with some minor and one major exception, immaculate.  I got in contact with the old captain on the plane. (He's in Florida now) and He explained why that was.  Basically, he wouldn't let anyone in Kolkata touch the thing. All maintenance was done at Bombardier's facility in Delhi by factory mechanics and engineers. H'Ray for first world maintenance!  The minor exceptions were your basic electronic ghosts and all airplanes seem to have, they were know, were trying to be traced and weren't going to keep the airplane from flying.

Ah, but the major exception...

You see, this was a repossession on a Lr-40XR.  And we were told that the XR models all had the larger fuel tanks.  The original 40's had a max fuel load of 5375lbs.  This is enough for 3 and a half hours with reserve.  An option for a larger 6060lb fuel tank was introduced with the BR models.  This works out to a 4.5 hour range with reserve.  And we'd done all our leg calculations with that 4.5 hour range in mind.  But, whoever originally spec'd this airplane out must have thought that 3.5 hours will get you anywhere in India comfortably.  There's no need for a larger tank.  That sound you hear was the original plan finally dying.

Even climbing as high as possible and using most economical long range cruise there were gonna be at least 3 legs of the original plan that would have required an hour of glider time. Jets suck as gliders.  I mean they're better than a backpack with an anvil, just ask Wiley E. Coyote.  But still.

So, where are we? Oh yeah, the airplane doesn't have the range, Vin is stuck in Delhi waiting on a flight that's gonna be at least 2 hours late, our overflight clearances are all for Friday and we're rapidly running out of Fridayness.

I do what I can.  I make sure the airplane is fueled. I play loose and fast with Friday and get our flight plans pushed back to 23:55 India time. (Still technically Friday). And I get power on the plane and make sure all the lights light and bells bell and whistles whistle.  Gotta love glass cockpits. I also get as much of the bribery as I can out of the way with what money Vin gave me for that.  The rest will just have to wait for Vin, who gets into Kolkata at 23:30.

I think we finally took off at 1954Z, that's 0124 local. India is +5.5 hour from GMT.  Right?

Now the hard part.  You see the first of those hour glider legs was this first one to Fujairah, UAE. We are not gonna do it.  Scratch scratch, mumble mumble, shuffle shuffle and we decide that as soon as we clear Indian airspace we're gonna call and make a technical stop in Karachi, Pakistan.

Of course we haven't arranged prior permission to do so.  But hey, it's a technical stop.  That's like a Get Out of Jail Free card, isn't it? Right? Guys?!?

We land, they have us follow the follow-me jeep to an appropriately remote and foreboding customs pad and they drop off a guard and take Vin to the airport authorities to arrange fuel and clearances to continue.

The guard was a good guy.  He has very little English, and I have absolutely no Farsi or Arabic or Urdu (thank you google).  So, we discussed the philosophical import of the current global climate orbiting around the international impact of the information super highway and way to improve X25 packet transmissions.

Seriously, we talked families and life.

Aside from a 15 minute period where he went off to do his morning prayers, we hung out at the airplane and watched the sun finally rise.  And yes, he is Muslim and no, he wasn't trying to blow me up or chop my head off.  Which sort of lends credence to all Muslims are not fanatic jihadist theories.

Fuel arrived after a while and Vin came back a while after that.  Our middle eastern handlers in UAE finally contacted someone in Pakistan to act as our factor and all the necessary paperwork was fill out, stamped, folded, spindled and mutilated.

We landed in Karachi at 2312Z and finally took off at 0202Z.  By the by, we landed there after a 3 hour and 17  minute flight with 1200lbs of fuel left on board.  That's 45 minutes of fuel if you squint just right, but not too hard.

Karachi to Fujairah was easy, 1 hour 45 minutes.  Refuel, barely on the ground an hour and off again to Luxor. 

By this point we KNOW we won't make our original fuel stops so we've rerouted from Luxor to Crete to Luxembourg to Keflavik to Goose Bay, then back on plan.

Fujairah to Luxor is a 3:31 flight, Luxor to Crete is 2:10, Crete to Luxembourg is 3:02. We finally landed in Luxembourg at 1537Z which I think was 5:37pm local.  I think Lux is +2, but it might be +1.  It's all sort of fuzzy at this point.  We crawl to the hotel, shower, change, get to the bar for a beer or two and then bed.  I was spent, and I'd burned through 5 of my 6, 5 hour energy shots.  I remember thinking as my head hit the pillow, "I wonder if I'll be abzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz"

By they way, all this westward flying meant we were actually sort of making our days longer.  Aside from the first leg, all the flying was done in daylight.  And we ended up with a 28 hour Saturday.

Sunday was supposed to be painless.

