Aviation In Canada

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

My posts here are done.

(This was supposed to have been posted on Nov 1, but I forgot to do it)

It's official. This is the last day that I intend to post to this blog. For now, I have decided to move the posting to Aviation.ca, where the posts will continue as they have been here on a more or less daily basis. For those who won't follow me over there, I wish to thank you for stopping by and contributing. It's been great to have you around. And for those who will read over at the new place, I'll see you there. All of you have made this worth doing by visiting and writing back, and it has been rewarding for me. Thanks for everything!

If you post something here, I'll still get an e-mail about it. And for those wishing for the RSS feed, well, at the time of writing this, I'm still working on it. I hope to resolve it sometime in the near future, rather than later... Please accept my apologies in the meantime.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Aerial Exploration

For my last post to this blog, I thougth I'd end on a more positive note that some of the posts I've made. As mentioned, I'll be moving to Aviation.ca starting November 1st. This blog will still be online for reference, but there will be no new posts after Nov 1.

The enjoyment of flight has been around me for a long time now. I received my pilot's license back in 1988, while still in high school. While others my age were saving for their first car, I was flying planes and enjoying the crap out of it. Since I recieved my license, however, one thing that has really fallen by the wayside was cross country. The time it takes, and the amount it costs, was just way too far beyond my budget.

I went without flying for 8 years, and then a good friend of mine took me flying a few years ago. As a current instructor, he saved the left seat for me, and had me do the entire flight. My first flight in 8 years. I knew I missed it, but it had been so long that I couldn't remember why. It hardened my resolve, and the next thing I knew, I was qualified and flying on my own again.

Thinking back to this cross country thing, I decided that I would do one or two. The enjoyment, the travelling, and the exploration, too. Exploration. What would there be to explore? I had been developing a fascination with the coastline of the Bay of Fundy. I knew there were huge cliffs and rugged features, so I went for a look. And what was there? About 3NM in shore, somewhere I wasn't even looking, some motion caught my eye. It was a waterfall. I took some photos from a distance, but didn't, for some reason, venture inland. The photos revealed this waterfall, based on estimated distance (GPS track, position of the falls believed to be within 100m) and known focal length, to be in the order of 100m (300 feet) high. In my own back yard! After a second flight for aerial reconnaisance, I found a way to get to it. It is indeed about 300 feet high. It's not Niagara Falls with the huge amount of water, but it's in a scenic river gorge and it's beautiful. And it's something I would have never known about if I didn't do that little cross country flight, since the area is not accessible by car, nor is it visible from the Bay itself.

I'm planning some other cross country flights, now, to see what else I can see. Flying is absolutely wonderful!

In case you're interested, I've posted a picture to try to show you what I saw. Click Here. It's nearly 3MB, just to get the detail in it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

This Blog is Moving

If you've been following this blog for a while, now, you'll recall that the folks at Aviation.ca invited me to write for them in a blog-like environment. I accepted their invitation, and am currently mirroring (well appoximately) this blog on their site, in a "column" entitled "Controller's Corner". I have been talking with their administrators, and have decided to discontinue this blog and write on their site. Their editor is a little easier to get along with and has plenty of features (including scheduling of posts for future, which I like and can't seem to do on Blogger).

Since posting there, I've come to like the site for a variety of reasons. For one, the aviation news always seems to arrive there before my local newspaper, which I can't trust anyway, and for the fact that if I'm looking for aviation news I don't have to wade through every other story to find it. Also, the community in the forums seems to be quite interesting. There are a number of individuals there with a lot of experience from different angles. It all makes for some good reading.

Anyway, as of November 1st, I will stop posting here and formally move my blog writing to their site. I know some of you already visit their site, but I really hope the rest of you will stick with me. Even Frank, to help keep me in line when I post a duplicate story. Which, BTW, there are some of those stories I've told twice here which haven't been written at all there, so you'll have to endure them again sometime. We've had some good discussions with some posts here, and you've been a good group to write for. If you don't care to follow me over, well, thanks for you participation here. If you do, maybe I'll see you there.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Altimeter, I say again, Altimeter

Have you heard ATC or FSS say the altimeter twice in your travels? Perhaps just listening to the scanner? Probably most who are reading this already know the rule for this little quirk.

The idea is to add emphasis to unusually high or unusually low altimeter settings. The vast majority of the time, we hear alimeters expressed in inches of Mercury (inHg) as "two niner" something something, or "three zero" something something. But what happens when a deep low or high high pressure system rolls through?

The bigger conern is the low pressure system. Given how often we set 29.XX in the little window, it's awfully easy to mistake 2898 for 2998 or 2989 or some other close-sounding setting. The big danger, of course, is having a subscale in the altimeter gauge set about an inch too high, meaning your alimeter will read higher than you actually are. This would lead a pilot to thinking he was 2,000 feet, when he's really at 1,000. He may be thinking he's 1,000 feet above the charted terrain, when really, he's about to get a close up look at it. If you're VMC, you can see it out the window, but if you're in cloud, that's a little tougher to do.

