Saturday, November 25, 2006

Helmet cam mounted

I went to Lowes early-ish this morning to get a few nuts and bolts to mount the little lipstick camera to my headsets. It cam with a little swivel mount that will let me aim it just about anywhere I want, and it tightens down so that it won't drift around under G loads or tension on its cable.

I don't have the microphone yet, but I was able to narrate over the video later using a little passive microphone that I had stuffed into a drawer. The sound quality isn't terrific and the narrator really didn't have much of interest to say, but it's better than nothing. I'm hoping that the microphone I have on order will fit neatly up inside one of the ear cups on my headsets so you can hear the engine sounds and the radio transmissions.

The mount worked out great and I was able to get it set to a good aim point. I might lower it down just a wee bit next time to get a sliver more of the panel in, though.

After the landing at MadCo I went around again to try another, and mercifully ran out of tape in the camcorder. It was pretty windy so I tried a no-flaps wheel landing. It was pretty dismal so it's a blessing that there's no video evidence of it. With the cleaner wing and touch more speed of the no-flaps approach, the ensuing bounce was pretty healthy. As I arced through the foot high parabola of the initial bounce I couldn't help thinking "she's a sprightly mount when she has her wind up!" These landings went great last week when there was no wind to deal with, but this 7 knot crosswind was giving me fits!

The wind was right down the runway back at Bolton, so that landing went well enough. I rushed home with the camcorder to get a look at how well the camera worked and was pleasantly surprised. It doesn't do long distance stuff well, but I think it's clear enough that you would get a good idea of what it's like to fly out to the islands, or to do some formation flying if I ever get around to learning how to do that. Not bad for $30.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Farm Visit

It's always a good sign when it's the bright sun sneaking through the window shades that wakes me up in the morning, particularly when I'm hoping to fly. Today we had a nice high pressure area to give us clear, crisp skies, and the promise of great visibility a little later in the day. The altimeter was 30.30, the temp was 30, and I'm down to half tanks of fuel, so Co-pilot Egg and I enjoyed a 1000 fpm climb at 135 knots. The engine and wings love the cold dense air like a Husky loves the snow, so we took a few minutes en route to just frolic around the sky a bit.

I don't know what it is about Versailles-Darke Co. airport but no matter what the winds are everywhere else, there is a direct crosswind from the south at KVES. I held a good 15 degrees of left crab on approach to runway 27 but managed to get it converted into the left bank / right rudder combination to land straight down the runway. Egg thought it was a pretty good landing, considering.

We had a nice visit and I was able to get in a walk down to the creek to take some pictures. I ran into a couple of the horses too. The light was pretty good and the sky was a very photogenic shade of blue, so I tried to get some sky in most of the pictures.

Egg too a couple of shots on the way home. You can see how clear the air ended up being after the slightly hazy morning.

Egg got some stick time today. She's been reluctant to try her hand at the RV, but today was the day that she decided to give it a go. She did pretty good, but she still has trouble seeing out the front. She did what she always did in the Tampico: she flew by instruments. That's a bit harder in the RV since I have a CNN attitude indicator (it always leans to the left - har har) but she was able to hold course pretty accurately by using the GPS. I'm happy to have her learning to hold altitude and course so she can help me out when I need to look at charts or whatever, and distracting her from her normal in flight activities of playing cell phone ring tones through the headset microphone or randomly flipping switches to see that surprised look on my face now and then is a good thing too.

The landing back at Bolton was only so-so, but Egg again refrained from harsh judgement and deemed it "Ok." That's pretty good, considering!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Oh Dark Thirty

Well, it was really 6:30 am, which is my normal work day time to be out and about anyway, but it felt like oh-dark-thirty when I arrived at the hangar. The plan was for a quick flight to Urbana for an early breakfast (going in early, under the radar, to avoid running into the waitress I forgot to tip last time there) and straight back to Bolton in order to be home before the family got out of bed. The skies were clear, the winds were out of the north-ish at 5 to 7 knots, but it was chilly. I plugged in the pre-heater last night in preparation for the early morning temperature, so at least the plane wasn't feeling the effects of the low temperature.