We took off from Lux at 0558Z, which I think is either 7am or 8am. local.  Three hours, nineteen minutes later we landed at Keflavik, Iceland 20 minutes after we took off, local time. Quick hour on the ground and 3:16 to Goose Bay, Canada.  At which point we find out that whoever was supposed to arrange Customs at Green Bay and forgot to make the phone call and we weren't gonna be able to fly into the US.  We make some frantic phone calls and on a SUNDAY, customs get someone to Bangor, ME for us with literally zero notice. 

Yes, I am impressed.

No big deal, instead of Green Bay, we clear in Bangor. Hour and a half flight to Bangor, Custom guy inspects us, and our paperwork with a Geiger Counter, I swear to ghu, and 2 hours later were in the US flying to Akron, OH for fuel and then Grand Junction, CO. 1:44 to Akron, 3:17 to Grand Junction.  We landed in Grand Junction 10 minutes late.  From the ORIGINAL plan.  We'd said we'd get the airplane there by 5:30 Sunday, that was with 3 days to fly and 5 days total road days.  Instead, we had 2 days to fly and we still did it.  We got into Grand Junction at 2339Z which is 5:39pm local.  Of course we were zombified.

The hardest part of the entire trip was Monday's airlining back to home. 3 legs, 2 hubs and 12 hours in airports.  I really hate airlines.

Here are some pics snapped from my crappy phone camera:

This is all I saw of Dehli, India

The airplane and our handler in Fujairah, UAE.

These next two are the glaciers in Iceland.  I think we were either at 47,000 ft. or 51,000 ft.

This is on approach in to Keflavik. The Bahamas of Iceland.

Goose Bay.  That's just a pile of snow behind the FBO there.  Did I mention that this was mid-April?

Finally, the airplane on the ramp in Grand Junction.

And the view out my window at the hotel in Grand Junction.  Seriously, I could live there.  Love the country, nice folks, no oxygen though.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Apparently, blogger no longer supports IExplorer. I'm running version 9. This is why I haven't posted a trip summary yet. Blogger tells me I have to use chrome.

So, what blog host does everyone recommend? Because, I'll be moving from blogger as soon as I find one.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Day in the Life of and Nothing is Going Right.


Turns out the airplane doesn't have the long range tanks that we thought it did.   Which mean that half the planned legs were about 60 minutes too long.  Which wouldn't be a problem, except for the whole glider that used to be a jet thing.

The original plan became, Kolkata to Karachi, Pakistan. 3 hours clearing all the paperwork there, then flying on to Fajairah, an hour there. Then Luxor, Egypt.  Then Crete, and finally Luxembourg.  Worked out to about a dozen hours of flying and nearly 36 hours awake.  The weird bit is, since we were moving westward as fast as we could, Saturday April 14th, 2012 has lasted nearly 30 hours.

Tomorrow should see us and the airplane back in the states and over to the inspector for inspections, paint and repair.

So much fun, so little time.

Other things that have gone wrong with this trip.
I nearly lost my iPhone twice now.
The guy I'm flying the plane back lost his Indian Visa and ended up a day behind me.
Just about every airport we've stopped in has tried to delay us or throw us in jail.
Route clearances aren't, fuel releases haven't.
The winds have conspired against us to ensure the worst possible head winds
And tomorrow we go trans-Atlantic!

My eyes are so tired, the double images I'm seeing hurt.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Charter Pilot.

It's a pretty common title I use for these posts, I know.  But, it fits and it implies a little bit of the resignation to this life and the excitement too.

Today, I'm in Kolkata.  Formerly know as Calcutta. In India.  And when and why did they change the name anyway?  Kolkata used to be Calcutta. Mumbai used to be Bombay.  Which reminds me is Bombay Gin now Mumbai Gin?

I got in late yesterday after nearly 26 hours in airports.  I hate airlines, but it was that or several weeks on a boat.  Anyway, got in really late, like close to midnight, India time. We're picking up a Lr-40 and flying it back to the states.  It's a 4 year old Lr-40XR that's lease has run out here.

So, we fly it back. 

We were going to take the eastward route through Taiwan, Japan, Siberia, Alaska and down, but China wouldn't give us overflight privileges out of Taiwan, so it's the westward route for us. I was really hoping to circle the globe on this contract, but instead I get half way around and turn around and fly the same half back.

Right now, we're planning on Kolkata to Fujairah to Luxor to Majorca to Santa Maria to St. John's Bay to the states, but we may take the northern route across the Atlantic through Shannon and Reykjavik.  We'll see what the jet stream is doing first.  We're also picking routes to avoid airspaces like Iran's and as much of the more turbulent parts of the middle east as possible.

All this means that I'm going to miss all my friends in St,. Louis.  I really wish I could've been there to see everyone, but these days making money has to take priority. Y'all have fun this weekend and I'll be thinking of y'all.