Monday, October 30, 2006

Project Valour-IT

You will see a new link over on the right side of the page for Project Valour-IT. Here's a description of the program:

Project Valour-IT
(Voice-Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops)
In memory of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss

Every cent raised for Project Valour-IT goes directly to the purchase and shipment of voice-activated laptops for wounded servicemembers. As of October 2006, Valour-IT has distributed nearly 600 laptops to severely wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines across the country.

During its initial phase, Valour-IT created "libraries" of laptops equipped with voice-controlled software for the severely wounded staying at major military medical centers. In many cases a laptop was provided to a wounded hero for permanent use.

Valour-IT is continuing to accept donations of any amount to supply the "libraries" of laptops at major medical centers and gifts to individuals, but has also added the option of an individual or organization directly sponsoring a wounded soldier by completely funding the cost of a laptop and continuing to provide him or her with personal support and encouragement throughout recovery. This has proved to be an excellent project for churches, groups of coworkers or friends, and members of community organizations such Boy Scouts.

Most recently thanks to the efforts of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Valour-IT is now able to reach personnel in VA hospitals who would benefit from a Valour-IT laptop.

I chose to champion the USAF since I spent 5 years active duty in the Air Force, three of which were overseas assignments, and then spent another 6 years in the Ohio Air National Guard. I considered selecting the Army or Marines, but they were already well represented. It's all for a good cause, though, so you can't go wrong with contributing to any of the service members.

Why don't he write?

Admit it: we all have our own version of the crude, crass movie line that despite of its misanthropy we still laugh at every time we see it. For me, my guilty little piece of movie dialog comes from Dances With Wolves. The crazy wagon driver comes across a skeleton out on the prairie, and speculates that "someone back East is wondering why she don't write." Cruel, thoughtless, yet it still makes me chuckle every time I hear it, albeit mostly because of the way the line is delivered rather than any inherent comedic value.

So, why don't I write? Well, mostly because for the second weekend in a row I haven't been able to fly. Yesterday was nice enough from a sky and visibility point of view, but the winds were gusting over 20 mph and I just won't fly my taildragger when it gets that gusty. I'm a bit of a sissy that way.

I managed to fill the time quite nicely with winterization chores around the house, and fortunately there wasn't much air traffic in or out of Bolton to taunt me. I think I'm not alone in considering 20 mph winds too much for a safe and comfortabel flight. I'm not saying it can't be done, mind you, and I have in fact landed the Tampico in a direct 25 knot crosswind, but the risk vs. benefit analysis iw weighted more towards just staying home on windy days since I moved to the taildragger.

Now that the days are getting shorter, it's going to become increasingly difficult to even work in a short flight after work. I hate this time of year.

Monday, October 23, 2006

What is it??

I've seen this thing flying around Bolton for a few days now, and this afternoon I got a few minutes to take a closer look:

All I can find on Google that's even remotely similar is this:

Airborne UXO Detection

The numbers reach the tens of millions in both acres and dollars. And the standard operating procedure literally has been pedestrian. Until now.

A team of researchers in a newly opened Battelle office in Oak Ridge, Tenn., is tackling the problem of UXO—unexploded ordnance—buried in an estimated 15 million acres of land and consuming upward of $200 million in cleanup costs each year.

The Battelle team has developed and refined several airborne systems for detecting UXO using magnetic fields, electromagnetic induction and global positioning systems. The technologies are essentially flying metal detectors.

Mounted on a commercial helicopter, the equipment is a rigid fixed boom configuration that has the capability of delivering data analysis, digital maps and target lists within hours. Battelle’s detection system has eight sensors, or magnetometers, and a sampling frequency of 1,200 hz, which yields a high density of data. To get the most specific data possible, the distance between the system and the ground is kept between one to three meters.

After a quick pass by the helicopter, the system is able to detect different sizes of munitions, all the way down to 60mm shells. That’s comparable to the capability of ground-based systems, but not nearly as time consuming or dangerous.