It didn't take long for it to get light enough to take off, and the trip to Urbana was smooth and fast. I was a bit surprised to see 175 knots groundspeed on the GPS given how little wind I felt on takeoff.

The heat from the engine felt good after the chill of preflight, so I left it at nearly full throttle all the way there. I carried 150 knots into an nearly empty pattern (the only other plane in the pattern, an Archer, was really keeping the knots up too! I thought it was a Lear jet after watching it use the entire length of the runway to land) and had it bled off nicely by the time I was ready for the turn to left base. Flaps down, nice wheel landing, but I didn't make the first turnoff. There was a 4 knot quartering tailwind (probably more like 10 at pattern altitude) so I was carried down the runway just far enough that I would have needed aggressive braking to make my normal turnoff. That wouldn't have been worth the wear & tear on the airplane, nor would it have been worth the less likely but still extant risk of dropping her on her nose. Note that none of this was a surprise; I had heard reaports of up to 4 knot winds from the north on the automated weather system during my initial preparations for landing. With such a light wind, I figured it would be good practice for me to go ahead and land downwind since quartering tailwinds had always been a bugger for me in the Tampico. No problems at all in the 6. Go figure.

Coming back later in the morning provided an opportunity to try out the new lipstick camera. It's velcroed to my headset until I can build up a mount for it so the aim was off a bit, but some of the clips are good enough to get an idea for what it will do. I still don't have sound, though.

The landing back at Bolton was another race to the pattern with a 172 headed back down south from Hilliard, but he was no match for my easily managed 150 knots. Landing on runway 4 means a mile long taxi back to the hangar so I generally land long in order to catch the mid-runway taxiway. That lets me carry 80 mph well into the distance that I would have to taxi (or in the case of runway 4, roll out on the runway with a guy behind me wanting to land) if I landed on the numbers.

This is the perfect argument for having finally learned to perform good wheel landings since they don't seem as critical about airspeed as the 3-point landings I had been doing. I rolled this one on at 70 mph with no problems. Carrying 70 mph into the flare for a 3-point landing would have resulted in a tremendous bounce if I let it drop in too quickly, and the extra pitch authority would have caused me to over control in the flare. At least that's what my past experiences indicate.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Anti-Skid Brakes

We've been talking about anti-skid braking systems in A&P class. They're actually fairly simple: each wheel on the main landing gear has a sensor attached to it that spins with the wheel. Unsurprisingly, they are called wheel speed sensors. They are actually little electric generators that create voltage as the wheels spin. This voltage is used as a signal in a computer. The computer uses that signal to determine when any given wheel is slowing to the point of skidding, and sends a signal to a hydraulic valve to release a bit of brake pressure for that wheel. The goal is to maximize braking power by keeping each wheel right on the edge of skidding.

This is not a trvial feature: the pilots of large, heavy, fast jets cannot feel the wheels beginning to skid, and if the wheels are allowed to skid, they will quickly rip themselves to shreds. When the bare wheel rim hits the concrete of the runway, all braking authority is lost, and with it goes lateral controllability.

I came across a series of photos today that demonstrate exactly why anti-skid is so imporant. Note that I am making the assumption that an anti-skid malfunction was the cause of this incident; I have no actual evidence of that. Regardless, this would be the result of a failed anti-skid system:

Photos copyright by CRASCA, originally posted here:

Monday, November 20, 2006

Weekend Projects

I just did a few little projects on Sunday, one of which should be patently obvious at this juncture. I started out just to replace the banner picture, and during my protracted search for a good picture to use I came across one from the Middle Bass Island trip. There's something about the bike leaning against the wing that encapsulates the amazing abilities of my recreational transportation gadgetry. I took that picture not more than one hour after lifting off from the home field in Columbus. Had I foolishly attempted the same trip by car, I'd have been just barely outside of the northern influence of the "big city," settling in for another three hours of travel. Wow!

