Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Learned About Flying Being a Dumbass From That

I thought it would be nice to enjoy tonight's sunset from the air, so I drove over to the airport for an 8:30 takeoff. I also wanted to test my new XM antenna location for the AnywhereMap, so two birds, one stone. The sky was clear, and the somewhat toasty temps had dropped to bearable, and the winds were essentially calm. Everything was lined up for an enjoyable flight.

I headed out west to the wide open spaces that lend themselves so readily to enthusiastic flying, and climbed to a healthy altitude before letting Papa have free rein. We started with a loop, followed by a roll to the left. Another loop was next, followed by yet another loop. Having intended only to fly for a few minutes, I thought it would be expedient to roll out of the top of the loop on a heading back towards the airport. This is something I've done before, but this time was a little different in that I was at a little slower airspeed than I normally would have been because I had lost a little in the previous loop. As I rolled over at the top of the loop, I got a little slow and got into a kind of mini stall, where I was hanging at the top of the loop with no Gs on the airplane. This is not an abnormal situation since it happens now and then during aileron rolls, but this time it lasted longer than normal. As is usual when I have no Gs on the airplane, the engine dropped RPM as it lost access to fuel which had dropped away from the bottom of the fuel tank. That normally only lasts a second or so but because it took me a couple of seconds longer to get Gs back onto the airplane this time, the engine actually quit.

I quickly got the nose pointed down to get some knots deposited in the airspeed account and the prop continued to turn at a pretty good RPM just from the airstream running through it. In fact, it was hard to tell that it wasn't actually running; interestingly, it's more something that you feel than anything else. It's still making quite a bit of noise and the prop is still spinning at blur speed, but you can feel that there is just no enthusiasm for the job at hand.

The next 5 - 10 seconds, which as you can imagine felt more like 5 - 10 minutes, were spent getting the mixture back to full rich and starting to look for someplace to land, although I fully expected to be back under power in the near term. I was over 4000' up, so I had plenty of time in the bank. The prop was still turning at a pretty good clip, so engaging the starter would have done nothing but slow it down. Sure enough, with just enough of an admonitory cough to stress the gravity of my error (Get it? 'Gravity' and the lack of same having caused the entire incident?) Papa sprang right back to full power.

The landing back at Bolton was uneventful, and truth be told, was actually pretty good.

So, what did I learn? It's hard to say, but at a minimum I certainly learned that mid-maneuver is not a good time to change the plan. I always know what I plan on doing before I start it, but tonight I tried to ad lib with the impromptu roll at the top of the loop. "Never do that again" was a good lesson to learn, and I'm happy that the tuition for the lesson in this case turned out to be so low.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Start at the beginning....

... and read until the end. It'll take awhile, but consider yourself lucky that you aren't waiting a month between installments like the contemporaneous readers had to:


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Muggalicious @ MadCo

Having spent most of Saturday doing jobs around the house, up to and including replacing an exhaust fan in the bathroom (and a big Thanks to the electrician that originally installed it: nailing it in instead of using the screw mounts provided, and wiring it backwards were nice touches), I thought it would be nice to at least fly over to MadCo to fill the tanks after the trip to Cleveland last week. Replacing the fan required a few dozen trips and up to and down from the attic, an area that only has two available temperatures: really, really hot, and really, really cold. Yesterday was a 'hot' day.

On the plus side, the replacement motor for the exhaust fan was $53 online, and the entire unit was $49 at Lowes. That's nice because I would have been tempted to buy just the part I needed had it been cheaper than replacing the whole unit, and as it turns out replacing the motor would have been twice the work of replacing the whole unit. Actually, I would have ended up buying the replacement unit anyway - further inspection after removing it shows that I would have ruined it just getting the bad motor out of it. It was spot welded in, believe it or not, and the case got pretty bent up from being pried out of the rafters. Again, thanks dude, that was a real treat. A couple of screws wouldn't have killed you.