This must be either a newer version, or something similar but different. (And yes, that is what passes for deep insight and stellar grammar after a full day of work and a night at A&P school. Just consider yourself lucky that I haven't gotten to the beer yet!)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Best use of spare instrument space?

UPDATE: I've decided that I need a combo EGT/CHT emgine monitor, and that I will buy it from someone other than JPI. I did a little research and it didn't take long to find their abysmal reputation for customer support and some of their more heavy-handed legal tactics. I have no patience for that kind of thing, so will look elsewhere for what is in essence a commodity product. It amazes me that a company making a product that is easily available from a competitor at the same price point doesn't realize (or care) what a bad reputation can do to them.

Original post:

Since I moved by mag compass to a new location in the panel, I have an empty 3 1/8" instrument hole to fill. My first thought was to put in a g-meter, but given the type of flying that I do, there's no real need for it.

One need I do have, however, is in the realm of engine management. I do not have any temperature gauges whatsoever, other than oil temp which is nearly a constant anyway.

The two possible engine temp gauges under consideration are either cylinder head temp (CHT) or engine exhaust temp (EGT). My understanding (and please, chime in with a comment if you disagree) is that EGT is more useful in determining the best mixture to set than CHT. Assistance in setting the appropriate mixture is primarily what I'm after, so unless a strong counter argument can be made for monitoring CHT instead, I'm planning on installing an EGT gauge.

Of course, if I were willing to spend the money, I could have both, but graphic engine monitors that display both EGT and CHT are pretty expensive. If I choose to do only EGT, it will be quite a bit cheaper, and I'm not convinced that I need both. Again, chime in if you disagree.

In any event, if I go with EGT, I want it on every cylinder. Leaning based on the EGT of a single cylinder seems pretty risky.

So, with all that said, here is the gauge I'm looking at:

With all four probes, it's going to be nearly $400. A graphical engine monitor that provided both 4 cylinder EGT and CHT is about $1000 more:

I think I will get what I need from the lower cost alternative, but I can still be persuaded.


Another option:

I'll have to measure, but I think I have the required space behind the panel for it to fit. But at $2300 for the display and probes, it definitely blows the budget all to heck.

I looked at the JPI and EI units, but they are all 2-1/4" units, and I'd really like to completely fill the 3-1/8" hole. I'm not ruling out one of the smaller units, though, as I imagine I'd get used to it pretty quickly.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Another review up at GamingNexus

UPDATE: Here's the link to the review:

Well, in the next day or so, anyway. This one is for a racing simulation for the PC called GTR 2. It simulates the cars, tracks, and rules of the FIA GT Racing league.

I'll update with a link to the review as soon as it gets posted. In the meantime, here's a movie clip of a few turns in a Ferrari (the lighting effects from the sun are incredible!):

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Urbana "Remembering When" Fly-in

Unquestionably flyable great Fall weather today, although the breeze did have a puppy-like bite to it. It's no longer possible for me to live in denial - winter is coming. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of... or however that goes. I had been hoping for a nice enough day to go to a fly-in over in Urbana. This is a really neat fly-in where the residents of a local retirement community come out to visit. It seemed just the thing for co-pilot Egg and me to do, so I got it on her schedule days ago despite the risk that doing so would trigger my ongoing bad weather karmic retribution. It seems I must have balanced the karmic books with some recent unremarked good deed based on today's experience, though.

I hadn't gassed up since the river run last week, so we decided on a pit stop at MadCo. At $3.44 a gallon I had expected that it might be a tad crowded, but Blimey! By the time I left I think there were five RVs and a couple of store boughts waiting for gas, and we had waited behind two others. The landing at MadCo was ok, but had 5 or 6 of those little baby bumps I get when I carry too much speed down final. Co-pilot Egg is a landing perfectionist and rated it at only a middling effort. 'Tis a fair cop.

