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!"


  1. Great story!

    I tried to drop you a note after you left a comment on my blog. The e-mail to your hotmail account bounced. Drop me a note, I have some "ichiban" info for ya (i was a 328x4 at Beale AFB).

    Take care!

    mail me: steve AT fix4rso DOT com

  2. One record I'm not proud to hold. Glad to see you today, Dave!