I was looking for a way to dress up the picture a bit, and after experimenting with many different filters, effects, and distortions, I came across the Sepia filter. I thought it looked pretty good, but it was so much wider than the old banner picture (which never really fit correctly inside the box surrounding it anyway) that it made the rest of the template look pretty bad. Oh well, that's what lazy Sunday mornings are for: I dug down into the code that generates the pages and found the places I needed to fix to get the sizing right. It still had the white background, though, so it was too contrasty. I re-opened the sepia image in the picture editor and sampled the beige color around the edges of the picture, noted the Red, Green, and Blue values, converted them from decimal to hexidecimal, and found the spot in the code that sets the background color. It looks much better now since it isn't so stark, in my opinion.

Moving on from there, I used a pair of borrowed ratchet style wire crimpers to fabricate a small cable to run from the power adaptor I installed for the Wx Works box to the Avionics Master bus. Once I install that, I will be able to leave the Wx box plugged in all the time since the Avionics Master switch will protect it from the voltage and current spikes at engine start that were lobotomizing it before.

Finally, I made a trip to one of the mini-Best Buy stores known as Radio Shack. I was looking for a cigarette lighter power plug that I could splice onto the power connection on the $30 lipstick camera I bought for my camcorder. The idea is to be able to mount the little camera on my headset or somewhere on the airplane to take airborne video.

Radio Shack, which has been a big disappointment to me ever since they dumbed down their catalog, actually came through for me this time and I was able to find an adaptor cable that already had the correct plug on the end for the camera. The camera wants 12 VDC, which is perfect: once I liberate that power port from servicing the Wx Works box by installing the new power cable, I'll have the front-of-panel 12 VDC plug open for use with the camera. I tested the power adaptor using one of the cars, and everything worked great. Next step: acquire a lapel microphone small enough to nestle into the ear cup on my headset.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Night and day.

Black and white. Hot and cold. The best of times, the worst of times. Choose your favorite and apply it to today's flying compared to that of a week or so ago.

I hadn't figured on getting to fly today, but the weather this morning was better than I had expected. It was a solid overcast at 10,000' and only five miles visibility, but there was essentially zero wind, perfect for a series of stop & goes over and MadCo to see if I could get the hang of wheel landings. Without the wind as a detriment (read: excuse), I thought I might be able to get some improvement over the not quite up to standard examples from last week. I also thought that if I got started before 10am, the traffic would be light. I forgot (well, "forgetting" would be impossible in this case; it's more that I didn't factor it into my traffic forecast) about the huge OSU-Michigan game here in town today. All home games generate some degree of banner tow activity, but today's game would definitely cause a peak in their operations.

I kicked on the scanner while I was preflighting and could immediately tell that it was going to be a little more crowded than hoped. The tower was already balancing 3 or 4 banner guys and 3 students doing the touch & go routine. I did a braindead check of the altimeter (a new step in preflight prep after last week) and did a slower-than-usual walk around looking for any faults that may have arisen in the 9 day flying hiatus. All looked good, so I saddled up.

The tower cleared me to taxi to runway 22 quickly enough, but I could see that there was still a bit of activity in the pattern. Surprisingly, I completed my run-up in time for the tower to get me cleared for takeoff before the touch & go on downwind and the two banner-tows waiting on the Alpha 3 taxiway a couple of thousand feet down the runway. No wind equals easy takeoff, and the cooler temperatures and high pressure equals great climb performance, so I stayed down in ground effect for a little longer than usual and was doing a good 120 knots as I got to the holding banner-tows and their groundlings, whereupon I pulled into a steeper than usual climb and a nice right turn towards the open fields west of the airport. For pilots, that was just like a little wave and a hearty "Good morning, GO BUCKS!"

