Monday, March 26, 2007

Yow-eee! Better than coffee!

Top down, radio up, 75 mph at 55 F for my 30 mile commute in the Miata this morning.

The sun was half an hour away from official daybreak, so the sky was a mix of blue/pink/red. While the relatively low temperature was a bit of a disincentive for my normal pace, and I ran the risk of going through the work day with a bad case of Johnny Depp hair, it was sure a great way to start the day!

Mighty invigorating, but I still needed a cup of hot Starbucks, albeit just to warm up in this case.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

30 more horsepower, please

If I ever go to another RV, it will have 180 hp. Just saying, is all. I just took a little jaunt with full fuel and a passenger - not the best performance regime for my 150 hp bird, and she does like to use a bit more of the runway in that situation.

'Twas fun, though, despite the somewhat embarrassing bounce on landing.

My Ignominious Defeat on the Killing Fields of the IRS

I admit it. I was in full retreat, having turned tail and run from the battle when faced with the blank and hostile stare of the infamous IRS Form 8615 - Tax for Children Under Age 14 With Investment Income of More Than $1,600, a form that in its name alone is nearly a self-parody of the incredible mess our tax code has become. In fact, this form alone is a glaring indictment of the insult that gets heaped onto the extant pecuniary injury of our annual tax burden. Some of you have met the lovely Co-Pilot Egg for whom I had volunteered to champion in this battle; no Leona Helmsley is she. Yet here I was, forced to defend her honor against this huge, unforgiving faceless colossus.

To be sure, I entered the fray brimming with newly found self-confidence. After all, safely astride the saddle of my newly acquired mount and armed with my newest state-of-the-art weapon, which I had lovingly named Turbo Tax Premium, I had single-handedly slain one challenger after another in detailing my own 16-page return. 1040? Bah, a lowly opponent. Schedules A - Z? Quickly dispatched. Even ne'er met foes that prodded my soft underbelly with questions regarding stock transactions were no match to the power of my electronic arsenal. The fact that I am required (under threat of substantial penalty and/or incarceration, mind you) to account for every penny (or minuscule sliver thereof) spent or earned to a government agency that has been unable to balance its own books for decades merely adds a touch of irony to the historical record of the entire battle.

As I proudly entered the field of battle, I felt not even the smallest trace of trepidation. Name? Well, sure I know that: I gave it to her! Social Security number? Very familiar, what with her having been branded with said digits unconscionably early in her infancy. Free range veal doesn't feel the searing burn of the red-hot brand as early in life as did my precious progeny. The battle proceeded apace, with my confidence bubbling to ever higher degrees with each small victory. Only when it was far too late did I realize that I had been suckered into an ambush. Flanked on all sides with wounded, but not yet slain enemy combatants, I was finally confronted with the enemy's last, best opponent: the aforementioned Form 8615. The strength in my legs immediately abandoned me, leaving two useless stubs of gelatinous goo in their stead. I could feel my confidence abandon me at the very moment is was most sorely needed. I knew to my very core that the battle was lost, that I had no hope of even pricking this beast, far less wresting it to the ground. The situation was grim, my very survival in doubt.

Then I heard it: the cavalry bugles were blowing! And nearby, too! Could it be that I was saved, that the battle could still be won? Was it really possible that a savior was just over the horizon, a savior with the steely nerves and unswayable resolve that would be needed to defeat this ungodly foe? Did I dare even to hope for such an implausibly last minute rescue, the type normally found in formulaic Hollywood dreck?

Yes, it was true! I was saved! A wizard of unparalleled skill and experience, capable of meeting anything the enemy could bring to the battle, was going to be my salvation, albeit at a cost. When I regained my ability to speak, my first question I asked of my personal white knight was to be told by what name he rode. The answer will be seared into my memory until the day of my eventual demise: "Block. H & R Block."