It's only a few minutes from MadCo to Urbana, hardly enough time for a single "are we there yet?" to come through the headsets. The pattern was surprisingly empty, allowing me to concentrate on trying for a better landing, and hopefully performing well enough to win the rare and coveted "thumbs-up" rating from this particular co-pilot. Well, depending on how you look at it, I did or I didn't. I did reduce the number of bounces to 3, but they were not baby bumps! This, again, is why I always try to arrive first! Egg had no comment. It's perks like that that keep me paying her allowance.

We parked in front of the restaurant and walked down to the hangar where the gathering was. The five RVs from MadCo were going to be doing fly-bys soon and I wanted to get back to take pictures, so I left Egg at the hangar where she lived her dream of actually making sno-cones, cotton candy, and theatre-style popcorn. It's not that she has carney in her blood, it's that those are three of her four personal food groups. The fourth, the hot dog group, was also easily available nearby if she wanted to avail herself of the opportunity to corner the market on all four at once. The Pilot was more than a wee bit nervous as to what the state of the Co-pilot's tummy might be on the bumpy ride home if she was left to her devices for any length of time, as you can imagine.

I'm still struggling with getting decent ground-to-air pictures:

Private to Rick Lee: what should I be looking for in the camera settings to get better ground-to-air pix?? It seems that I have to do a tremendous amount of Picasa hammering with fill light, saturation, and other gadgetry to get something more or less presentable, and those are the ones that turned out good to start with compared to the rest.

The coordinators of the fly-in had gone all out and provided us with these meal cards:

That was such a generous and unexpected offer that I was tempted to keep mine as a souvenir, but hunger got the better of me. Lunch was a community affair in the second dining room of the diner, where I enjoyed a healthy slice of the Day's Special ham loaf. Once fed, I wanted to grab a slice of pie (it was going fast, and coming home without pie is unthinkable!) for the missus, get it paid for, and head back down to the hangar to check up on Egg. It struck me once I got home that I had left the lunch table in such a rush that I had forgotten to tip the waitress! Arghhh! What a swell representative for the RV pilot community I am: sit there and enjoy a free lunch and then stiff the waitress! And darned if I hadn't just gotten my karma back in balance too! I'll have to go back next Sunday and see what I can do to make amends.

When I got to the hangar, Egg was doing fine and was happily dispensing sno-cones to people in heavy jackets and blankets. I swear, she could sell water to Noah.

Rick will recognize the hat: it's the Girls With Wings hat we searched the four vendor halls for on a really hot afternoon at Oshkosh. I remember squatting down in front of the little fan they had at their booth, just trying to get a little cooled off after the exhausting slog through the jungle of Oshkosh mid-afternoon crowds. Well, she loves it, so it was worth the effort.

While I was at the hangar checking on the co-pilot, the formation groups were briefing to depart. Jeff, the organizer of the event, asked me to jump in his 7A and see if we could get a few pictures as they did their fly-bys. I had the short lens on the camera, but since I've had mixed results with the long lens in air-to-air work and it was inconveniently sitting back in the airplane anyway, I decided to give the shorter lens a try. Results were mixed. We never really caught up with the formation, so I couldn't get close enough for good shots. When we did catch up with four that were flying home westbound, the sun was in the background and that never works out well.

See if you can guess what tickles me so much about this picture:

If you guessed that it's the woman on the right taking our picture at the same time I was taking hers, you win the prize.

Even though the pictures didn't work out, it was a blast to ride in that plane! It sealed the decision that my next RV will have at least 180hp and a constant speed prop. It's not that my plane is slow on 150 horsepower (we did 162 knots each way today), it's just that the 180 hp really, really gets up and goes, provides climb on demand like this month's Dow, and it's smoooooth. I really liked the panel, too. Jeff let me fly for a few minutes and I used that time to try flying by reference to the Dynon D-10A for my first time. I liked it, but I think I would install at least a 2 1/4" vertical speed gauge too if I were to go to a glass panel, and probably not for the reason you'd guess. Yes, for redundancy to some degree (were you thinking that?), but also for ease of interpretation in a quick scan. Let's put it this way: the numeric vertical speed indication on the Dynon was not a comfortable replacement for the immediate graphical depiction of the pitot-static vertical speed gauge that I'm used to, and I don't know if it ever would be. Keep in mind, though, that I was sitting in the right seat and had to look askance at the Dynon - not the best way to view LCD devices - so I may have missed something. In any event, that's just a tidbit for me to file away for future reference should I ever get the opportunity to design my own panel. I know for sure that I'd go for glass at least with the primary display like Jeff's, and probably engine management as well.