The weather today was not all that nice: low-ish clouds, 7 miles visibility, and relative humidity hovering somewhere between 'rain forest' and 'sauna.' In fact, once I was in the plane I couldn't help thinking that it was a lot like sitting in that hypothetical sauna, cozily wrapped up in a wool blanket, in July. Ick.

Still, it was flying, and it's always nice to fly with the tanks low and just me aboard. It's a nice simulation of what the extra 30 horsepower that I continue to lust for would feel like. We're off the concrete after only a few hundred feet, we accelerate rapidly to the "prop unload" speed of 120 mph, and get a great climbing turnout to the west. Coming back full of gas, well, that's a little more like work.

The flight over was ok, although a few wispy clouds keep me down low in the heat. There wasn't much to see with the haze being what is was, but there was very little traffic on the Unicom and it seemed that there just weren't that many folks flying. I hate hazy days because they really reduce the odds of seeing other airplanes before it's too late. My landing was ok, albeit with a series of what I've taken to calling 'mechanical bumps.' Those are the ones that feel like it's the springiness of the landing gears that's keeping them going. I was still able to make my turn-off, though, so it was graded as horrible. Just so-so. The tanks took 27 gallons at $4.09 per, and I couldn't help wondering why the avgas prices have vailed to follow the lower price trend of MoGas, currently selling at $2.59 per. Maybe it's a completely different supply & demand market or something of that nature. Still... a break would be nice.

Anyway, it's one of those days when you could fly somewhere if you had to, but all in all it's a better day for working on the kayak downstairs in the Blue Heron Boat Works. Today's job is fiberglassing the inside of the deck prior to attaching it to the hull. Being as I'm paranoid about running out of supplies, I will do it in sections rather than use an entire 17' length of fiberglass. That way, I can use the trimmings from the mid section to use on the bow and stern ends. On the external surfaces, I won't want to do that out of fear that I won't be able to hide the seams. No one should ever see the inside, so it's not as critical.

It's nice having something else interesting to do when the weather isn't all that conducive to flying, but it's especially nice when the weather is good enough to allow for at least a little bit of practice, a short hop, or both. There's something to be said for having your cake and eating it too whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

USS Cod Tour Slideshow

Click slideshow for larger images:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Co-Pilot Egg and the Tour of the USS Cod

Having used our quota of July weather back in June, we balanced the scales today with a nice, Spring-like flying day. The high was predicted to be in the low-80s or high-70s, the humidity was low, atmospheric pressure was a respectable 30.22", and the winds were forecast to get no stronger than 10 knots throughout the day. Co-pilot Egg was keen for a trip, so we settled on a ride up to Burke-Lakefront, a nicely situated airport within easy walking distance of downtown Cleveland and several varied museums. And, my favorite attraction of them all, the USS Cod. Egg and I had traveled there together in the Tampico a few years ago, but it's been long enough for her that she only dimly remembers it.

My last experience with flying to Burke was very educational with regards to whether it is better to deal with the air traffic controllers that control the 30 mile radius around Cleveland-Hopkins airport, or stay down below the outer rings where they don't have to have anything to do with us. It is, as far as they are concerned, the latter. Forewarned is forearmed, though, so I planned accordingly. The maximum height that I can fly under the outermost ring is 4000', and the next ring in places a somewhat uncomfortable 3000' limit on where I can fly. That's getting kind of close to buildings and such, so I tend to compromise at 3500' out under the first ring where that gives me a 500' buffer from accidentally climbing into the controlled airspace. On the previous trip I also learned that it is just about equidistant to opt for the route around to the north. That takes you out over the lake a little bit, so what with it pretty much being a choice between firing squad or hanging if I were to lose the engine, I opted for the fighting chance I'd have with I-71 over the near certain flip I'd get if I had to ditch in the water.