I did my usual positioning for a south entry into a left downwind for runway 27 out at MadCo, but a Bonanza was taxiing out for a departure on 9. Eh, fine by me: I just crossed over to a left downwind for runway 9. I knew the Bonanza pilot and remembered his tail number from years ago when I got a ride in his plane, so I got to ruin his day my calling "Experimental 6 Papa Golf turning left base niner, got you in sight, Wayne." How did that ruin his day? Well, I figure he's gonna spend the rest of the day trying to figure out who in the hell that guy in the Experimental was!

The first wheel landing was better than any of the others from that last flight, but it was still a little bouncy/chirpy. The second was much better. The third was as smooth as could be, and by that time I had figured out that releasing just s smidge of back pressure on the stick at just the right time can smooth out some of the baby bumps. All in all, it was a pretty good set of landings, so there was nothing left to do but to squeeze myself back into Bolton.

Approaching our west call-in point (Lilly Chapel), I saw a 172 off to my right, same altitude, maybe a half mile away. I knew he would be calling the tower in just a few seconds as we were both just about to the grain elevator that defines Lilly Chapel. I beat him to it (150 knots is a gift that just keeps on giving...) and contacted the tower. I had planned on tacking on that I had the 172 in sight at my 4:00 so he wouldn't get spooked, but the tower was really hopping with all the pattern traffic he had so I decided against it. Sure enough, as soon as I made my call I looked back to see the 172 peeling off to the right. That wasn't all that surprising, but I think it was the completely wrong reaction. For all he knew, I was right there next to him and he could have been turning right into me. It's arguable, I suppose, but I kind of regretted not tacking on the position report so he wouldn't be quite as surprised to learn of my presence.

The tower called me back and told me that he also had a Grumman coming in from the southwest, and that I should report mid-field right downwind. He asked the Grumman how far out he was: 6.5 miles. I was 7.8. This was shaping up to be a simultaneous arrival. Grummans are good for about 135 knots, and I was indicating 150. I had been planning on hedging south of Columbus Southwest (a grass runway airport just a couple miles west of Bolton) because I had already heard two banner-tows heading back there from the stadium. They're pretty slow when they've got a banner in tow, and since they were reportedly still near downtown, I figured they'd not be a factor. As an aside, I heard the tower tell someone that he had six banner-tows working out of Bolton, and another five out of Southwest. And three hot air balloons. And two (soon to be three, I thought as I flew under a Diamond DA-20 maneuvering just outside of Bolton's class D airspace) touch & goes. Anyway, it looked like Southwest would be clear and I could scootch myself to the north a bit more, so as to catch the right downwind at mid-field. As I got close, I could see the Grumman off to my 2:00, still a few hundred feet higher, and still cooking right along. I was still at 150 knots, and with him being in a descent, he was probably at least 140.

I've seen this before, so I knew to be ready for it: he called right downwind early, which he could do because the tower would have instructed him to "report entering right downwind" when he had reported that he was arriving from the southwest. Not yet being abeam the departure end numbers, he wasn't technically in the right downwind yet, but he was close enough to make a strong argument that he was. The tower cleared him to land, as I expected. I was already making the left turn to enter the pattern at mid-field, so I quickly jumped in and told the tower that I was mid-field right downwind, ahead of the Grumman. The tower replied, "Grumman, I'm going to make you number two behind the Experimental, he's a lot faster than you are." I live for that kind of thing, I'm tellin' ya.

I landed (another smoothy) and was off the runway at Alpha 3 as the Grumman was coming down final, so I stopped to see how his landing went. He was still 50' in the air as he sailed past me on Alpha 3 and didn't get stopped until well down the length of the 5000+ foot runway. I suspect he got himself a new yardstick today with that landing!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I just can't get this question out of my head

A couple of weeks ago, the topic of the ADF came up in A&P school. For those of you not familiar with that acronym, and ADF is an Automatic Direction Finder. It basically points a needled at a ground-based transmitter called an NDB (Non-Directional Beacon). It's pretty old technology and really not used all that much anymore, but that is not to say that it isn't used at all. It's typically used in instrument flight by pilots that don't have access to the latest and greatest GPS technologies.