It felt strange riding in a nosewheel RV (this was my first), but only until we were off of the ground. After that it was pure RV. I am a little sore in my left leg from the flight, though. One thing that one apparently must remember when going from a taildragger to an A is that the step down from the wing of the A is much higher than the step down from the wing of a taildragger. If one were to forget that, even momentarily, and blithley step from the wing without aid of the side step, one might ignomiously lurch from the wing to the ground and hyperextend one's leg a painful manner. Don't ask me how I know - that's one of the perks of owning the blog.

On the way back to the airport, we circled around the retirement community so I could try to get some shots. The autofocus struggled with the tight turn, but it managed to lock on for at least these two:

Once back at the airport, I broke Egg away from her newly beloved sno-cone machine and we saddled up to head home. You know it was a successful trip when you're both reluctant to leave, but it was getting late and we needed to get back. The fly-in ended up hosting nearly 20 RVs, and despite the slightly chilly weather I think everyone had a good time. I think it will be easy to get this one back on to her schedule next year. In fact, she has already mentioned that she'd like to go again, and how good it felt to "help the elderly get out for some fresh air and sugar."

They had a band at the fly-in, and it led to one of those weird little coincidences for me. You know how you can go years without hearing a song? That's how I was until just last week when the topic of the song "Amie, what you going to do?" came up at work. I'll give you one guess as to what these guys were singing:

Oh, and before I forget: the landing back at Bolton? Thumbs-up!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

New Flight Sim review at GamingNexus

My review of the new Microsoft Flight Sim went up this morning:

I've been using the Microsoft Flight Sim since the very first version, although back then Microsoft hadn't acquired it yet. In the first version way back when, it was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, and it ran (well, not so much 'ran' as 'plodded') on the TRS-80 Model I. Watching it mature through the years as the underlying computer platforms increased in capability by many orders of magnitude is my version of what Orville and Wilbur must have seen as the airplane they invented was surpassed over and over again by vastly improved models. Consider also that the original virtual flight sim world was something like 36 square miles, while the new flight sim maps the entire Earth. If I wanted to, I could take off from Bolton Field and circumnavigate the world, using real-world charts and maps. I would find every navigational aid and airport located in the virtual world exactly where they appear on the maps.


Oh, by the way: I hate reading my own reviews. I always find at least one typo (in this case it was 'list' instead of the intended 'lift') and sentences that I'd like to re-write (there are two this time).

I also realized too late that my observation regarding whether or not the disc has to be in the drive for the game to work may have been flawed. Being in the habit of swapping CD discs rather than DVD discs, I may have confused the two.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday Morning Projects

Having just had a fairly spendy sight-seeing trip Saturday, Sunday was set aside to complete a couple of pending projects on the plane. One of those, which was to cut the holes in the wheel pants necessary to gain access to the air valve, was becoming increasingly overdue as the tires lost pressure and started growing to a width that could conceivably conflict with the sides of the pants. No one wants unsightly holes in their pants, be they denim or fiberglass, so the first order of business was to prowl the aircraft parts aisle at the local Lowes for a pair of caps. Easily found, they were, and being of a fore-planning nature, I grabbed four. They have a habit of departing the aircraft prior to landing, so I thought having a couple of spares would be prudent. I wanted the biggest diameter I could find – the air chuck I use is fairly wide. The drawer of vinyl plugs topped out at a not-quite-big-enough ½”. The metal caps, on the other hand, went up to a generous 1 ½”, so despite the fact that the inflexible metal tabs don’t hold as well as the springier vinyl tabs, I went with the metal for the increased size.