'Twas a near thing, and while not likely to rise to the epic level of battle that is made infamous through folk songs and the tales of traveling bards, it was indeed one of history's greatest skirmishes.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Moving up in the big iron

I'm always interested in how things work for the guys that have a gig with the big boys. I recently received the following from my wife's cousin, who just moved up from the Boeing 737 to the larger, more modern 757/767:

Just a note or progress report. As many of you know, I had tired of
the length of service on the 737 at USAirways, and with 22 months to go
prior to retirement, elected to "go crazy" for stodgy, "set in my ways
Bill". So, bidded and received 757 and 767 Domestic routes, based in
Philadelphia, PA effective May 1, 2007. I am stoked with excitement at
the prospect of flying the 757, flying different routes, and basically
adding another aircraft genre to my resume in case I need to work

So, weekly ground school is two weeks in my rear-view mirror with
one week ahead to practice for the Oral Exam on 757/767 aircraft
systems, flows and checklists, and even a day of International Rules.
My class of 10 guys, with 4 recalled from 4-years of furlough, and my
simulator partner, Dan R. from a two-year leave. We affectionately
call it the training "hostage crisis."

After this week in Charlotte, we'll separate and head to simulator
sessions. Dan and I head to the America West Simulator in Phoenix for
four-hour sessions a day with around 6 hours of preparation every day to
be ready to perform. I'll head to Las Vegas for a family visit before checking into my 2-star Courtyard Suites Hotel in PHX. After a week of training, I'll use my two days off and try to hop a flight to Las Vegas to relax before returning to Phoenix for the three-day evaluation events, Maneuvers Evals (all the engine out,
generator failures and diversions a guy could hope for) and then the
Line Flight Simulation, where the Evaluator tries to present all the
training accomplished in a scenario of typical line flight, just adding
some realism to the training scenario. Finished with the sims, I'll
head home with a new type rating and spend the last two weeks of April flying Operating Experience (OE--what I have been doing for other 737 pilots during the past 11 years so I know the expectations.)

May 4, 2007 is the first trip in my scheduled line of flying in
PHL, departing Philly at 5:45pm for Orlando and my monthly schedule
becomes weekend oriented as my seniority takes a major hit by moving up
the airplane food chain. I'll fly Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Mondays for
the month of May, working Memorial Day, but the trips are longer
segments, averaging 3.5 hours per flight compared to my 1.6 hours per on
the 737.

I'll layover domestically, and fly PHL and CLT turns into the
Caribbean, and lots of Las Vegas and maybe Hawaii later in the year.
Doing St Thomas, Montego Bay and San Juan in May. So, lots of work and
I'm excited to get "glass Cockpit time" and some more over-water, PIC
time for the resume.

Remember, he actually gets paid for doing this!

New technical interpretations of freezing precipitation have caused USAirways much angst, but Ice Pellets and Snow Grains, two types of precip, have been much discussed and our existing deicing and anti-icing procedures were not authorized for use. Technical reasons for not having adequate
"holdover times" demonstrated to the FAA put those two precipitation
categories in with Freezing Rain. If the Airport Weather Observer calls
his hourly observation with either Snow Grains or Ice Pellets listed, we
are not able to operate and the airline commences canceling flights or
holding them at the gates awaiting the next Weather Observation. Got us
front page coverage on the USA Today. . .

By the time I finish training, it'll be thunderstorm season anyway.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Well, that didn't take long...

Only two and a half years is all. Yes, finally, the nose art (which really isn't on the actual nose since I didn't want to put it on the fiberglass cowl since 1) I would have had to cut the decal, and 2) that's where the gun port decals will go once I figure how I want to array them, and 3) real F-86s have the custom art back aft of the gun ports too) is on the plane:

Love it or hate it, you have to admit that it's unique!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How It's Made: Airborne Traffic Reports

I enjoy watching the How It's Made shows on the Discovery Science channel, which is in my opinion one of the better kept secrets of the high century channels on our local cable. Although every topic is fascinating on the How It's Made show, I especially enjoy seeing how things that I am a consumer of are produced. Being as the show is focused on the manufacturing of tangible products rather than services, though, it's highly unlikely that they will ever share the secrets about a product of which I am an avid consumer.

What product might that be? Ok, that's obviously a rhetorical question given that the answer is right there in the title of this posting but yes, I am an avid consumer of traffic reports. I'm so hooked that I listen to them even when I'm not going anywhere, just to see how all of the other poor bastards are doing in their daily commutes. On days when I am driving, I pay rapt attention to every word, hoping to glean the reason behind the three mile long, completely immobile line of cars in front of me. With a nominal 30 minute trek, a good day has me on the road for slightly more than an hour. It doesn't take much of a disruption in the flow of the traffic to cause snarls that endure well past when my already limited patience has run out, though. Hence my abject attention whenever and wherever a traffic report comes on.