The display is very intuitive (a single arrow just points at the ground station) but the usage of it is not. Actually, the simplicity of the display is what causes so much confusion with new pilots, but once they can get their heads around it, it becomes a valuable tool. If you're interested, there's more info here.

Being mechanics school, we aren't particularly interested in how pilots use it, though. Rather, we're more interested in how it works. Very simplistically, it uses the fact that a loop antenna (think of a halo) can determine when and if it is oriented perpendicular to an AM radio signal. The new ADF loop antennas have no actual moving parts, but older antennas had a motor that would rotate the loop antenna until it detected that it was perpendicular to the ground source and send that bearing to the needle in the cockpit. Now, here's the point that I'm stuck on. The instructor said that the loop antenna is continuously rotating, much like a radar antenna. To me, that doesn't make sense.

What would make sense to me would be for the motor to rotate the antenna until it detects the bearing of the ground station. Once it senses that it is correctly oriented, it would then maintain a "lock" on the ground station by using a feedback loop to control the turning motor. That way, the antenna would always be pointing at the ground station and the positioning of the needle in the cockpit would be as simple as tying its movement to the movement of the antenna by using an autosyn. An autosyn is simply a method of electrically sending position data to a remote display using a bundle of three electrical wires, rather than a complex and heavy mechanical linkage. They are used for many, many things in airplanes, so it is a reliable and proven technology. Now, if the antenna was constantly rotating, how would the correct bearing be transmitted to the cockpit ADF indicator? Beats me! That question was not answered in class, and I didn't want to waste class time pursuing it.

But I just can't let it go! I had even talked myself out of my "solution" for awhile by considering that the needle will sometimes point in the direction of a lightning bolt. My thinking was that the antenna wouldn't be able to detect the lightning because it was "locked" on the NDB, but upon further reflection I see the fallacy of that argument. Changing the frequency of the ground station (selecting a different station in a different location) works because the orginal signal goes away, and is replaced by one that is likely on a different bearing. I think what happens with lightning is that it creates a much stronger "signal" that the ground station, and temporarily makes the antenna thinks it's pointing in the wrong direction.

Well, there you have it: this is the kind of stupid thing that occupies my mind.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It's getting cold, and that means only one thing...

... it's time to get back to working on nose art. Very few of you were reading this blog around this time last year, so here's a quick refresher. I commissioned an artist that I knew would work for free to draw me a nice picture to put on the nose of the plane, more or less to play along with the military fighter motif. The resulting picture was delivered as a colored pencil drawing on coarse paper:

The first step was to get it digitized using the digital camera. That's what you see above. That was the easy step. The next step was to spend many, many hours making the colors crisp and solid. This necessitated a foray into the exotic and esoteric skills needed to work in a complex digital editing program named GIMP, which is a fantastically powerful tool in addition to its
best feature: it's free. Working at the molecular level (eg. pixels) was the only way to get the clean, crisp digital image that it would take to get a high quality image transferred onto a vinyl decal:

I didn't track the hours that it took, but it was a lot. Here's the latest cleaned up image:

The next problem was to find a way to get the image transferred to a decal. I didn't exactly hunt for a service provider in the way a wolf hunts for comestibles, rather I used the watering-hole ambush method: when I saw an ad for an outfit that looked like it had this capability, I'd fire off an email asking if they could create a decal based on the image. This turned out to actually be theblackhole approach: questions went in, but nothing came out. Recently, however, I came across a referral on the Vans RV Forum and fired off yet another email. This one struck gold, and it now appears that the project is back on track. This prompted me to put a few more hours into cleaning up the image, and now that I have a nice color photo printer, I was able to print the results and see how they would look on the airplane:

The actual decal would be trimmed a lot tighter to remove the white background (and of course the bottom wouldn't be chopped off like that), and there would be two more gun ports on each side, for a total of six. The builder of the plane was more or less trying to create an F-86 look (albeit a taildragger F-86 (which doesn't actually exist) so I'm going to use three ports per side, just like the F-86 has:

I won't go to the bother of having two different sizes, though, and the grey background around the ellipse of the gun port would be trimmed off.

So, there's your update to the nose art saga.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My new yardstick

If you never had a bad day, you'd have no standard (yardstick) to measure good days against, and today I got myself a new yardstick.

Let me start off by pointing out that I'm tired. Thursday afternoon is when the work - night school - work - work - night school - work cycle catches up with me, and I get very, very tired. But... when I see a clear blue sky and moderate temperatures (in NOVEMBER no less!!) I just have to fly. I wanted to gas up anyway in order to start my newly designed fuel log with a known quantity (i.e. full tanks), so I decided on a quick hop over the MadCo.

Preflight and start went well enough, although I was a bit surprised to see that I hadn't unplugged the preheater when the temperatures came back up early this week. I called the tower (they answered this time), gave the altimeter a nudge up to the 905 ft mark, taxiied out, and made a normal takeoff. On the way over to MadCo, I attempted a couple of recovery from unusual attitude exercises (you never know when you might run into some wake turbulence and one should always be prepared), but neither attempt was very good and I quickly gave up on that idea. Things were going fairly well other than that, although I did notice that I was having a little trouble with my radio communications, stumbling over my call sign and things like that.

As I was approaching MadCo's right downwind to runway 27, it felt like I was too low. Chalking that up to being a bit rusty, I proceeded into the pattern, and soon found myself on final. Final felt a little off too, as it seemed that even at 80 mph indicated things were happening very slowly. That, of course, was a result of the 10 - 13 knot headwind. The flare and touchdown were OK for a wheel landing (not my strong suit by any stretch of the imagination), but on rollout the nose took a frightening dip towards the runway. This was caused by the shoes I was wearing, which aren't my normal flying shoes. Rather than the light running-type shoes I normally wear, I was wearing clunky, heavy hiking boots. The brakes are pretty sensitive, and the bigger, bulkier shoes caused me to accidentally apply more brake than normal, and in the (for me) unusual attitude of a wheel landing, the unintentional extra braking caused the nose to dip precipitously. I easily recoverd by getting some weight off the brakes and a titch of back stick, though.

I pulled up to the pumps and parked next to a very nice RV-8 that was already there. Gas was $3.44/gallon, which is not too bad.

After tanking up and a brief chat with the RV-8 pilot (who had thankfully had been in the FBO paying for his fuel when I arrived and probably didn't hear my landing, during which I had squealed the tires so much that it sounded like a cat being pulled through a taffee machine), I decided that my icky landing called for a couple of stop & goes to get in some practice while we still had nice weather. At the end of the runway, a quick check of the altimeter to set UYFs field elevation showed me to already be at almost 2000 ft! Ah-ha! That explained why downwind had felt so low! The barometric pressure today was 29.72", and the altimeter was set at 30.72", which is nearly 1000' off. The pressure on Saturday when I flew last must have been almost exactly an inch higher than today, and when I nudged the altimeter up to 905', I didn't notice that it was actually 1,905'. D'oh! Another rookie mistake! Yawwwnn.

After two acceptable stop & go landings, it was time to head back to Bolton. The routine of configuring the plane for the various flight modes and the management of other little tasks had come back to me pretty quickly despite having not flown much recently and the plane felt great in the air, but I still managed to bounce the landing back at Bolton to the degree that I needed a quick burst of throttle at the apex of the bump to recover the landing. It was pretty windy, though, and wind is always a great catch-all excuse, often cited as being culpable for a multitude of sins. Surely an exuberant bounce on landing can be attributed to a 10 knot wind, can't it? And it was a crosswind too, after all.

