Feb 8, 2007

The Coldest Flight of the Year (2)

Our entire escape, er I mean, departure plan depended on the ramp crew starting that last air cart.
We huddled in the flight deck, using flashlights to find our way, and began our preparations. Partway through a particularly inspiring Beach Boys head-tune rendition of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" I was interrupted by the mechanic bouncing back into the flight deck. "We got it!" There was a definite smile in his voice.

"Okay," captain Dal stated. "Let's do this. 'Battery Start' checklist". I began reading the items. When we got to 'Battery switch...ON' one or two needles on the engine gauges flickered, ready to give us minimal insight into the engine's status. A few warning lights also came on. I kept reading the items while the Captain and FO accomplished them. We stepped through the engine fire warning test and were rewarded with three red lights and a weak-sounding bell. We were 'go' for number two engine start.

The noise of the pneumatic air cart just behind our flight deck windows shot up several decibels. "Air's ready," a voice called into our headphones. I looked up at the pneumatic pressure gauge and saw the needle hovering near the required value. "Looks okay - barely" I called out the reading.

"Start number two," Captain Dal commanded and FO Bear reached up and hit the start switch. I saw the pneumatic pressure drop indicating the valve had opened. "Valve Open," I confirmed. The captain was closely monitoring the N2 indicator. (N2 refers to the the inner spool in our JT8-D engine. Its rpm is given as a percentage of full speed). It began to move. "N2." We all stared at the gauge as if we could force it higher. The needle crept slowly towards the magic value where the captain could open the fuel valve.

"N1," Captain Dal confirmed as a second needle flickered. Airflow through the engine core was now causing the outer spool to rotate as well. The N2 RPM was stalling at eighteen percent, ideally we needed twenty. "Now or never," Captain Dal muttered, throwing the fuel lever "ON." There was a short hesitation. Then the EGT flickered and began climbing. "Light on two," the Captain called in a flat tone, his hand still on the lever ready to snap it back to "Cutoff" if the EGT began rising too quickly.

The N2 accelerated sluggishly towards the key point where it could run without the starter's help. EGT continued to rise slowly. "Forty," captain Dal called with a satisfied tone. Bear released the start switch and I glanced up to the pneumatic gauge. "Valve closed," I confirmed.

We gave the lead agent the 'all clear' to remove the external air. Then we turned back to the engine parameters. FO Bear was intently watching the oil pressure. "There we go," he finally called when almost a minute had expired. "Oil Pressure."

"After start checklist," capt Dal called finally removing his hand from the start lever. I continued reading. When I closed the generator breaker we felt a small shudder through the airframe as electrical power came on line. Lights, gauges and the normal flight deck sounds sparked to life. For the first time that morning, things seemed almost normal.

The lead re-appeared at the flight deck door, cheeks burning raw from the cold.

"We're in business!" I proclaimed.

He grinned back, "Just in time too. The cart died. We can't get it re-started. Must be your lucky day."

'California, Here We Come' began playing on my internal eight-track.

Our flight attendants were soon on board preparing the galleys and cabin. The re-fueler had us tanked up, including extra for our over-sized APU. We soon realized however, that little heat was coming from the number two engine. We reckoned this was due to the engine being at idle, along with the fact that we had switched on the anti-ice system to protect the large S-duct. Whatever the cause, the flight deck and cabin remained frigid. We warned the passengers to dress in all their winter finery as they boarded. What a strange-looking bunch we made when we were all seated and bundled up in parkas and gloves and hats. I could imagine the jokes to come about how Goose Air was cutting costs by leaving off the heat. Or, "I should have flown business class. This economy-coach ticket just wasn't worth freezing my toes off." (Or or any other sundry anatomical bits.)

Within minutes we were closed up and ready to push back. The ground crew tractored us off the bridge into the dark morning. I had the 'Cross-Bleed Start' checklist ready and it wasn't long before all three jets were idling normally, the generators were online and a draft of warm air was dribbling out of the ducts.

The leg to Edmonton was routine. Routine except for the temperature. It was actually a degree colder than Winnipeg. But no mind. With our aircraft fully warmed-up nothing could stop us. Even the APU fire test returned to normal. We made quick stops in Edmonton then Calgary and were soon sailing southwards over the Rocky Mountains, San Francisco bound.

Later that day I rented a car and drove to Manteeca to visit my American cousin and her family. In the morning we wandered out to the back yard and picked an orange which she used to garnish our breakfast plates.

The coldest-ever recorded temperature in Canada was -63C (-81.4F) at Snag, Yukon on Feb 3, 1947.

Meanwhile, some things never change: Winnipeg METAR Feb. 4/2007


chris said...

Sounds chilly, today it hit 39*C here.

BTW Put me down for a copy when you finish the book, I'm loving these stories

Aluwings said...

Thanks Chris!

Yes, +39C sounds good - especially while you're trapped in -39! I enjoyed many great things during my time in Winnipeg, but the weather wasn't one. During a decade there I experienced everything from minus 40 to plus 40 - sometimes in the same year.

Where are you at? If you prefer you can email me at: