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A New Experience

I recently experienced something on a flight that neither the captain, the controller, or myself had EVER seen happen or even heard of happening. We were supposed to ferry (empty leg with no passengers) from Fulton County Airport, which is in the Atlanta, Georgia area to West Palm Beach, Florida. There was a lot of weather moving through Florida (so basically a normal a day in Florida) at the time and pretty much every airport in Florida that was south of Orlando was ground stopped and we had been advised by ATC that our expected departure clearance time was about four hours away. An expected departure clearance time or EDCT is, as it’s name implies, the time we can expect to depart for our destination and they are assigned anytime there are delay programs in effect at our destination, whether the delay program is for weather, airspace congestion, or some other reason. If you’ve ever experienced a ground delay and heard the crew say that your expected departure time is insert time here and that it could change, the time they gave you is the EDCT time that ATC gave them.

Before I get to what happened, there are some terms I want to briefly talk about so that when I tell the story, it will make more sense. VFR(Visual Flight Rules) and IFR(Instrument Flight Rules). These are different sets of flight rules that an aircraft can operate under. These are the rules that govern the flight, and do not necessarily reflect the weather on a given flight because an aircraft operating IFR, can fly in visual conditions. When operating VFR, an aircraft must remain out of the clouds and have a certain inflight visibility in order to be legal and VFR aircraft are not necessarily required to talk to ATC. Unless they have requested radar flight following (basically ATC will follow their flight on radar and basically provide the same services they would to an IFR aircraft) VFR aircraft squawk 1200 on their transponder, and if they are receiving flight following they will squawk an assigned code on their transponder just like an IFR aircraft. (IFR aircraft always receive radar services.) When operating IFR, we receive our IFR clearance or flight plan which gives us our route, altitude, squawk code, and initial departure Controller frequency. This is separate from our IFR release, which the tower has to receive before they can clear us to takeoff. (When we receive an EDCT, ATC is basically holding our IFR release which prevents us from departing). When we land at a towered airport, the tower closes our IFR flight plan for us. When we land at an un-towered airport, if the weather is good we can cancel IFR in the air or close our IFR flight plan after we land (If we forget to close our flight plan after landing, search and rescue procedures will be initiated after about 30 minutes). When we choose to cancel IFR in the air, ATC tells us something along the lines of Squawk VFR, frequency change approved.” This tells us to change our transponder code to 1200 and gives us permission to change to a different frequency.

So, back to what happened. If you remember, we were looking at a four hour delay, so we were sitting inside the FBO (Fixed Based Operator, basically the fancy name for the general aviation terminal) watching TV in the crew lounge. Somebody from the FBO told us that the control tower was on the phone and wanting to talk to us. The controller in the tower said that the ground stop had been lifted temporarily and we had a small window of about 15 minutes to get in the air, if we wanted to try and make it. We told him we would try, so we called the company and filled them in. We started the engines, picked up our IFR clearance, got everything programmed, and taxied to the runway. We contacted the tower and the tower controller cleared us for takeoff. We had climbed to about 300ft, and the tower controller tells us Squawk VFR, and enter the left traffic pattern, you’re cleared to land runway two-six.” The captain and I look at each other like Did we hear him correctly?”, so the captain changed our transponder code to 1200 while I banked to the left to enter the left traffic pattern.

We landed without further incident, and once we landed the tower controller apologized and said that about the time we had started rolling down the runway, Atlanta Center called them and told them to not let us go, that West Palm had gone back into the ground stop and that our IFR clearance had been cancelled. The tower controller handed us over to the ground controller to taxi back to the FBO. The ground controller apologized as well, and said I’ve worked here for 30 years, and that is the FIRST time I have ever seen that.” That was the first time any of us had had a flight plan cancelled by ATC as soon as the plane got into air. It just doesn’t happen. Center advising the tower to hold an airplane, even after issuing a release for the plane is not uncommon. The tower typically will have enough notice to advise the plane before the plane gets to the runway, and the plane will go sit wherever the ground controller tells them to. Once we’re airborne we continue on towards our destination, and if ATC needs to delay us, they’ll slow us down or, put us in a holding pattern (everybody’s favorite), or we’ll divert to our alternate airport if we need to. 