So when the barometric pressure is below 29.00, ATC and FSS personel are supposed to read it twice. The official phraseology is, "Altimeter two eight six seven. I say again, two eight six seven." That way if a pilot is dialing up 2967 in a bit of a rush, he might reply the transmission: "Did he just say that twice? That's unusual for 2967... Maybe I didn't catch that right." And then he can ask for it again to ensure he has set it right. It's a little safety mechanism in the system that evolved for a reason, and, while annoying for those who have to read it and listen to it, it is probably a good thing. The altimeter setting is supposed to be read twice when it's above 31.00 as well, though this side is less critical, since it results in an altimeter set too low, meaning it's showing lower than the aircraft really is. And hey, rarely has a pilot hit terrain or obstacles for being too low. This one is more of a concern with other traffic in the area.

Incidentally, they ran some stats in our local paper the other day. There was a record set by a hurricane this year for the lowest recorded barometric pressure in the eye of a North Atlantic storm. I forget which one scored it, but the pressure was 883 millibars, equivalent to 26.07 inHg. That's pretty low. The only storm lower was a typhoon in the Pacific, which measured 870mb, or 25.69.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Altimeter Readbacks

This question arises every now and then as well: Do I have to readback an altimeter. I've done some research on it in Canadian books and have yet to find anything written about it. There is, apparently, no requirement to read back an altimeter setting to ATC, whether you're IFR or VFR.

Having said that, the vast majority of pilots will readback altimeter settings issed them by ATC, and it just seems to have become one of those work practices. As a controller, I'll listen to the readback as dilligently as I listen to a clearance readback. In fact, I've caught more errant altimeter readbacks than IFR clearance readbacks that were in error. This said, I think the practice of reading back altimeters by IFR aircraft should continue, personally.

I say IFR, since IFR aircraft are often operating in cloud, and this becomes especially important for aircraft on approach during IMC. Even with an ILS to guide you, where the glidepath covers you for altitude guidance, the altimeter is used as a cross check at the FAF as well as the guage you generally look at for determining when you're at the Decision Height. As such, it is vital, even with vertical guidance, to have the correct altimeter setting.

For VFR, however, the altimeter setting is secondary, since a VFR pilot's main way of flying is by looking out the window. Sure, there are gauges which are truly important (ASI, tachometer, altimeter, compass, etc) but mostly, you're determining how high you want to be (in a general sense) by what's out the window, using the altimeter as a reference point once in a while. Is the altimeter setting important to you? Sure. But not as critical as for IFR flight.

As a controller, I have never chased an aircraft for an altimeter readback. I'll definitely say that when a pilot doesn't read it back, I do feel like something is missing in his transmission, and it's almost an urgent feeling, too, one that I often tell myself to let go of. I quite readily listen for them, though, and given the number I have caught, I think a readback is an appropriate practice and hope it continues.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Initial Contact - VFR Flight Following

This question has cropped up for me a number of times in the three years I've been writing publicly. "When I want to call up for VFR flight following, do you want me to just check in, first, or just say everything?" There are a few different ways to look at it.

Some say if they blurt everything out at once, there are fewer transmissions and things can go quicker. Others say that there should be an "attention getting" call made first and give ATC a chance to get ready for you. Here's my take on it.

Often in a call for flight following, there is a fair bit of information to get out there from the pilot and be picked up on by ATC. Just because the radio may be quiet doesn't mean the controller isn't busy. A pilot's radio being quiet, in the same sense, doesn't mean he isn't busy, either. We have many hotlines, phonelines and adjacent controllers to coordinate flight data with, as well as keeping up on changing conditions such as traffic patterns and weather conditions.

If you call up and spit everything out at once, there remains the possibility of having to say it all again if the controller misses it for being busy doing something else when you call. Often, even if I'm on the phone when you call, I find that I can catch your callsign, or at least know that someone called and I can answer you when I get a chance. Also, I've zinged more than one IFR aircraft through a localizer on a radar vector because someone tied up my frequency at an inoppotune moment with a call like, "Moncton Center, this is Cessna Golf Romeo India November. I'm over Grand Lake at 3,500, VFR, heading for Moncton along the highway. It looks like there are some clouds up ahead so I might have to descend a little bit. Requesting flight following." If he simply called up with his callsign and let me answer him, I could either issue my turn to final or at least say, "standby," without having to issue a correcting vector later.

The initial call of, "Moncton Center, Cessna Foxtrot Romeo Oscar Golf," gives me as a controller a chance to get my pen and paper handy to copy the information I want when I'm ready to answer you. It does mean, as some point out, an extra transmission or two, but in my eyes, it's worth the extra radio traffic. And I'm firmly one for clear and concise communications over the radio as anyone who has read my writing before can attest. I believe firmly in saying everything needed in as few words as practical to save air time. The more we all talk, the more chances of tying up a frequency for someone who really needs it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Pet Peeves

Time to share some pet peeves. I hope you'll participate.