Here's the route that I planned out:

Note that my plan wasn't to go all the way out to those waypoints to the east. The plan was to turn north towards the airport once I could see on the GPS that I was far enough east to stay under the less restrictive shelves of the Class B airspace, so this is really just an approximation of the route we'd actually fly. It might seem complicated, but it has the benefit of being predictable; I was pretty surprised to have the controllers send me as far out over the lake as they did last time. I also had the advantage of having a co-pilot with me today to handle charts and other cockpit distractions. This sharing of cockpit tasks is taken to a science by airlines and corporate flight departments under the acronym CRM, or Cockpit Resource Management. Now, I personally haven't had such training, but I've read a few magazine articles about it. Unfortunately, not a single one of those articles mentioned what must be the cardinal rule of CRM: do NOT give your co-pilot a copy of the new Harry Potter book!!

The trip up to Burke was nice, but I am convinced that, much in the same way that the girl that cleans the bathrooms at work has a remote indicator of my current bladder status that she consults to ensure that she cleans the facilities always and only when I have pressing need of them, the altitude that I report in the online flight briefing site (DUATs) is directly linked to the height of whatever clouds I will encounter on a trip. If I get briefed for 3500', that's where they'll be. Every time. Today included. I didn't want to go up high on the trip to Burke because I'd get even more of the headwind we'd be fighting as we flew towards the northeast, and because I'd have to get back down under the Class B once I got up there. Of the two, the first was the bigger consideration as I'm already a few knots in default due to my procrastination on reinstalling the wheel pants. At 3000', we were able to duck around some of the clouds, duck under some of them, and with some we actually did both.

Speaking of bladder capacity, I was also once again reminded of Flying Tip #12:

- Drinking and driving don't mix
- Forgetfulness and parachuting don't mix
- And finally, coffee and flying do NOT mix.

'Nuff said on that.

As approached the airport, I called the tower to let them know that we were 8 miles southeast. Very soon thereafter, a Cessna of some type, probably a 172, called in from a position a fews miles to the east of the airport. It looked like we'd both get the pattern at right around the same time, and that's what happened. We ended up about 500 feet apart just at the point where we'd be slotted into the traffic pattern around the airport, in this case left traffic to runway six Left, with him at my 3:00 high and me at his 9:00 low. With him being a high wing and me in a low wing, that was actually preferable to the alternative of the altitudes being reversed. Had he been below me, I wouldn't have been able to see him with the wing being in the way, and he wouldn't be able to see me above him since he too would have a wing obstruction. Having somewhat recently flown within just a few feet of another airplane, albeit deliberately and in a controlled, briefed flight, I wasn't all that bothered by being that close to him. The tower, recognizing that my plane was the faster and lower of the two, cleared me in ahead of the Cessna.

Egg took some nice pictures as we came in, having long since abandoned Mr. Potter and his ongoing travails due to the bumpiness of the ride. As we turned left base to runway six left, the tower asked me to side-step and land on six right. That let him clear the other plane to a landing on six left. It also put me closer to the parking area, which is always nice. There's a turn off towards the ramp just a little bit down the runway, but the 8 knot headwind down the runway helped keep our ground speed down low enough to get Papa slowed down in time to make it. I wonder how many other planes made that turn-off today; I'm betting on few to none. It says a lot about the design of an airplane to be able to fly comfortably at 200 mph, yet be able to land so precisely and with so little runway, most of it good. It does imply that it doesn't have a good glide range, though, which is something to consider. I like to try my hand at the controls of a -9 someday so I could compare. I could see buying a well-equipped 9(A) someday, but I'd like to try one on first.

Here's some video of Brandon's landing. You can see the first turn off just after his touchdown:

The tower controller told me to just go over an park next to the C-130, which I had no trouble picking out from the other, smaller planes on the ramp. It was sitting in a fenced off area where a collection of other military planes were apparently having some kind of fly-in. As I pulled into a spot at the end of a row of GA planes, an airshow marshal came over and made signals for me to follow him. He walked us over to a wide gate they had set up in the fence, apparently thinking that Papa, Egg and I were part of the show. A second marshal came out with a handheld radio and signaled me to change to 122.5 on the radio. He asked if I was there as a static display, or if I was the one that would need to get in and out as I gave rides. "Well, neither actually. We just want to park and go downtown."