The reports can frustrate as well, I must note. Oft is the reported accident within spitting distance of my current location, but naught is to be seen. The converse happens equally often: I'm sitting in the aforementioned highway quagmire wondering just what the hold up is this time (knowing full well that the odds are in favor of yet another over-turned tractor trailer - something about Columbus highways causes trucks to go belly up like Cuyahoga River catfish) but the traffic report is completely mute on the topic of my delay.

So, I had decided on a quick flight after work today and was just passing through the gates on the way to the hangar when I saw an acquaintance of mine preflighting the Sunny 95 (scroll down to Sgt. Bill Taylor) airborne traffic reporting plane. I run into him now and then and always exchange waves. He often mentions how much he enjoyed ferrying my Tampico out to Los Angeles for me after I sold it, but today was a little different: he told me that he was preparing to fly the evening traffic reporting flight and asked if I'd like to ride along. Surprisingly, I actually had to think about it for a few moments. On the one hand, I was very curious as to how the traffic flights are conducted and would enjoy riding along to find out. On the other hand, it was a nice clear afternoon and an energetic flight in Papa Golf was very attractive. Fiscal responsibility won out and I opted for the free ride. Having planned on recording some Helmet Cam video, I had my camcorder with me and figured I might get some good video while we orbited the city.

Decision made, I grabbed my spare headsets from the hangar and squeezed myself into the back seat. The pilot would fly from the right seat, and the traffic observer would fly in the left seat. The switch from the normal seating arrangement of the pilot sitting in the left seat is to allow for the observer to have most of the action on his side as they work their way counter-clockwise around the I-270 outerbelt. I shared the back seat with a piece of equipment far more critical to the process than me: a foot and a half tall stack of radios.

One radio was used to communicate with the Sunny 95 radio studio, while the other was used to get accident reports from the police department. I think the remainder of the stack might have been a power supply, but I was reluctant to get anywhere near it. Were it to fail, I would want to be as far removed from the blame zone as possible! We were off the runway by 4:30 and made our first turn to the east. Sgt. Bill had gotten an update of current traffic conditions by phone just before takeoff and he wanted to check out a report of a situation to the east. We climbed to 2,000' and headed out over the city. That was a new experience for me - you may remember that when I wanted to get video of downtown that I had to climb to 5,000'. The view from 2,000 is a heck of a lot better than it is from nearly a mile high, as you can probably imagine.

As we headed east along I-70, it looked like everything was moving along quite well. Just as we reached the Hamilton Rd. exit, we saw a couple of cars stopped in the middle lane, and I marveled at the gyrations of the unfortunate drivers that happened to be stuck behind them as they tried to inject themselves into the moving streams of traffic to either side of them. "There but for the grace of going to work really, really early...," I thought to myself as I watched their struggles from on high. We made one 360 over the accident, then kept going east to check out another report. One thing I couldn't help noticing was that there didn't seem to be any hurry to communicate any of this to the radio studio, and thence via radio to some poor schmuck that still had a chance to take an alternate route and bypass the whole mess. I suspect I might empathize with that unknown (and possibly non-existent) fellow more than the average traffic reporter, though.

Eventually the observer started a countdown: "Coming at you in five.........(five seconds later) Dave, we're out here over Reynoldsburg (we weren't - we were already headed back to the west) where there's a bit of a backup on 270 to I-70 west. There are half a dozen cars off to the side in the deadzone (the hash mark painted area where McDonalds bags and Budweiser cans go to retire) but the backup goes well north of Main St." He also mentioned the first accident we had seen. He obviously has been doing this for a long time as his patter was very well polished. He ended with "This is Sgt. Bill Taylor, reporting from the Sunny 95 Sky Bank Yellow Thunder." Of course, being as it was a lowly Cessna 172 we were riding in, a plane most resoundingly not known for having any semblance to thunder, I found that moniker to be somewhat amusing. With my status of being a guest and all, I'm sure you'll understand why I refrained from commenting on that to my hosts, BanterAmptm that goes all the way to 11 notwithstanding.

Can't you just hear the thunder?

We cruised around for a bit more than an hour, the whole operation going like clockwork. They do this twice a day (weather permitting) so the communications with Columbus Approach and Don Scott (KOSU) tower were nearly rote. They have a permanently assigned squawk code and the route they fly is roughly identical each and every time. Port Columbus (KCMH) is a bit of an elephant in the room, though. There are certain areas where the traffic plane can't fly without causing potential conflicts with airliner traffic flying into and out of the big airport, so there are certain pieces of highway that are essentially left to fend for themselves. You guys that have to use I-71 between downtown and the Ohio State campus: I'm talking about you. You know, just in case you ever wondered.

