An upper air analysis at 250 mb (34,000) feet.
The contours (think contours similar to a surface analysis) depict an "upper low" over Alberta.
This is Environment Canada's 250 millibar chart (34,000 feet). Note the "L" over Alberta. "Upper Lows" mean bumpy rides for a pilot. Stalled weather for the public.
Off to Calgary, Alberta
Yesterday started with crew sked calling home saying Flight 133 will be 20 minutes late. An omen. The in bound flight finally arrived and the previous "front end" crew gave us a heads up on a "bleed air" problem. Maintenance ratified the problem by closing the #2 bleed for the entire flight. (The bleed is part of the aircraft pressurization). This restricted us to 31,500 feet, however, for a westerly flight means even altitudes translating into a maximum cruising of 30,000 feet. There are three useless things in aviation: 1. having runway behind you 2. fuel in the back 3. and altitude above you. Our altitude options whittled away, something I dislike.
With the flight already behind 'sked', with us on minimum crew rest for Calgary, and tight connections to Whitehorse, Yukon we honker down to get the flight out, but not before we get extra fuel for the lower altitude, retrieve a revised flight plan and me giving "this is your captain speaking" P.A of what was going down.
Well into the climb out of Toronto a datalink arrives from crew scheduling asking our intentions. We were now below minimum crew rest (10 hours) as per the contract. What did we want to do? The F/O and I exercised CRM by going into a discussion, and instead of delaying the flight today by 20 minutes, we decide to operate it on sked. We datalink back proud of saving the mission, but not even a "thank you" comes back. How does that saying go...about where nice guys finish?
Weather up ahead
Our flight plan skirts along the 49th parallel (Canadian/American border) and sure enough convective clouds topped out at around 30,000 also decide to hug the border. Riding the tops of clouds equals bumps. Flying near convective clouds equals bumps. And flying through upper lows equals bumps. You can guess what kind of ride we had for 1 to 1.5 hours?
Even a display of St. Elmo's fire on the windscreen confirmed our flirtation with not so friendly clouds. One reader (they know who they are) submitted an enRoute question asking what those protruding sticks are along the trailing edge of the wings, etc. These "static wicks" discharge electrical build up and all 41 (Airbus 320) of them were doing their job yesterday.
The seat belt sign stayed on most of the flight. Then over Alberta the winds were all over the place at flight level signifying the bumps weren't over. On approach, the city lights shone brightly as the weather system gave way to clearing skies. Oh I thought, this would make for a great blog picture. They again turned out all blurry. I gotta find the night setting on that darn camera of mine...either that... tell the F/O to keep things steady.
Today (Another lumpy ride)
There is a saying in the simulator after you laboured through a "scenario." "New day, new airplane." Meaning things are back to normal, lets start from scratch. Maintenance did an exemplary job of clearing all the snags as our 'FIN' rested overnight.
Well, the in-charge said her "panel" froze. No entertainment, no lighting, no read out for water quantity, etc. Okay, I thought, here we go again. After a failed reset by us we called maintenance and they showed me a "trick to the trade" to free up the panel.
We get airborne and ATC mentions turbulence from 28,000 to 34,000 feet. We were going to FL 370 ( we had our #2 bleed back). The winds went from westerly of 20 knots knots, to southerly 15 knots and then to easterly of 50 knots in the order of minutes. We get the Shi$$ kicked out of us as we transit an "upper low." I mumble about an upper low, but most pilots would treat it as "captain gibber."
Finally, after an hour of a bumpy bump bump ride (mother nature was down right moody today) we finally find smooth air over Northern Ontario.
We did get one caution, the #1 FCU (Flight Control Unit) went off line but a C/B reset fixed it or so we thought. It returned an hour later only for maintenance to fix it in Toronto.
While taxiing to the gate the "lead" signals me to use the electronic guidance system for docking. Standard procedures. It started taking me further and further off the yellow line where I finally said to the F/O (more captain gibber) this ain't right. Finally the "lead" took over and I set the park brake.
Phew! The life of an airline pilot. Now I have ten days off.
What does tomorrow bring? My wife and I celebrate our 20th anniversary. She endured 20 years of aviation induced turbulence.