Back at the hangar, I grabbed one of the caps out of the Lowes bag, and pondered the question of how to get a similarly sized hole cut into the pants. I didn’t want to use a hole saw since they make such a nasty cut, and in order to remove the temptation of using them anyway, I loaned them out. I wanted to be very careful with cutting the hole and enlarging it to the correct size, so I started with a small drill bit, just big enough to allow a length of hinge pin to fit through. After trying the initial hole on for correct location by inserting the hinge pin into it, I made a small adjustment to the center position and drilled a larger hole, just big enough to allow the first step of a unibit to fit through. I used the unibit to drill a progressively large hole until it was big enough to fit the smallest sanding drum on my die grinder. I used the small sanding drum to enlarge the hole enough to fit my largest sanding drum. At that point, I was pretty close to done, so it only took a few passes with the sanding drum to get the hole to the size that would allow the cap to fit.

Moving on to the other side, I grabbed another cap from the bag. Surprisingly, it looked different than the first one. Closer inspection revealed that I had made a rookie Lowes mistake: assuming everything in the bin belonged in the bin. The cap I had in hand was 1 ½”, as expected. The cap already installed was 1 3/8”. Ah, no problem – I could just enlarge that first hole a little bit and write off the $1.09 for the improperly sized cap. No great loss. So, I proceeded with the same patient and diligent method of cutting the new hole, right up until my normal stopping point which is, of course, just after the hole has been enlarged too much. At this point, the benefit of the inflexible tabs on the metal cap came into play: I just put it in the hole and reached back into the pant from the inside and bent the tabs to hold the cap in place. I imagine it will have to be painfully removed and thrown away next time I need to air up the tires, and I think I will end up not replacing it and just living with the visible holes in the wheel pants. I also decided that it might be best to just leave the 1 3/8” hole alone for now.

With that auspicious start to my day, I proceeded on to the next task which was to replace the corroding chrome exhaust tips with a couple of new ones I picked up at AutoZone. I’d just as soon leave those tips off entirely, but I suspect that the builder put them there in response to seeing either exhaust soot staining the belly, or heat damage to the paint. I decided that neither of those were something I would want, and thus decided against experimenting by just leaving the tips off. The old tips came off easily, and the new tips were installed just as easily. This, of course, has me worried. This kind of Karmic imbalance is almost certainly an omen, and I will not be in the least surprised if both of the new tips end up in a corn field the next time I fly.

On the way out of the airport, I paused to watch one of our local Piper Super Cubs take off and pick up a banner. I never tire of watching that routine: very short takeoff roll, followed by a 45 degree pitch up to a 100 ft. or so, then a steep dive to snag the banner and another 45 degree pitch up to wrest the banner away from the ground. This particular banner was one of the large custom rectangular kind, as opposed to the long, thin ones that have replaceable letters. Being a gorgeous Fall day without a cloud within hundreds of miles, I was left wondering whether or not it made any sense at all for that specific advertiser to be paying for his banner to be flown: the advertiser was Able Roofing. Is anyone really thinking about their leaky roof on a day like that? It seems that a better opportunity would be to offer home additions like sun rooms, or end-of-year specials on a car lot full of convertibles.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Autumn River Run

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but if it wasn't for the fact that it precedes my least favorite season, Fall would be my unqualified favorite time of year. It's days like today, where the temperature is down to 'very comfortable' and the visibility is nearly unlimited, that call for an invigorating drive through the country.

Two birds, one stone. Or in this case, would it be two stones, one bird? But then one of the stones would be a bird, wouldn't it? Oh, whatever. Point is, I just wanted to fly, and with the top down on the Miata I also enjoyed the brief drive to the airport.