Back in the hangar, I yawned mightily and decided that if nothing else, I got some good practice in today, and set the bar low enough that there's no way my next flight can't be an improvement. But here's the best part: it was still a blast and left me smiling! Having a couple of sub-par landings in an RV is like a golf pro hitting a couple of bogies at Augusta: it's mildly disappointing, but you're still damn glad just to be in the game.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A flight made distinctive by its atypicalness

Or is it atypicality? Or atypicalitude? Most likely, its none of the preceeding and you really can't get there from here. Let's just stipulate that there was something between 'slightly weird' and 'abnormal' about flying today.

After a few weeks layoff there's always going to be a little bit of surface rust on the skill set, but it's normal, expected, and not difficult to deal with. Today dawned with clear skies and a manageable wind, but the look in the hound's eyes when presented with his first potty break opportunity of the day said it all: it's cold out there! The frost on the grass confirmed his assessment, so I knew I was going to have to dress warm unless I wanted to get my winter temperature acclimation completed in one sitting. I bulked up with long underwear and a long sleeve shirt, grabbed my RV hoody sweatshirt, and what with it being a game day, topped it all off with my OSU jacket. I have an ancient bomber jacket that's nice and warm, but it's too bulky for the airplane, so I find it's better to dress in layers. If I may butcher a metaphor, the problem with an airplane that fits me like a glove is that the glove gets pretty tight when my hands are swollen. Even with just the longies, sweatshirt, and jacket, I struggled to get the safety belts situated and found that I had to slouch a bit once the canopy was down.

A weather check indicated an ambient temperature of 25 degrees, so it was a good thing that I had remembered to stop by the hangar Friday and plug in the engine pre-heater. I had also looked over the plane while I was there because through experience I have learned that the two keywords for 25 degree flying are "perfunctory" and "pre-flight." Having gone over the plane yesterday, I was pretty comfortable with the "Wings: attached. Tail: attached. Propellor: attached. Ass: frozen off and lying on the tarmac." style of preflight. The engine pre-heater does a great job, and even after a weeks long layoff she started right up after just one blade.

By this time it was right in the middle of the zone-of-confusion that surrounds the control tower being open or closed. The schedule is for the tower to open at 0730. Anytime between 0725 and 0735, I'm never absolutely certain what the status is. I have a scanner in the hangar that lets me hear the tower, so I turned that on as I did my preflight. The tower makes an announcement when they open, so catching that would negate the uncertainty. Nada. A couple of minutes later I was in the plane and had the radios on. My watch was within a minute of 7:30, so it was possible that I missed the announcement. Discretion being the better part of lots of things (valor is overrated anyway), I called ground control for taxi clearance. Nothing. Ok, I can go pretty much all the way to the ramp without their permission anyway, so I went ahead and got rolling. I called them a couple of more times on the way, but no response. Once clear of the hangars, I could look at the tower and see that there was no one up there, and it was still only a couple of minutes beyond 7:30 anyway so it was certainly within the bounds of possibility that my watch was fast or theirs was slow. Normally, being able to see the tower would be all I'd need. If the tower is closed, the green and white rotating beacon will be on. Today, however, I saw in the NOTAMs (Notices to Airman) of the preflight weather briefing I got before I left home that the rotating beacon was out of service. Since it was plain to see that there were no other planes in the area and that the tower cab was uninhabited, I decided to go ahead and taxi on down to the runway. I called again at the end of the runway, but when there was no response I just transmitted my intentions to any local traffic (which is normal for when the tower is closed) and went.

The climbout was glass smooth and the visibilty was about 10 miles in a light haze. It would have been lousy photography lighting, which is good considering that I had forgotten to bring the camera. Still, I'm kicking myself for not getting even a mediocre picture of the corn field with the seal of the State of Ohio and an Ohio flag cut into it that I flew over. If it's nice tomorrow morning, maybe I'll go back to get a shot ot two. It's only 19.4 nm NW of here.