On the way back to Bolton, I learned one of the best kept secrets of this gig: they cheat! As we were entering the right downwind to runway 4, the observer called in two more reports to the radio station to be recorded and played back between 5:00 and 6:00. In fact, I was already home drinking a brew (required to deaden the assault on my eardrums from the currently playing Celine Dion song) when the last one came on. That was kind of freaky! I had heard it through my headsets while it was being transmitted, with me sitting right behind the guy sending it, and here I was at home listening to it again on the radio station with a cold one in my hand. I guess it's not much different than seeing a TV show recorded or a movie filmed, but it was still felt a bit weird.

So, you're no doubt thinking by now, where are the pictures? Remember that rule I made about never flying without my camera after missing shots of a Mig-17, B-17, and countless other really cool things? Well, I remembered it too, but like Simba in the movie The Lion King, I deliberately disobeyed it. After all, what of interest could possibly happen during a short flight around the neighborhood?

User Fees and Airline Bailout Programs

Are airlines who we want to have direct control over ATC in the United States? They can barely manage their own businesses, as can be seen in this account from Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and blogger that I have a lot of respect for:

DELTA AND ME: Okay, my various cryptic references to Delta have people wanting the whole story. It is, sadly, typical.

I left Knoxville headed for Grand Cayman on Sunday morning a week ago. I was connecting in Atlanta to a flight scheduled to depart at 10:20 a.m. Just before boarding, the counter folks announced that the flight was overbooked (by 22 seats!) and started bumping people. I was one of them. There were no other available flights, and I wound up spending the night in Atlanta and taking the next day's flight at 10:20 a.m. That cost me a full day of vacation. Delta gave me $400 and three meal vouchers for $7 each.

Well, airlines overbook, and people get bumped. But this degree of overbooking on a flight at the crowded spring break season seems way excessive to me. And worst of all was the attitude of the Delta employees at the counter that morning. They gave the impression of actually enjoying the process of delivering the bad news -- including the supervisor whom I asked to speak with. I've been flying Delta since I was three years old, and my experiences with them have generally been good, but this experience makes me understand why they're doing so badly, and not care very much what happens to them. Airlines have a lot of problems to deal with that make flights late sometimes, like this past weekend's blizzards, and I have considerable sympathy with them when those come up. But after this I don't trust Delta to do its best, and I think it's important to trust people you're hiring to get you somewhere on time and in one piece.

I'll have more to say soon about user fees and the proposed 350% increase on the per-gallon fuel taxes we pay, but this is an example of exactly why the proposed privatization of the ATC system is a very bad idea. The airlines are threatened by the emergence of VLJs (Very Light Jets) and this is apparent by their blatant attempts to exclude them from the air with lobbying efforts for user fees and increased taxes that can't be passed on to the consumer in the way the airlines costs can. The proposed billion dollar cut in small airport funding, which coincidentally will close many of the very airports that are the backbone of general aviation travel, is another transparent effort to ground the competition.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Chip chip chipping away at Mt. Rushmore

Over the course of the last few winter months which distinguished themselves with their nearly ubiquitous foul flying weather, I managed to burn three hours worth of gas out of Papa Golf. I've been wanting to get over to MadCo to fill up and finally had a chance to this afternoon. The winds were a bone-chilling 15 knots out of the northwest but the skies were pleasantly clear with just a few puffies at the 4,500' level, which turned out to be a great place for them to be if you happened to get the urge to loop around the outside of a perfectly sized cloud while you still had a light fuel load. Just 'if,' mind you.

The winds being from the northwest offered a relatively rare opportunity: because Bolton was using runway 4 and MadCo was using 27, I was able to practice crosswind takeoffs and landings from both left and right. The takeoff crosswind was a direct 90 degree crosswind from the left, and the ensuing landing at MadCo was a quartering crosswind from the right. The takeoff was easy, but the landing was a new experience. It was a bit of a gusty wind, so I carried 75 - 80 mph further into the final approach than I usually do. The touchdown was a real smooth greaser, but with the higher than normal landing speed it had to be a wheel landing. Another factor of landing on the mains at a speed that gives the wings enough residual lift to make the weight of the airplane on the main landing gear only a fraction of what it normally is. That wouldn't be a big problem unless you got hit with a sudden gust. That can, and did, lift the upwind wing to an appreciable degree, thereby lifting the upwind wheel back up off of the runway. That, I'm here to tell you, is not a comfortable feeling! A little bit of rudder and aileron got everything re-planted quickly, though.

