Friday, April 25, 2008

Mormons... like Gurkas with fewer smiles and no knifes: and, Life reminds me not to waste it.

Due to delays coming out of Ukraine I was forced to spend the night in Salt Lake City, Utah. As I was leaving the airport, an old lady told me that tomorrow morning I should get here extra early because the security was atrocious... I figured everyone thinks the security is horrable where they are... how much slower could this place be. Shit, somehow my luggage managed to get to Great Falls that night, I had a boarding pass, how long could it take to get to my gate? Put it this way, TSA at Salt Lake is very very thorough.

I got there two hours early, like the old lady said, and the line for security was literally all the way out to the parking structure. It was unbelievable. Eventually I got all the way up to the TSA dude where they ask for an ID and boarding pass. I handed him both. The guy looks at me, looks at my ID, looks at me again... back to the ID, then gives me the once over like he was inspecting an unacceptable suitor for his daughter. He then says, "Sir, you have been randomly selected for additional screening." Yea, buddy, that was pretty random. (I figured he was just hating on my wicked badass mustache.) Either way, I was in the special line now.

I am pretty sure those boys in Salt Lake have their metal detectors tuned up a little higher than most. Most of the time I carry all sorts of metal on me and never set it off. Shit, in Detroit I play a game with myself to see what I can sneak through without setting off the detectors. So far I have gotten two engine blocks and a bazooka through. (TO THE MAN: That is a joke, I did not actually do that... I checked the engine blocks.) But anyways, in Salt Lake there is no such games, everyone fails the metal detectors. I think they are looking for excuses to wing that wand at people. Even the zipper on my pants set the thing off, or so they think! WHoooooo!

Part of the special inspection is that they swab my bag for explosive residue. They do there swab and "BLINGO!" ...the guy inspecting me calls for his supervisor as subtly as he can. Now I have two gigantic blond dudes taking apart my bag. (part of the official graduation from the flight school involved 11 bottles of vodka... There were 6 students, 4 instructors, and a translator. You can do the math. I packed after the graduation meal so I literally have no idea at all what is in my bag) They open up my bag and the first thing that falls out is a little prototype device that Amateur -Sophist is having me field test. (see picture)

"That's a flashlight!" I say.

"Sure it is..." is the supervisor guy's reply.

Quite quickly I find myself in my own room.

"Sir, we have found some rather suspicious items and there is what we suspect is kerosine on your bag..."

"I guarantee it is kerosine..." poor choice of words on my part...

I try again. "I use it for work." This was apparently an acceptable answer. I believe that the Ukrainians cleaning the helicopter with jet fuel maybe part of the problem, but I didn't want to go into that with these cats, though I do have opinions about that.

Eventually I convinced them that weird electronic device was only a flashlight, the kerosine is from work, and I carry that key for good luck, the tunicate i had no idea about... but the book...

"Sir, what is this book about?"

"I don't know, I haven't read it yet..." the book was given to me by my old neighbor, "do you want me to send it to you when I am done?"

"No, that will be quite fine."

They really did seem most concerned / interested in that book. They pushed it back and forth to each other like they wanted to look at it, but didn't want each other to see them looking at it. I haven't read it yet, but it is next on the list. I believe the aim of the woman that gave it to me to read was to dilute my male perspective and possible chauvinism... We will see if it works. other news:
New Jet, New Day...

Two days ago I survived my first engine failure... in a single engine aircraft. It was pretty much the textbook worst case scenario. I was at 12,000 feet over the mountains in the weather hard IMC. I was coming back from Billings to Great Falls. My original plan was to scoot under the weather low level. I have done it plenty of times in helicopters so it shouldn't be a big deal. I got to Stanford easily with no weather at all. At Stanford I was looking at a wall of snow and clouds. The clouds came almost to the ground and the snow had the vis down to about 2 miles. That is fine weather for 90 knots, but I wasn't so sure I wanted to try it at 200. It's not like I don't know where all the towers and mountains are... but I could really fuck my self in there. The little voice in my head said... "Dude! this is stupid. Just climb up and pick up your instrument clearance like a civilized aviator." On rare occasions I follow that little voice, this happened to be one of them. I climbed up and picked up my instrument clearance to Great Falls no problem. Salt Lake Center (Fuck! Salt Lake again! I am seeing a trend!) Salt Lake Center had me climb up to 12K to clear some mountains heading back to Great Falls. Everything is going great. The Attitude Indicator is level, the engine is humming right along, and the curser on my little hand held GPS is pooping tracking dots in a nice line for Great Falls. (actually I was on vectors for the ILS so I was really on my way to Helena)

Suddenly... "Brump.... brump... bump bum bump... "
(that is the sound of the engine not humming anymore)

Well shit! Thats not nearly loud enough! Engine noise should be typed in capitals... you will notice that that engine noise is lower case!

My first thought was that I had run out of gas, or had an empty tank selected. (I really don't want to go down like John fucking Denver!) No, that isn't it. Plenty of gas. Switch tanks just incase it was water in the one I was using...

still nothing...

The prop is windmilling but only occasional sputtering... like I said, it wasn't making enough noise to fly with.

Now, I have had emergencies before, but fairly minor ones. This is the first time that I have found myself strapped into an aircraft that the aircraft doesn't want to play anymore and is about to take its ball and go home. It fully occurs to me... I am in the textbook nightmare situation: In the weather, over the mountains, no engine, with ceilings about 500 - 700 feet. This shit isn't supposed to happen in real life! This is the kind of emergency that we give to students as a discussion of worst case situations! (It actually could have been worse, I could have been at night and lost electrics too.)

I told Approach Control about my situation. They gave me vectors direct for the airfield.

