Saturday, November 12, 2005

Veterans Day Flying

As a veteran of five years active duty in the Air Force, and another six years in the Ohio Air National Guard, I decided it was about time that I took a day off of work to celebrate Veterans Day, and decided that there could be no better way to celebrate our freedoms than to go flying. I had a bit of an ulterior motive: my transponder was out of date on its required two year inspection and I needed to get that done.

The transponder is an electronic device in the airplane that "listens" for air traffic control radar, and when it detects it, enhances the signal by encoding the current altitude of the plane and transmitting it back. This allows the controllers to see me clearly on the radar screen and know what my altitude is. Because the controllers need that altitude data to work other traffic around me, it needs to be accurate. To ensure that requisite accuracy, the FAA mandates an inspection and/or calibration every other year. It's an easy enough job for the most part, and only takes a few minutes, but getting the plane to the shop and waiting for them to get to it can take days.

My new favorite fuel airport, Highland County, has an avionics shop on the airport, and I was able to arrange with them to fly the plane in and get the calibration done while I wait. It's a pretty laid-back place, as you would expect from a friendly, quiet country airport. The avionics guy that I had been swapping voicemail with suggested that I get down there "first thing in the morning, and we'll git 'r done."

Now, it isn't always the case that I want what I call a "gitterdunner" working on the plane, but this is a pretty routine operation so there were no worries there. I checked their shop hours, which are 8am - 5pm. Between that and "first thing in the morning," I assumed we were agreeing that I should be there at roughly 8:15 am, and that's exactly what I did. I forgot to factor in the gitterdunner factor, and realized my error when the guy showed up at 10am. It was a gorgeous fall day, so that was no big deal. The neat thing about country airports is how darned friendly and open everyone is. It was a nice couple of hours just chewing the fat with the guys that attend the airport during the day.

The inspection itself revealed no problems with the transponder, and after another hour of shooting the breeze with the avionics guy, it was done. This left the rest of the day open for whatever I wanted to do, and the obvious answer was fly some more. Now that the transponder is legal again, I can fly near the big cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland. I had been putting off a trip to Sporty's since it's in what's called the Mode C Veil around Cincy and the Mode C veil requires a legal encoding transponder to be in the plane and fully functional. I really wanted to get doen there because I wanted to buy a carbon monoxide detector, and since they only cost $9.95, I didn't want to pay shipping costs. I need the CO detector before I will use the cockpit heat since the heat source is a cuff around one of the exhaust pipes. If there is an exhaust leak and you use the heater, you're just pumping the cockpit full of carbon monoxide, which will eventually knock you out, more than likely resulting in a fatal crash.

From Highland to Sporty's is only 15 minutes or so, so I decided to go get the CO detector and next year's AOPA calendar, another item I like to have bit don't like to pay shipping on. That all went well and I headed back to Bolton. Along the way, I saw a plane slightly ahead of me and at my 2:00 position (off to my right). He was below me, but on a converging course. As we got closer, I could see that I was going to catch up with him and pass over him. As he came through on my left side, he was slightly behind me. Here's the point: I passed him (in other words, I was going faster than him) and he was in a Bonanza! Bonanzas are pretty fast planes, but they use a lot of horsepower to do it. I passed him with 150hp. Of course, it's not all about speed: he could carry 5 or 6 people and a lot of baggage very comfortably, whereas I can carry two people, a little baggage, and it's relatively cramped. Still...

I made three landings yesterday, and all were very good. It helps that there was very little wind, but it was still gratifying to not botch a single one.

All in all, I don't think there's a better way to spend a nice fall day that flying around Ohio with your pants off. (Wheel pants, that is! I haven't put them back on since the tire change, and I'm not sure I will. Don't really need them for the short trips I take, and they block the view of the brakes, which I want to keep an eye on for awhile).

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