The guy pumping gas today was pretty gruff as he strung out the grounding wire and clipped it on the exhaust. He really hadn't warmed up much by the time the first 15 gallons had been pumped at the princely rate of $3.35 per gallon, so I decided to go into full banter mode. Just as Spinal Tap's amplifiers go to 11**, my BanterAmp(tm) has a 'high' setting that reaches far beyond normal. Mid-way through the filling of the second tank, I found the sweet spot for this particular topic: the prophecy that as cold as we are today, it won't be long until we're hot and griping about mowing the lawn." As a grin finally cracked his face, I felt that I somehow had sampled the incredible pride and joy Gutzon Borglum and his 400 workers must have felt when gazing at their newly finished sculpture on the face of Mount Rushmore.

The departure from MadCo was normal, which is to say Papa flew like he was bloated from a Thanksgiving buffet and wanted nothing more to get the sofa to digest both dinner and a healthy helping of football. It's rare indeed that I don't depart from there with a full load of fuel, and the difference between a 150hp RV-6 with light tanks and one with full tanks is notable.

Bolton was busy when I got back with a Mooney on left downwind and a Cessna over the outer marker on a straight-in approach. I was three miles west of the field and just about due to report my position as established on a two-mile left base when I received a directive from the tower that came as no surprise: "left 360, please." That got me in a position far enough behind the Mooney to have an essentially clear shot at the runway. The wind was kicking up pretty good and was still a direct left crosswind, so I think the quality of the three-bounce landing I made was only a little bit below expectation. All in all, it was a good enough ride that I think I'm comfortable with carrying passengers again.

** Nigel: "You see, most blokes will be playing at 10. You’re on 10, all the way up, all the way up...Where can you go from there? Nowhere. What we do, is if we need that extra push over the cliff...Eleven. One louder."

DiBergi: "Why don’t you just make 10 louder and make 10 be the top number, and make that a little louder?"

Nigel (after taking a moment to let this sink in): "These go to 11."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Another project opportunity

This one is pricier then the previous one at $18.5k, but wouldn't take nearly as much clean-up and restoration:

What would I use for an engine? Well, I'm glad you asked:

Friday, March 16, 2007

Dear Mr. President...

Dear Mr. President –

I write to you today as a concerned citizen. I have long been one of the minority of citizens in this country that has supported you and your administration in both initiatives that I agreed with and those that I strongly disagreed with because through it all I have felt that you are at your core an honest and ethical man. I have always believed that your decisions result from heartfelt beliefs rather than from the crass political expediency practiced by other career politicians.

Mr. President, I am a citizen that plays by the rules (well, I speed on the highways now and then, truth be told). I am in the demographic that pays far more in Federal and State taxes than 90% of the rest of the country. Yes, I complain about it, but I pay what I consider to be far in excess of my fair share regardless. I don’t shelter money, nor do I cheat on my tax returns.

I write to you today because of your administration’s proposed ATC usage fees and the unconscionably drastic increase in fuel taxes. These additional costs to Private pilots will devastate an entire industry, and will be hugely detrimental to the type of aviation that many of us find to be one of the most rewarding and globally unique examples of our fundamental rights as free citizens. This proposed legislation is nothing more than a hand-out to the struggling airline industry, an industry that has created its own problems and now expects yet another bail-out on the backs of productive, tax paying citizens such as myself and my flying peers. Throughout my entire professional life, I have had one simple material goal: earn enough money to allow me to satisfy my lifelong passion for aviation by owning and flying my own airplane. Your proposed tax increase on fuel and the addition of new user fees for services already bought and paid for with existing taxes will at a minimum create an unnecessary safety risk as pilots avoid using ATC services and will at worse drive pilots like myself completely out of aviation.

