Monday, September 5, 2011

Silence of the ECAMs

Unlike last year, this year's fishing trip featured sun and clear skies. I got my medical on Wednesday, but by that time all of the club airplanes were reserved. Luckily my friend Art would be passing nearby in his 210 and kindly offered (1) to stop and get me and (2) to let me do all of the flying.

We did not need the 210's ability to climb, and had a pleasant flight to Ennis, MT (KEKS). Well, pleasant except for the fact that I hadn't flown a 210 in about 5 years and was appropriately behind the airplane.

Ennis is in the Madison Valley, which, to me, is the ideal Western valley. The world-renowned Madison River flows out of Yellowstone Park and through the valley. Every year we complain about the new construction, but in fact the valley is quite empty.

The fishing, friendship, and weather were wonderful, but this morning it had to end so Art and I drove the rental car back to Ennis. The airport sits among wheat fields on a bench above the valley with dramatic mountains rising just to the East. It is often perfectly quiet, or perhaps the most noise you hear is a 172 from Bozeman practicing touch-and-goes. I enjoy this noise.

But this morning was different. A midsize jet from one of the fractional-ownership operations was on the ramp, Auxilliary Power Unit (APU) screeching loudly. I checked on flightaware, and their departure was still an hour away.

The fractionals, like the airlines, depend on standard operating procedures (SOPs) to make their operations safe and smooth. Their pilots often find themselves flying with strangers, but despite this, both of them have to have the same plan and have to react the same way. They have (or are reputed to have, although some recent events lead me to question this) well-defined Pilot-Flying and Pilot-Not-Flying roles which have been negotiated in training, so there is no confusion when something goes wrong while flying an approach to minimums.

I'll bet a noise-abatement fine at Santa Monica that this company's SOPs call for APU start long before departure. There could be a lot of reasons for this, including cooling the cabin and, more important, charging up the battery to reduce the chances of a hot start. But please, guys, have a little judgment: your APU, which is in fact louder than your airplane, was ruining the beauty of the Madison Valley for everyone.

The fractional crews always seem a little overwhelmed at mountain airports, anyway. Their mindset is tower-controlled fields in urban areas. They wander around the ramp looking for a Blackberry signal and ignoring the other pilots and airplanes. I watched the captain walk by a beautiful Super Cub without a glance!

(On our way in, another fractional warned us over UNICOM of the monster crosswind, voice dripping with fear, audibly holding himself back from telling us not to try to land there. I landed with about 1/3 control deflection, not a hairy situation at all.)

I got a briefing and filed a flight plan while Art topped the tanks. The midsize jet started to taxi to depart runway 16, unaware of the 172 in the pattern for runway 34. Luckily, the Skyhawk departed the area, and the midsize jet left to the south before turning north over the valley. Go figure.



We departed straight out, pulling the prop back as soon as it was safe (a 210 at 2700 RPM is among the loudest airplanes known). Clear of terrain and pointed in the right direction I lowered the nose for a 500fpm climb at about 130KIAS, so we got out of your hair soon after you heard us.



I took advantage of having another pilot on board to do an instrument approach, which preserved my currency. I don't get to fly with a Garmin 530 very often, but it came back pretty quickly. My scan is rusty, so I'll need more practice, but I'm sure that will be fun.

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