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!

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