My President, I urge you to find other solutions to whatever funding problems the airlines and the FAA believe that they have. It is unfair to further burden a class of aircraft and pilot that are not the primary users of the ATC system. It is extremely unfair to make statements such as “the cost of this system should be borne solely by those using it,” particularly when we already pay a significant per-gallon fuel tax. That is a ridiculous and disingenuous statement. There are a tremendous number of government handout programs that I will never use, but I pay for them every day. Beyond that, any person that has ever flown as a passenger on an airline has benefited from the ATC system and should also contribute to the system that makes that possible.

I cannot express strongly enough the negative effect your proposed user fees and vastly increased fuel tax would have on people like me that consider aviation to be our lifelong passion. We work, we contribute, and we ask for only one thing in return: do not kill our dreams to benefit an industry that needs to learn how to fend for itself.


David R. Gamble, RV-6 N466PG

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pleasantville, by air!

There's a movie I come across now and then as I traverse the wide open plains of high cable, armed only with a beer, a bag of chips, and my trusty remote control. The movie is called Pleasantville, starring Mr. Peter "Seabiscuit" Parker himself, Toby Maguire. It was nominated for three Oscars, but because it didn't actually win any, I can tolerate it. It's an interesting movie in the context of this posting because for some deep philosophical reason that I refuse to contemplate, (that would make me artsy, and I am NOT artsy!) it starts with everything being in black & white. The town of Pleasantville is completely isolated from the rest of the world, everything is always perfect (the basketball team not only never loses, they never miss a single shot and always win by shut-out, the only function of the fire department is to rescue cats from trees, it never rains, etc.) So, while living solidly ensconced in their comfortable Pleasantville cocoon, the town's residents have no passion. Their entire World view is a bland black & white.

Eventually, a disruptive force is introduced to their closed community, and that disruption results in various characters discovering inner passions one-by-one. As each character finds their inner emotional core, they start appearing in color. Eventually the entire town and all of its residents are in color. This comes at a cost, of course, and that cost is that the fire department now fights actual fires, the basketball team loses a game now and then, and it rains.

So, why am I telling you about this movie? Well, it's because I am emerging from what feels like a two month black & white spell. Yesterday, with the blue skies, moderate temperatures, above average visibility, easily managed winds, and most importantly, no snow blocking my hangar door, I went flying! While the sky promised full-living-color flight, the ground maintained its stolid refusal to get with the theme by remaining a dark and dismal brown.

That was no problem at all - its transformation to the more palatable varied shades of green and the dark, virile brown of freshly plowed fields is inevitable. I'm in the stage of the movie where the transformation to full color is well under way, and not even the fire & brimstone evangelists preaching against it can stop it.

Is that all a bit dramatic? Well, yes, but that's as may be: it really isn't far off at all from what I felt yesterday as I lifted off of the runway and pointed the nose of my trusty bird towards the West, albeit a little later than I had planned as I had forgotten to account for the shift from EST (Eastern Standard Time) to CDT (Congressional Dipshittery Time). It was like a veil had been lifted from my mood, if that metaphor makes any sense. Over the last couple of non-flying months, I had lapsed into a drudge-like routine of work/school/couch-sitting without really realizing how much duller my life was without flying.

The destination was one of my regulars: Darke Co./Versailles, an airport responsible for many of my most, uh, memorable landings, including one in the Tampico where I struggled mightily with a surly direct 25 knot crosswind until I was able to wrestle the plane onto the ground. Even under normal conditions, though, I find that I have trouble getting a smooth touchdown there. Yesterday, though, with what little wind there was coming out of the North, unfettered by the normal disruptions from the stand of trees just South of the landing zone on runway 27, I was able to actually make a pretty decent landing. Say, was that hangar always that color?

After a nice visit with my folks at their horse farm and a chance to sit in my brother's new NASCAR Modified that he's building in his shop, I enjoyed a smooth ride home at 5,500' and 155 knots (resulting from a nice tailwind!) and planted another greaser back at Bolton.

On the drive home, I simply couldn't help noticing how colorful everything seemed in Pleasantville all of a sudden.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Back in the air

I finished up my remaining tasks for completing the annual today, and dropped the logs off for the sign-off from the AP/IA that I use to perform the inspection. The sum total of parts this year was less than $20, so this is by far the least painful annual ever, at least fiscally.

So, what to do with an airplane fresh out of annual, on a day that hit 60 degrees, 10 miles visibility, and 6 knot winds? I thought about that for a nanosecond or so, and shockingly arrived at the idea of actually flying the thing.