I've always wanted to head down to the Ohio River and just follow its path back to the east for awhile and see what I could see. Today seemed like a good opportunity for that - I wasn't really interested in going anywhere with the OSU game coming on at 3:30, so I planned on heading straight to the edge of the Cincinnati Class B and heading south from there until I hit the river, then heading east along the river to Portsmouth. At Portsmouth I'd north, flying up the nice hilly wooded acres southeast of Columbus. The combined MOAs around that area made a convenient path to use to follow on the GPS without dealing with waypoints and the like.

I've been wanting to drop in to Sportys to pick up an AOPA hat for the missus. I continue to be amazed at how much you can save on shipping if you have your own plane - I swear, you can hardly afford to be without one! If you're not sold, consider this: not only did I not have to pay shipping, I was offered an all-you-can-eat-before-getting-into-a-bumpy-airplane deal on Cincinnati hot dogs, brats, and those white things they call also call brats down there, all for free. I only had half of a brat (keeping in mind the "getting-into-a-bumpy-airplane" part of the deal), but the retail value (in consideration of making my case) could easily be $9.95 and you really have to double that since I certainly would have picked up the tab for my guest too.

We got a great parking spot right in front of the store:

They do this hotdog thing every Saturday (probably not year round, though). I imagine it gets pretty hectic during the prime summer months but it was pretty tame today. Three or four planes in the pattern when we got there, but we slotted in easily enough. I'm here to tellya, having an easy 140 knots on tap can really help in getting yourself merged in with the traffic.

It takes a lot to drag Rick away from building his -9A, but a hot brat on a great autumn day did the trick:

I caught this by pausing a half step as we were walking back to the plane - I really like it:

We made a southerly departure from Clermont Co. and headed for the river. This being the sight seeing part of the trip, I throttled back to 2100 rpm and cruised along at an economical 120 knots. I didn't make any effort to record the location of each picture I took, so here's a temporally random collection of the more distinctive sights along the river:

I can't figure out what the silos on this barge are for. I initially leapt to the conclusion that they were intended to haul grain, but even though I have no idea of what the costs associated with shipping by barge are, my guess is that there are more economical ways to move grain:

[Update: From Wikipedia:

Barges are still used today for low value bulk items, as the cost of hauling goods by barge is very low.] Well, there ya go.

I had to stooge around a bit waiting for these two to meet and pass, and I spent most of that time wondering if/how they wave as they pass:

This was the most colorful barge that we saw:

I wonder why this guy wasn't down river at the Tall Stacks Festival in Cincinnati:

[Update: the large building next to the river boat is the French Quarter Inn, in Maysville, KY. Nothing on their web site refers to the boat, so I'm not sure if my working theory, which is that this is a gambling boat, is correct.]

Portsmouth was the checkpoint for the turn back to the north.

Weird landing back at Bolton. First, the plane just fell away from me on the flare. Not dangerously so, and I easily caught it and managed to touch down fairly smoothly, but it left me wondering what caused it to drop like that. No biggy, just curious. It was a tad gusty, so that may have had something to do with it.

Next up was the tower controller who, for the first time in the years that I've been flying into and out of Bolton, had me stop just over the stop-short line and call Ground for clearance to taxi back to the hangar. That was very out of the ordinary, and I think he must have done the same thing to an arriving 172 because as we were taxiing out, the arriving 172 turned off the runway and appeared to be heading directly and unabashedly to a piece of taxiway I had intended to call my own. The Cessna stopped short once he saw us, and the tower finally chimed in with directions. Thing is, for right or wrong we get in the habit of doing things a certain way at the home airport, and these little wrinkles now and then can keep things interesting.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Perched on the flight deck

We got our first chance to visit the new Boeing 727 that the A&P school received from FedEx (who apparently names their airplanes - ours is named 'Kira') over the summer. I had been looking forward to it for quite awhile - the 727 is an example of the early Boeing jets from a time before all of the flight instruments and engine management systems got computerized. The 727 was one of the last jets that required a third crew member to manage all of the aircraft systems while the captain and first officer concentrated on flying. What with all of the mechanical "steam gauges" and the row after row of switches, circuit breakers, etc., the cockpit is more reminiscent of a locomotive than a modern airliner.

