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.