This would be my first flight in nearly two months, a nerve-wracking thought in and of itself, but it would also be the (gulp!) dreaded first flight after annual. This is the flight that I always second guess and over-analyze to the point that I'm halfway convinced that parts of my plane will be raining from the skies as they shake themselves loose. It's never happened, of course, but the nagging doubt is always there.

After an extensive preflight (it might seem counterintuitive that one of the most detailed preflights that I do all year is right after the most detailed inspection the airplane will receive all year, but after having panels off and pieces/parts removed and replaced, it actually seems more likely to me that a problem will crop up in flight) I made my first takeoff in what seemed like a very, very long time. With a light wind from the left, I had a little bit of early swerving, but I settled down pretty quickly. Once clear of the runway, I climbed at a speed that would give me maximum altitude with the least amount of forward progress, the thinking being that I'd like to stay close to the runway and have altitude in the bank if something untoward happened to the power source. As I turned to the west, I made sure to stay within gliding range of Columbus Southwest, a grass runway airport 2.5 miles to the west of Bolton. I wouldn't really want to land on what was probably a soggy, muddy quagmire, but if push were to come to shove, I think I'd probably be more amenable to it. It's not far from Southwest to the paved runway at Darby Dan, and from there it's only another handful of miles to MadCo.

Everything ran fine, so I stooged around at 4500' for 20 minutes, savoring the feeling of finally being an aviator again. I could only delay the inevitable challenge of landing for the first time in ages for so long, so I finally worked up the nerve to head back to home base. The first landing was not so bad, although I was surprised at just how fast the runway was coming at me as I reached the numbers. It will take awhile to get acclimated to the speed again, I suppose. The landing itself was adequate, but I flared high and it seemed like I must have dropped eight to ten feet before I finally felt the reassuring bump of the wheels touching down.

I wanted to get at least three landings in before I could start to feel at least somewhat competent after the long hiatus, so it was off for another lap around the airport. What a fine decision that was, I thought, as I greased in the second one. Just to prove that it wasn't a fluke, I pressed on to the third. Well, that didn't go very well. Now, the story I'm using if queried by witnesses is that I was ensuring that all of the pieces/parts were firmly re-attached to the plane by stress testing it on the runway. You know, to shake anything loose in a spot where it could be easily retrieved. Yeah, that's the story: "I meant to do that." The tower controller knows differently, of course, since he actually heard me squeeze out a terse "six-papa-golf-going-around damn it" (all one word, with the expletive being sotto voce) at the top of the, uh, test bounce. Good practice, that recovery from near stall speed with full flaps hanging out in the breeze, even though it wasn't planned that way. Or perhaps especially because it wasn't planned that way, I suppose.

The third landing was a superb on-the-wheels greaser. Always one to quit while ahead, assuming I can ever actually get ahead, I headed up the hill and put her back in the barn, all pieces still firmly attached. Oh, and nothing had fallen off of the airplane, either.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

They're gonna have to boost the lab fee!

We pay a $20 lab fee each quarter at the A&P school to cover supplies used in the classes. These are typically things like rivets, sheet metal, electrical components and the like. As I've spent the last few class sessions outside in the frigid cold (quite forcibly reminding myself of why I got out of the airplane maintenance gig 20 years ago) working on the Boeing 727 donated by FedEx last year, I have determined that $20 ain't gonna get anywhere near what we've spent this week alone.

The topic we're working on is 100 hour 'A' check inspections on the big bird. In order to facilitate the inspection of the under-bits of the flaps, slats, and spoilers, it was deemed necessary to light up the Auxillary Power Unit (APU), which is a tiny little jet engine buried deep in the bowels of the machine. Monday night, all of the ice and snow that had accumulated in the APU exhaust had finally melted away and we could crank up the noisy little bugger. That went fine, but the reponse to the commandments to move ancillary flight controls like the flaps, slats, and spoilers were met with the same kind of "go pound sand" grumbling that I get from Hogarth when insisting that he stir his dirty old self from an illicit nap on a piece of high quality furniture. The problem was quickly determined to be a complete and total lack of the life-giving blood of hydraulic systems: the Skydrol hydraulic fluid. This determination was quickly followed by the quite natural question of "well, where did eight gallons of Skydrol disappear to??"