Here are some things that pilots do that can become interesting, if not irritating:

1. Ask for "direct FIIXX, the IF for runway 05" when their at least two ATC units removed from the destination aerodrome, some 500 NM away. All for a 1° course change, when the controller their talking to doesn't even know (nor does he care) if the runway will even be available by the time the aircraft gets there. My suggestion? The only one who can tell you for sure your desired runway is available is the controller on the frequency marked "ARR" on the top of the approach plate. Maybe waiting until you talk to him to make the request would be a good idea, unless you know otherwise.

2. Change frequency without telling us. This is more so for VFR flight following than for IFR. Many VFR pilots call for flight following and then disappear into the ether. I can't provide you with any services if you're not listening to me.

3. Pilots who won't acknowledge a frequency change. "Contact Gander on 132.3" should be acknowledged somehow, even if it's a quick "see ya", or a double mic click. If you don't acknowledge it, I have to keep looking for you, even bothering the controller I told you to call to see if you did check in.

4. Back to the IFs, request a clearance direct to an IF, acknowledge it, and then project a waypoint off to the side. This means that you're aiming at a point 4-5 NM away from what I'm expecting you to do. With your RNAV abilities, I'm expecting a nice, straight track to the fix, and I could be putting someone on a parallel vector beside you, only to see you two converge. If you want to do this, all you need to do is ask. But at least let us know what you intend to do.

5. Accept a clearance for "the straight-in ILS runway 03 approach via URVAM", then see the airport and conduct a visual approach instead. By doing this, you're no longer adhering to the IFR clearance you were issued and acknowledged, and it may affect separation with other traffic. If you want to do the visual, seek approval from ATC (either directly or relay through FSS), or cancel IFR and do your own thing. If you take a turn to the airport earlier than expected, it may affect separation with departing traffic, both in terms of you getting closer to the departure's outbound assigned track, as well as shaving a minute or two off the separation that ATC believes exists.

Alright. Now that I've spouted off some stuff here, have a go at me. What sorts of things do ATC do to you that twist you out of sorts?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lottery Jackpot

It has been a while since I honestly believed I would actually win one of those super jackpots out there. Last night's $30 Million, yes with a capital "M", does inspire dreams, though...

What kind of plane would you buy if you won a large sum of money? Would you look at a hot single, like a Mooney Ovation with the glass cockpit? What about a light twin? If so, what kind? If you're into that kind of money, why not see if you can pick up a Beech 200 Super King Air, or the like? It's hard to believe that anyone would spend such a large amount on getting into a jet, but you never know... There are a number of entries into the "very light jet" category on the books that look sharp and perform nicely, all without the high price tag of a nice, new G5.

So what would it be, if you won $30M? Me? I'm thinking I'd keep it fairly simple with a Beech 58P, and look at the idea of building my own hangar if guaranteeing hangarage wherever I end up living would be difficult. Yes, a nice, comfortable turbocharged twin. Ah, the dreams...

Friday, October 21, 2005


A reader asked me about UFOs recently. You know who you are.

I can honestly say I haven't seen anything that related to UFOs while on the job. Or at least, nothing that stayed unidentified. For example, I once saw a target on radar, no transponder return just the reflected radiation (aka Primary Radar), that was heading directly to CYHZ in an area where no known traffic was operating, with a groundspeed of over 1700 knots. Being the keener I was, my thoughts went to the SR-71. No, wait, they're not flying any more (they weren't at the time). Well, perhaps, ... Could it be?... An Aurora? The product of speculation in recenty years as the works of the Lockheed Skunkworks in Area 51? Wow! Turned out to be an erroneous set of returns when we looked at the raw radar data. The target did exist, just not at the azimuth that was being reported, and therefore the plotting of the changes in distance made for an exaggerated groundspeed.

We've had other stories, though. When I worked in the TWR I received the odd call from time to time of someone in a panic asking if we knew of an airplane in their area. Typically, these calls came in about 2:00 am, and alcohol was suspect...

And another time I had a B727 underflying a formation of a KC-135 and 3 F-15s in the wee hours of the morning. The 727 pilot called in a panic asking if we had traffic for him. Well, my instructor nearly shit himself since he wasn't paying much attention (it was late in my training, and I was easily capable of handling two flights) until this call came in. It shocked me, so I scanned the radar, then the databoard, to see what I had forgotten and began immediately thinking about how short my career in ATC would be. Then it hit me. The formation flight was directly overhead, about 7,000 feet above him, but he was likely looking at the wide spacing between the nav lights and filling in the black hole between them, with perspective making it seem like it was a single airplane just outside his windshield. But a UFO, it was not. Fortunately for all of us, it wasn't a problem with traffic, either. But I think the pilot needed a new seatcover, if you know what I mean.

Anyone else out there with UFO stories from an ATC or pilot perspective?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Magazine Articles

I don't have much to write about today, except that the magazine articles I was invited to write may not happen. It seems NavCanada has a problem with me writing without their thumb in it, since "you can't write from your perspective without representing NavCanada." What can I say? I don't mind an editor turning down an article, but I have a problem with NC looking over my shoulder and vetoing anything I write. It's too much like censorship to keep my interest. This shouldn't bother me, since the way I intend to write should be clean as far as they're concerned anyway, but it still bugs me to no end. I haven't decided what I'll do about it just yet. I'll talk to the editor, first, just to see how this is going to go...