It was getting dark out by the time we got out to the plane, so we had a flashlight tour of the exterior while the teacher "pre-flighted" the APU. The APU (auxiliary power unit) is a small jet engine completely housed within the airframe, and is used to provide the copious electrical power needed to run the electrical systems prior to engine start. It also provides the power to start the main engines. Pre-flight took the form of walking out onto the wing (it has been quite a few years since I actually walked on an airplane) to make sure the APU exhaust was clear of debris and/or water. We also got up into the landing gear wheel wells to check for a clear air inlet and to ensure that the exhaust ducts were in good shape.

Once that was done, we climbed the 20' or so up to the main door, and from there I made a beeline for the Captain's seat. The teacher took the flight engineer's seat and started the APU. Once there was power on the plane, he pointed out the appropriate knobs to turn up the instrument lights. I spent the next half hour trying to soak in the feeling of being perched way up there on the flight deck, visualizing what it must have been like to fly the old bird.

My first impression was how crowded it was on the flight deck. Being up at the pointy end of the airplane, there's less room than you might imagine from sitting back in the wider part of the plane. It's quite a convoluted operation just getting into the pilot's seat. I'm sure you get used to that pretty quickly, in much the same way that I had to get used to climbing down into the RV, or up out of the Miata. There's a specific order for the crew to get to their respective seats, I imagine. At a minimum, I would guess that it was normal for the flight engineer to come in last, since his seat pretty much blocks access to the two front seats. There's also a jump seat snugged up behind the captain, more than likely used for FAA examiners and dead-heading pilots.

The second impression was just how many gauges, switches, knobs, bells, whistles, warning lights, and circuit breakers there were. It was very Willy Wonka-ish compared to the newer planes that look like nothing more than sophisticated home theaters, having panels comprised primarily of flat screens and a switch here and there. The primary flight instruments were the standard attitude indicator and HSI, and weren't much fancier than what could be found in a medium-sized piston twin. There was no sign of a flight management system (I think it was probably removed by FedEx prior to donation - see photo below) with display screen and keyboard, nor was there a glareshield mounted set of autopilot controls. In fact, no matter how hard I looked I couldn't find anything that looked like a simple altitude preselect control. I was looking for that specifically as I was trying to drive the flight director bars into a higher pitch. One of the other students had asked recently how a flight director worked, and without having easy access to Microsoft flight sim to show him, it was hard to describe. The teacher showed me where the heading hold switch on the autopilot was located, so I was able to demonstrate turn commands simply by moving the heading bug on the HSI, but couldn't find anything to drive the pitch. No matter, he got the picture once he saw the flight director bars respond to the turn command.

We played with lots of other things like landing lights, the amazingly energetic pitch trim (watch your fingers!!), various built-in-test functions (TCAS.not.functioning...this.that.and.the.other.thing.not.functioning - all in a bland robotic monotone), and the stall warning stick shaker.

The third impression was how damned uncomfortable the yoke was. It was way too big for my hands, leading me to believe that those few entrusted with flying these big birds are bigger than life. Well, it's that or accept the fact that I have small, girly hands. I'm not ready to go there with my ongoing self-realization just yet, so I'm sticking with my "Paul Bunyon as FedEx pilot" theory. Seriously, though, it's as if Boeing designed the yokes with massive pilot egos in mind, rather than any realistic ergonomic considerations. I imagine the autopilot did the lion's share of the flying anyway, so long periods of uncomfortable hand-flying probably weren't the norm.