Now, I may or may not have previously shared the sordid details of my continually degenerating relationship with the instructor, but suffice it to say that it's not the most congenial of working relationships. This manifested itself quite apparently when it came to determining where the leak was. We started back in the tail cone of the airplane where the hydraulic fluid tanks are located, visually inspecting lines, valves, and surrounding floors for evidence of leakage. None was to be found. As the goal of Monday's efforts was more or less just to prove that the APU could be started, it was decided that we would defer the search for the leak until Wednesday. As we were walking back to the hangar, we walked past a puddle under the belly of the plane, near the leading edge of the wing. I pointed out the fact that there were no water puddles anywhere to be seen, so the mysterious puddle might very likely be the clue we were looking for. This idea was summarily discarded by the instructor as unlikely. Fine, thought I, for I would rather be in the nice, warm hangar than outside on that frigid, windy, bone cillingly cold night hunting for a fluid leak.

Come Wednesday, eight gallons of Skydrol had been procured at the exhorbitant cost of $103 per gallon. The first gallon was pumped in (by me) and was soon gone missing. The second gallon met the same fate. The third gallon was pumped in, and I went back to the tail cone to find the same thing as Monday night: a determined search to find a 55 gallon drum in a haystack. In other words, the tail cone was still bone dry, but the single-minded search in the proximity of the tanks continued apace, with the same distressing lack of results. My query of "why does the leak have to be here, given the miles of hydraulic lines coursing through the entirety of the aircraft" was again summarily dismissed. Being of the easily peeved type, I removed myself from the vicinity and began my own search. At this point in the tale, you will not be shocked to learn that I quickly discovered that the mysterious puddle from Monday not only still existed, but was something on the order of three gallons larger. Against my better judgement (which is a polite way of saying "going against my long ingrained passive/aggressive style of conflict avoidance") I went back to the tailcone to report my findings. That, of course, was futile. Ego was in full force on both sides at this point, so my discovery was met with no more than a shrug of the shoulders and yet another brush off.

Well, by this time I was cold, tired, and pissed off, so I adopted the petulant strategy of just removing myself from the problem. As I stood off to the side, I was eventually joined by the rest of the students, who themselves were also apparently starting to feel somewhat redundant to the entire process. I showed them my theoretical leak, and we soon agreed that there was definitely a problem somewhere in the right wing. It soon became apparent to the one lone remaining tailcone resident that his entire class had abandoned the pointless inspection of the tailcone, and that it might be beneficial to actually look at the stream of purple Skydrol dripping down the side of the airplane.

Long story short (heh, too late!!), the right inboard leading edge slat actuator was leaking like a sieve. We capped the hydraulic lines (managing in the process to soak my gloves with Skydrol, which would later lead to a stupid incident involving me rubbing my left eye with a finger covered in a film of Skydrol - a burning sensation I hope never to repeat!) and re-started the APU.

Problem solved. But I doubt if my $20 is going to make much of a dent in the invoice for eight gallons of Skydrol!

Another Review

Fast and furious writing going on during my seasonal flying hiatus:

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

My latest review

Formula 1 is my motor racing genre of choice, mostly because of the relative shortness of the races. When it takes five hours to sit through a NASCAR event, I have to look elsewhere.

So, here's my review of Sony's Formula 1 game for the Playstation 3:

Monday, March 05, 2007

It's all relative

One thing that I've been looking forward to fixing during this year's annual is the slow drip of the left wing sump drain. I wouldn't even categorize it as a leak - maybe on or two drops a day at most. But still, the airport folks aren't going to be overly thrilled about the blue-green drip stain on the hangar floor so I needed to get it fixed.

Intuitively, I thought that removing the old drain and putting in a new one with anything but bone dry tanks would result in quite a bit of fuel doing what any self-respecting fluid would do if given the opportunity to leak through a nice, big, unrestricted hole: GUSHER! I asked the local A&P what he thought, and he stated that if any fuel leaked out, it would only be a little bit.

That sounded good to me, so I proceeded. What I learned was that the definition of a "little bit of gas" in the context of a heated hangar is significantly different than the definition of a "little bit of gas" in the context of a 25 degree Fahrenheit hangar with the gas flowing down your sleeve. Injury to insult: it didn't feel particularly nice when it hit the open cut on my thumb, either!

Cause of the almost-leak: aluminum shavings in the tank had done what they were supposed to do: migrate to the lowest point in the tank. What they didn't do was make it all the way through the drain. There were metal shavings caught between the O-ring and where it seats to the drain, resulting in just enough gap to allow fuel to seep through.