Still totally in the weather and in the decent.

I tried all the tricks I knew to get that engine restarted going again. Mixture full forward, play with the throttle, fuel selector switch to prime... etc. nothing... still just occasional sputtering.

Finally I start to pick up the ground. I can see power lines and fence posts... they are the only not white things out here. I tell approach my plan to aim for something soft and they tell me they are calling 911 and will give them my final position.

I have my hand on the gear handle about to flip it down.

Out the window, the last set of power lines before a flattish snowy field.

Winds calm, no better place that I can see... I guess that is where I'm going with this thing.

Out of nowhere to my surprise,


Holy FUCK!!! my engine is full running again!

Hand off the gear.

Full Throttle!

I'm not buying it here today! (or at least not this particular field right now.)

Now I am about 3 miles south of the Missouri River at about 150 feet.

I tell approach I have my engine restarted. Instead of having me climb back into the weather they give me vectors for a short visual final. (I guess I still was going to get into Great Falls low level anyway.) Ceilings are about 400 feet and visibility is about 1/4 mile.

The engine seems to be working perfectly now. Very weird but I can work with that.

I spot the approach lights but not the runway.

There it is...

"Six Nine Uniform, Gear Down, Runway in sight..."

"Roger, Six Nine Uniform, Cleared Landing, Runway Two One."

Fuck yes! On the ground again!

Wave to the fire trucks... give them the thumbs up. taxi back to parking. shutdown, no problem.

When the prop came to a stop there in parking is when I started feeling a little shaky.

First thought after getting out: "Holy fuck!"
Second thought: "I hope I sounded cool on the radio!

After discussing things and looking for problems. Most likely what happened was that I got icing on the inside of the ram air intake. I had the shutter open for most of the flight but shut it shortly after entering clouds. The temperature due point spread was only a few degrees the whole flight and I had probably been building up ice in there the whole time. When I shut the shutter it started to warm up and a chunk of ice dislodged and plugged the intake... thus the no power and sputtering engine. The ice would have continued to melt and eventually unplugged the intake... this would be when the power came back on as I was about to put it in that field. I never got any airframe icing at all, but with the drop in temp that happens in the intake, it probably formed the ice in there but no where else.

So... what have we learned...what could I have done better. One: Don't use the ram air intake when the temp due point spread is small. Two: Feather the prop for better glide distance. I could have probably gotten a few miles further with the propeller feathered. I had it full forward in the position to make power but without the engine it just acted as a big air brake. In this case it worked out because I had it in the best spot when the engine came back on, but if I had been farther over the mountains, I might not have made it back over the prairie.

I don't think I am to wrapped up in the bullshit of everyday life, but every once in a wile it is good when the universe reminds you about the big picture.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ukraine flying... like real flying, only more fun and less civilized.

Somethings are just a little surreal. Somethings just feel right.

So, it is pretty much a universal truth... if you have a helicopter and a river, they will be combined. Mikola (The Instructor Pilot) took the controls and said "Attention, attention... river... I am controller." That is about all the english he knew, but the point was clear. "I have the controls, Watch this shit!"

Along the River Niper. This is the flight and book keeping college.

Down town and some of the parks. There is a helicopter parked in town somewhere, can you find it?

Mikola. What else would an old Russian Instructor Pilot look like.

Ok. I am just getting sappy. I am taking pictures of flowering trees and growing grass. Spring hit full force the last 2 days. After living in dried out brown places for the last 5 years, I am so thrilled to see green things! Shit, sometimes I watch golf just to see the grass.

Adventures in Language!

Well, not everywhere. It turns out that salami is actually the word for salmon here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

So, who has a hardon for toggle switches?

This is the overhead panel... I really like toggle switches, but really now, this is almost just enough! Luckily they are labeled.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

So... I was riding my new girlfriend.

(There is a lot of detail in the bigger pictures.)

The Flightline!

Ah yes, my clothes smell like jet exhaust again! Yesterday I flew the Mi-17 for the first time. Flying a new aircraft is like touching some girls boobs who you have never touched before. Exciting, nervous, and your not quite sure how she likes it done. Luckily this chick is very intuitive. Most of the usual techniques work... but don't even think of trying to give her a raze-berry on her stomach... she will break off her tail boom and kill you with it. I learned that from some of her old boyfriends. (Actually the skinny little tailboom does break off from time to time...) The cool thing about learning to fly this thing here is that the instructors have a lot of practical experience about flying this thing in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. A lot of experience...

First ride, the only equipment I brought out to the aircraft was my hands in my pockets... the Flight Engineer had a checklist and a pair of sunglasses, that's it. After take off the FE leans over to me and says "dude the FE instructor is back dealing with his hangover." Indeed... he was actually still enjoying last night I think. We got up to altitude... "VFR" but only in name. The Pilot Instructor opens the window and lights up his cigarette and makes some hand signal for me to do something with the aircraft. I figured it was either slow down or descend, as it turns out it was "Autorotate." So here I we are in the clouds, the IP is smoking, the IF is still rocking from last night, I'm trying to interpret russian sign language, and all the switches and gauges are in nearly incomprehensible Cyrilic, and we are falling out of the sky as fast as gravity and aerodynamics will take us... I started laughing to myself and told the FE... "Holy Shit, this is insane! I love it!" (Junior: I told you an autorotation out of the clouds was an excellent tactic! Now I have tried it. It works Great!)

Guess they just haven't gotten around to a new paint job in a while...

These are several baby birds tied up by their feet hanging from a circute breaker panel. I don't know what they are doing here, but this is a very supersticious country.

Ah look! this diagram is translated! Everything is clear now.