Ultimately, we wound up flying to Miami later that evening with no issues. No, this wasn’t a dramatic event that would make the news (and honestly, most non-normal events that happen during a flight aren’t as dramatic as the media would have you think), but it was still something that neither the controller, the captain, or myself had seen in 55  years of combined experience.

29 April 2016 · Posts · aircraft

Machine Era Co Stainless Steel Pen Review

If you have read my review of the Machine Era Co Brass Pen, then you know I am a big fan of that pen. It is a well-designed pocket pen that can compete with the Fisher Bullets and Kaweco Sport series of pens. It’s stainless steel sibling is just as good, if not slightly better.

Besides the change in material, the pen itself has received a slight redesign since I reviewed the original brass pen. In the Pen Addict Slack room, I’ve referred to my brass model as the old” original because the brass pen has received the slight redesign as well and Machine Era calls it the Original” on their website. The barrel of the pen got slightly thicker in the redesign, so the cap sits flush against the barrel when capped. The cap doesn’t sit flush against the body when it is posted, but neither do the majority of posted caps.

The design of the barrel changed slightly as well, with four larger grooves instead of the three tiny groves that my brass pen has. I’m not sure whether this was a pure aesthetic design decision, or if it was done to help offset any weight that may have been gained by the slightly thicker barrel, but I like the end result. The other design changes aren’t as drastic, the end of the pen is more rounded and the vent holes have been removed from the end of the barrel and from the cap. The stainless steel pen also has Machine Era USA printed in one of the grooves, and that’s it for branding on the pen. My brass pen doesn’t have any branding on it, and the picture of the brass version on their site doesn’t show any branding. Whether they do or not, the branding is so subtle that I don’t think it matters either way.

The steel version of the pen is a little lighter at 1.3oz. than the brass version, which weighs in at 1.6oz. As I said in my review of the brass version, I find the brass version to be ever so slightly top-heavy but not enough to make it uncomfortable to write with. I find the steel version to be better balanced, and haven’t noticed the slight top-heaviness that I found with the brass version.

The product page for both pens says Ink is delivered by the well-loved Pilot G2 cartridge (included)” Also fits any standard size Uni-ball cartridge (jetstream, signo)“_ and this one of the things I love most about the pens. So in addition to the Pilot G2/Juice, you can use the Uni-ball Jetstream, Uni-ball Signo 207 refills. I tried a Pentel Energel refill and it fit as well. This means you should NOT have a problem finding a refill to use.

The price point for the Machine Era pens is another strong point for the pens in comparison to the Fisher Bullets and Kaweco Sports. The brass version is $38 and the steel version is $60, which are both great values. While these prices may seem high in comparison to the Fisher Bullets and plastic Kaweco Sports ($20 and $22.50 on JetPens respectively), when you compare the prices to the metal bodied Kaweco Sports, the value of the Machine Era pens becomes evident. The metal Kaweco Sports range in price from around $70 for an Al Sport to $85 for a Brass Sport. Machine Era had a black anodized aluminum old” original design which was around the $35-$40 price point, and they are working on an aluminum model for the redesigned version and I would imagine the price point would be the same.

Machine Era has created a great pen at a great price point and if you can’t tell by now, I am a big fan of both the brass and stainless pens. If you are looking for a nice pocket pen, do yourself a favor and seriously consider one of the Machine Era pens.

25 April 2016 · Review · Machine Era · Brass

Mobile Blogging

I guess you could call this an update of sorts to my Mobile blogging made easier post. In that post, I talked about converting Markdown text to Rich Text Format on my iPhone and iPad using Workflow so I could post the RTF text into the Squarespace Blog app, but never went into much detail as why I used the Rich Text Format option for Squarespace.

Even though Squarespace has Markdown as a default option for the text editor, it doesn’t present a blank page, but a Markdown block. If I posted the whole post in this markdown block, I couldn’t add images in between paragraphs because the Blog app saw it as one block of text, not individual paragraphs. To get around this, I would have had to add a new markdown block for each paragraph, and felt that would be too time consuming and frustrating on my iPhone and iPad. By using Rich Text Format as the default editor, I get a blank page and can paste an entire post, and still have the Blog app recognize individuals paragraphs, which allows me to add images in between paragraphs.

