It's magical. And it's very loud. That moment when a helicopter lifts off is a sweet sensory overload, with turbine engines screaming and the main rotor beating the air into submission just a few feet above your head. But coddled in a good set of noise-canceling headphones or cocooned in a super-soundproofed cabin, you can experience the wonder of rotary-winged flight while marveling at the spectacular views unique to heli-sightseeing.
Almost 35 years ago, Cathay Pacific Airways (CX) began its international expansion to North America, flying a Boeing 747-200 from Hong Kong (HKG) to Vancouver, BC (YVR). It was the first airline to fly nonstop between the two key Pacific Rim cities, and on Tuesday morning, Cathay Pacific introduced a new aircraft type on the route. The airline’s Airbus A350-900XWB, B-LRI, touched down in the pouring rain just after sunrise, almost an hour ahead of its 8AM scheduled arrival time. I was with the media group, set up on the south ramp for the A350’s expected arrival on YVR’s Rwy 08R. But just a few minutes before landing, the plane’s approach was changed to the north side runway, 08L.
Last fall, the Government of British Columbia launched a pilot project to evaluate the use of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) in search and rescue (SAR) operations. The project is being overseen by Emergency Management BC (EMBC), the coordinating and supporting agency that provides the operational funding for specialized resources, to regional SAR organizations. The province’s all-volunteer SAR teams provide an essential and critical service, finding errant hikers and out-of-bounds winter sports enthusiasts throughout BC’s rugged backcountry.
ViaSat-2 sat quietly on its cradle in the clean room, no longer attended to by scores of gowned technicians. Antennas folded, solar panels and radiators tightly retracted. Its large rectangular structure could have been mistaken for an industrial appliance, rather than a highly advanced communications satellite bound for space. The satellite was ready to be enclosed in a specialized shipping container, a cocoon, to protect the satellite during its flight to French Guiana. And soon after being launched on an Ariane 5, ViaSat-2 will stretch out its 158-foot-long solar panels, ushering in new capabilities of Ka-band connectivity.
Passengers are unlikely to be unaware of the complexity of the aircraft systems that are hidden from view. After all, their onboard interactions are limited to aircraft seats, flight attendants and in-flight entertainment systems. Like a human nervous system, an aircraft’s wiring carries signals and information critical to the safe operation of the airplane. Carlisle IT, W.L. Gore and AeroFlite are a few of the companies that design and manufacture “the nerves.” Connecting everything from the fly-by-wire flight control systems to the coffeemaker in the galley, miles of wires, thousands of connectors, and tens of thousands of support brackets have to be cut, bundled, tested and installed.
Tune into the TV news in Vancouver, and one might see a story about a hapless hiker who’s lost in the local mountains, or a senseless snowboarder who rode out-of-bounds into a ravine. Invariably, to get the story, the reporter interviews one of the back-country rescue specialists at North Shore Rescue (NSR), with a bright yellow helicopter belonging to Vancouver-based Talon Helicopters hovering in the background. If the rescue is successful, the video might show people dangling on a long-line below Talon’s TwinStar helicopter as they drop gently into a parking lot. Sometimes, though, the rescue becomes a recovery mission. And in the 20-year relationship between NSR and Talon, rescue specialists and pilots have seen their share of both.