Some people actually do remember to bring their cameras. Brandon took this shot on his way back from Columbus to Lima:

Photo by Brandon D. Wren, all rights reserved.

Along the way I dialed up 122.7 to see what was going on at Allen Co., but the skies were apparently empty at 07-early on a frigid morning. A few minutes later, though, voices starting popping up and it quickly got busy. This caused me to wonder if perhaps there had been a problem with my radio that precluded communications with the tower. Hmmm. Still, it had been quite plain to see that there was no one in the tower cab. Oh well, water under the bridge and I had a pending landing to think about anyway.

The destination today was Lima/Allen Co. airport to have a breakfast visit with the world-record holder for the briefest time to be an RV-4 owner. The runway there is 09 - 27, and I knew the winds were at least southerly. That means I would be facing a nearly direct (perpendicular to the runway) crosswind on my first landing in weeks. The only real remaining question was how much crosswind. Allen Co. has an AWOS automated weather system, but it transmits on a Nav frequency and I don't have a nav receiver in the plane. Fortunately I bought that nifty AnywhereMapWX at Oshkosh. A quick tap of the stylus and I had the winds from Allen Co: 180 @ 9. Direct crosswind, but within my normal limits. It was a bit more than what had been forecast for nearby Findlay, but not to an eyebrow raising degree. I had about a 15 degree crab coming down final, and as I transitioned into the flare I was able to straighten it out to align with the runway with about a half boot of right rudder. A little compensatory left bank into the wind kept me tracking right down the middle of the runway, and the whole thing ended with a nice, smooth touchdown, which is a rare enough occurence under the best of condtions that I had to congratulate myself.

Upon leaving after a few too many cups of coffee to ensure a completely comfortable trip, I briefly thought about using runway 9 instead of 27. When taking off with a crosswind from the left, it takes quite a bit of right rudder to counteract the weather-vaning tendency of the plane to turn into the wind, and combined with the normal leftward pull of the engine and propellor, we're talking about a comparatively high demand for right rudder. By using runway 9, the crosswind would be from my right, which typically results in a takeoff that requires no rudder whatsoever. Alas, 'twas not to be. There was a Mooney practicing ILS approaches to runway 27 and the benefit of a slightly easier takeoff is not outweighed by the risk of flying directly into opposing traffic.

The takeoff was fine, and good practice. The flight home was marred only by the tenatious internal questions about what kind of reception I might receive. More than likely, I'd breeze right in as if nothing happened, because nothing did. But that nagging idea that my radio may have been the culprit rather than a slightly tardy controller or an inaccurate time setting on my watch had me wondering if I might receive a cooler reception and a request to have a chat after landing. Preparing for the worst, I tuned in the tower as soon as I was clear of Allen Co. to see if I could get a feel for the controller's mood:

"Uh-oh. It's Mr. Grumpy, the controller that's so petty and snippy that an air traffic controller I was flying with once commented on it. Well, maybe he's in a good mood."

"Uh-oh, he's worse than normal! He's barking at a touch-and-go'er for not repeating clearances in under 3 seconds. Dude! Lighten up!"

"Ah, this could be a help. The pattern's pretty busy and he may not have the time to scold me."

I get closer:

"Geez, where'd they all go? The one time I want a crowded pattern..."

Me: "Bolton tower, experimental four-six-six-papa-golf over Darby Dan, inbound full stop."

Tower: "Four-six-six-papa-golf, report two mile right base, 22."

Me: "Bolton tower, six-papa-golf two mile right base"

Tower: "Six-papa-golf not in sight, cleared to land."

Pretty good landing, albeit again with a direct crosswind. Funny how the wind shifted just enough between Lima and Columbus to ensure the worst case at both locations. Then:

Tower: "Six-papa-golf turn right alpha-three monitor ground on point eight taxi to park"

Me: "Right alpha three, monitor ground." "Whew. Glad that's over!"