At that time, I was primarily using Editorial as my writing app on iOS because I could sync it using Dropbox and connect that Dropbox folder to Ulysses on my Mac, so that if I wanted or needed to write on my Mac, everything would stay synced.  Editorial keeps the title of a document separate from the body, so the workflow I used simply copied the markdown text, converted it to RTF, and copied it back to the clipboard, after which I would simply paste the text into the Squarespace Blog app, add the title and any images I wanted, and publish the post.

When I heard that Ulysses was going to be coming to the iPhone, I got excited because I liked using Ulysses on my Mac and now would be able to use it on all my devices. It didn’t take me long to discover, that using Ulysses on my iPhone and iPad might would create a little more hassle when converting to RTF, because if you add a title line to Ulysses, it exports the title line with the rest of the text. I tried deleting the RTF formatted title after I had pasted the text into the Blog app, but that just messed up the formatting of the first paragraph. So instead, I would use Draft’s action extension to import the text to Drafts, delete the title, and then convert it to RTF.

Though this method worked, it was more time consuming, and I knew there had to be a better way. So I created this workflow action extension that imports the text to Drafts, and runs this Draft’s action which exports all the text starting at line 3 to Workflow, where it is converted to RTF and copied to the clipboard. (The way I write my posts in Ulysses is line 1 is the title and line 2 is blank, and line 3 is where the post actually starts.) 

My first version of the workflow was formatted differently in Workflow and it worked but generated an error message in Drafts. After creating the current version of the workflow, while trying to figure out why the original version was generating an error, I was pointed to a workflow that that lets you decide how many lines to delete and whether to delete them from the start or end of the imported text. I modified it to do what I needed, and this is the final result. When it runs, it prompts for how many lines you want to delete (which is handy for posts whose title may be longer than one line) and then asks whether to delete from the start or end of the text. It takes two extra taps, but the big benefit of this workflow over the one that imports the text to Drafts, is that this entire workflow is run within Workflow and Drafts isn’t needed. I know that these workflows and actions may not be of use to many of my readers or those who use a different service to host their blogs, but as I said in my first post, I feel that they are worth sharing.

28 March 2016 · Blogging

Flying with Fountain Pens Pt. II

This is a follow up to a post I did when I first started the blog. Even though I know that I can fly and use a fountain pen with no issues, I hadn’t brought a fountain pen to work since starting my new job and there are a couple of reasons why I was hesitant to.  The first is because I wasn’t sure how well the pen, and mainly the ink would handle the temperature changes I see on a regular basis. The temperature changes I’m talking about are more of a concern during the winter when I could have flights where I could be outside in 14°F temperatures for 15-20+ minutes (dressed warmly of course) while we prep the plane for the flight, then being in the cabin at 70-75°F, to being in warm, humid, muggy 75°F South Florida, all within a span of 2-3 hrs. It’s the going from the really, really cold dry air, to warm dry air, to warm to hot humid air in such a relatively short time frame that concerned me because I didn’t know how the ink itself would fair (and honestly still don’t know how well the ink will handle the really cold to really warm temperature changes because of it being late-winter/early-spring when I flew with my Metropolitan).

The other concern I had was the higher cabin pressure of the plane I fly. Most airliners max pressure differential for the cabin is 8.0-8.5 psi., the plane I flew before had a max cabin pressure of 5.6psi, and the plane I fly now has a max cabin pressure of 9.4psi. I wasn’t sure how well the converter and the ink would handle this higher pressure differential and was concerned I would have more problems with leaks. I had flights at 43,000ft with a cabin pressure differential of 9.4psi to flights going from 50°F to warm, muggy, and humid 80°F in about 1.5hrs, to flights that were only about 30 minutes with a pressure differential of around 6psi.

After six days of flying, with multiple flights per day (both in the back of an airliner and on the plane I fly), I can say that the only issues I had were some very minor nib creep, and even this was no more than what you would expect after an extended writing session, and a couple of hard starts. The hard starts were on the last day when I was flying home and was doing a sudoku puzzle and I was leaving the cap off for a bit and with a half empty converter. These are issues which could happen sitting at a desk, so I almost tempted to say that I had zero issues with flying and using the Metropolitan & CON-50 converter this week.

Other than the times I was writing with it, my pen was stored nib up in my shirt pocket. This is a big key when traveling with fountain pens because it allows any air trapped in the ink chamber to escape through the nib and feed without forcing any ink out, other than maybe a tiny bit from the ink in the feed, which if it does will probably not be any worse than what you see with nib creep. I had no problems writing with the pen during any phase of flight, including climbing and descending, and I still believe that as I explained in the first post, that regulating the pressure inside the pen is a big key reason why I didn’t have any problems.