While I truly enjoyed the Walter Mitty-ish button pushing and knob turning, I was ultimately left with a mild regret that we couldn't take her up for a few turns around the airport. Ah well, I probably would have been disappointed in the feel of the controls after bonding so nicely with my perfectly responsive RV. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Better than expected

I had resigned myself to another weekend of wistfully casting sideways glances at the scummy skies as I went through the motions of a grounded airman trying to get at least a modicum of personal satisfaction out of two days of relief from the week-long rut, but was pleasantly surprised on Sunday afternoon by an unexpected spate of pretty decent flying weather. I haven't done any planning, so I had no pre-determined destination in mind, but one topic from Wednesday night's A&P class was still kicking around somewhere near the front of my brain. We had made a brief field trip out to the school parking lot to swing magnetic compasses, using non-metallic screwdrivers we had fabricated from a length of aluminum rod.

It's important that the screwdriver be non-ferrous so as to avoid introducing magnetic deviation to the area while trying to adjust the compass to compensate for the deviation introduced by all of the other stuff in the panel. A screwdriver straight out of the toolbox has the potential to have picked up trace magnetism some time in its storied past, and trying to make a precision adjustment to the ultra sensitive mag compass with such a tool would be a frustrating exercise in futility.

Madison Co. has a compass rose painted on their parking ramp, and I was in need of a top-up of 10 - 11 gallons anyway, so a brief hop over there was in order. Even as short as it was, it was a nice little flight. Ground winds were calmer than forecast, but it was a little bumpy once in the air. That's not uncommon when the air is as crystal clear as it was, and is a small price to pay for such a tremendous view. The landing at MadCo was better than usual, and goes in the books as one of my better wheel landings.

I had thought it might be difficult to line up with the compass rose since I can't see very well over the nose when on the ground, and I didn't want to stop the engine and push the plane around until aligned. The compass is most accurately swung with the engine and all of the other electronics running, just as they would be in flight. It turned out to be easy enough to get within a few degrees of alignment by taking a long straight shot at it, and once the line moved under the nose to where I couldn't see it, using the perpendicular line to compare with the leading edge of the wing. Considering that I can reliably hold a magnetic compass heading to within 45 degrees or so, being 1 or 2 degrees off doesn't really matter. Still, I'm convinced I was able to line up on the rose pretty accurately. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get the compass to adjust to a point within the allowable 10 degrees of error, but such was not the case. North, South, East, and West all corrected to exact centering on the lubber line. The 3-0 degree hashes were off by 1 or 2 degrees at the most.

The flight back was a reminder that there is no such thing as a routine flight. As I crossed over the de facto reporting point 8 miles west of Bolton, the tower called out a departing Cessna heading my way. I saw him just as he went past at same altitude. For the second time in a 15 mile flight, I past another plane close enough that a wing wag was returned. The other had been on arrival to MadCo. Another Cessna was departing as I was about to enter right downwind, and try as I might, I just couldn't spot him. He was reportedly planning a right turn for a northwest departure off of 22, and I was west and heading in for a right downwind to 22. Usually I can pick them out as they clear the runway, but this time I couldn't spot him. I hedged a bit to the south, thinking he would turn just past the departure end. The tower called, asking if I could see him yet. When I replied in the negative, the Cessna pilot jumped in to say that he had me in sight. I looked over my shoulder, and there he was making his turn right behind me. He had headed further to the southwest than I had expected before making his turn on course, so my hedge to the south had actually exacerbated things.

From there it was just another arrival, with a slight wind-induced bounce on touch-down. Taxiing in, I went past an older fellow out for a day of plane watching, and as predictably as noisy political TV ads in October, he followed me back to the hangar for a chat. He told pretty much the same story I hear a lot: he'd been flying for a long time, far too long for the need to be easily removed from his blood, but now has lost his medical and is left with nothing but an ache in the gut on those days when the sky tugs at us. These guys are prime candidates for the LSA rules, but long ago stopped following every little swing in the federal regs so just don't know about the new "fly without a medical" rules. I suggested he forget about flying 4-seaters like the ubiquitous Skyhawks and Cherokees, and look for a good Ercoupe or any of the fine LSA-capable late-40s high wings. I hope he does. I should point out that under the current rules if his medical was denied or revoked the LSA rules won't help. That seems odd to me, but that's the way the rules are written.