If you plan on flying with a fountain pen, the best thing you can do to avoid any issues is to keep your pen stored nib up. A lot of articles say to keep the ink chamber full and not to fly with a partially filled ink chamber, but in my experience this isn’t as important as keeping the nib up when not in use. I’m not saying these articles are wrong and I’m right, just that in my experience by regulating the pressure inside the pen by writing with it (even just a scribble or two) during the flight, you are allowing the pressure to equalize between the pen and the cabin and minimizing the risk of ink being forced out of the nib. These are my thoughts and experiences, and I would love to hear your experiences of flying with fountain pens Here are a couple of other posts that you may find interesting.

21 March 2016 · Fountain Pens

Sunderland Mk1 Review

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of metal pens, especially machined pens that accept Pilot G2/Juice refills. I think part of the attraction to machined pens is that, much like with custom pens, there is something cool about having a pen that started out as a solid piece of material that in no way resembled a pen. It is hard for me to see a nicely designed, machined pen and not want to immediately get one. That was the case with the Sunderland Mk1.

While it would be easy to label the Sunderland Mk1 as just another machined pen that takes G2 refills, there are a couple of features that help the Sunderland Mk1 to standout from the competition. The first is that in addition to Pilot G2 refills, the pen also accepts Montblanc rollerball and finerliner refills. While there are many machined pens that take G2 refills, there are only a few that take Montblanc refills. The Prometheus Alpha and most of the Big i Design family of pens accept Montblanc refills. The Prometheus Alpha works only with the Montblanc refills and the Big i Design pens are designed to accept both G2 and Montblanc refills. (Big i Design markets the pens as accepting 30+ refills but they are pretty much all roughly the same size as a G2 refill.)

The Big i Design capped pens use a springy plug insert thingy that the refill pushes against to help hold the refill in place, and it is a so-so design. The pen screws together with no problem when I use a G2 refill, but when I use a Montblanc refill I have to use a lot of force to screw the pen together (almost enough to question if I should be using the refill even though the pen is designed” for it) and I think this is because the springy plug is having to be compressed so much.  The Sunderland Mk1 doesn’t have this problem because We designed the mk1 to utilize the screw-in ability of the Montblanc cartridges, while also providing a rigid mount for the Pilot G2 cartridges. There are no parts to swap or screws to adjust. Simply remove one cartridge and install the other. The Montblanc screws in and the Pilot G2 drops in.” (Quoted from the Kickstarter page.) I was initially a little concerned about how secure this rigid mount would be for the G2 refills but both refills fit securely in the pen with no wiggle or play in the tip and the pen screws together with no issues, regardless of the refill used.

The other feature that really helps set the Sunderland Mk1 apart is the thread-on cap. The threads for the cap are hidden behind the grip section of the pen and this gives the pen a really clean look. This also eliminates any problems you may have with the the cap threads being near the grip section. The threads are very secure and I haven’t had any issues with cross threading.

The gap between the top and the grip section is where the threads for the cap are hiddenThe gap between the top and the grip section is where the threads for the cap are hidden

The grooves in the grip section provide a nice grip without being uncomfortable. The barrel of the pen tapers towards the back and this is to allow the cap to post securely onto the back of the pen. I don’t normally post my pens but I prefer posting this one. I don’t find it to be top heavy when posted and I think it being slightly lighter than other machined pens helps with this. With the cap posted, the taper of the barrel is a little more noticeable and messes with the clean look of the pen. I wish the cap and taper would meet and give a cleaner, smoother line, but this is a purely an aesthetic complaint. The pen also has less of an industrial look to it in companion to some other machined pens. The overall look of the Sunderland Mk1 reminds me of a Montblanc Meisterstuck or other fancy” rollerball pen.

I have been very pleased with the Sunderland Mk1. The design of the pen, especially the hidden cap threads, help the pen to standout from the machined pen crowd. If you are looking for a machined pen that takes G2 and/or Montblanc refills, or if you are a person for whom a postable cap is a must have the Sunderland Mk1 may be the pen for you.

Brad at The Pen Addict reviewed a prototype version of the Mk1 and that review can be found here

14 March 2016 · Review · Sunderland · Kickstarter




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