I was pretty sure I didn't belong here, but... they seemed so sure that they wanted me here.

Well, that cost us our sweetheart parking spot, and we were sent packing back to the city ramp. After walking the extra distance back to the terminal to pay the $5.00 landing fee, the clerk at the desk waived the charge, saying that he had already recorded me as an airshow plane and there was no sense in changing it. Fine by me!

As we walked over to the USS Cod, we got our first hint that something was going on at the lakefront today:

Heh, I really don't know how you afford to not have an airplane. I parked for free!

The Cod is only a short walk from the terminal, and as I had insisted that we get an early start, we were almost the only people touring it. That's important because it is very, very cramped in a submarine. I can't imagine how 50-some guys lived in those things for weeks on end. Here are a series of pictures of our tour. I have tons more, being a sucker for brass knobs, wheels, levers, etc., and all of the gauges and dials associated with them. I might post a slideshow later, if there's any interest.

The above was the officer's china. The enlisted folks' dinnerware was somewhat more pedestrian functional:

The Captain was essentially always on duty, so he had constant access to heading and depth data.

Egg driving the boat...

but she's not sure where she's driving it to.

I don't know what these levers do, but I want some. They just look important.

I wasn't sure what she was aiming the big gun at...

This is what Egg aimed the big gun at. Seems safe enough, especially considering that she would have missed.

After touring through the sub, we headed back to Papa to drop off an unneeded sweatshirt and a couple of souvenirs from the Cod. We met our flying buddies Brandon, Laura, and Kaden, who had flown up for a visit to the science museum. Having seen the traffic headed that way before, Egg and I opted to cross the bridge over the railroad tracks and have a walkabout downtown. It's been decades since I visited downtown Cleveland, so I didn't remember anything about it. It turns out to be a nice downtown for a walkabout, if only because of the artistic guitar sculptures randomly distributed throughout the downtown area, presumably as a testament to Cleveland's close ties with Rock & Roll. When she's of a mind to, Egg can be induced to pose nicely, as you can see in this collection of guitar pictures:

This one was my favorite.

And they had pigs too!

Personally, what with me being an old fuddy-duddy, I preferred these guys:

Sadly, Egg's not always in the mood to give me a nice pose. That's ok with random things like this:

because if you're patient, you can still get things like this:

But now and then, you may have a specific idea for a picture, such as my idea to take a picture of Egg standing next to Patty Wagstaff's flying suit exhibited in the Women's Museum of Flight and try to have Patty autograph it when she's here in Columbus for the P-51 fly-in. So in those cases, you really want a nice picture, but you get this:

Grrr, she's going to pay for that. I'm going to do exactly what I had hoped to do with that picture, which is to get Patty to autograph hit. That'll learn her!

We had a very nice walk, but both of us were getting tired and hungry. We found a Subway and had a quick bite, then headed back to the airport to begin the trip home. Egg posed next to Papa just before we mounted up:

Egg has photo duties while the Chief Pilot is busy flying:

The tower cleared us out to six left for a departure to the south, and off we went. Egg took another great picture (it really is the camera after all; who knew??) of downtown as we climbed by on our way to 3500'.

I wanted 4500 to get a faster, smoother ride, but as usual, the clouds had beat me there. No problem, really, as it was only bumpy every now and then. We made good time back and were parked back in front of the hangar with only 50 minutes on the elapsed timer. It was an hour plus ten to get up there, so the wind definitely made a difference. We left a little after 9:30 in the morning and were back by 2:30 in the afternoon, and spent just about $70 in gas. Honestly, I don't know why more people don't do this!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Weather Change, Pain Patterns Unchanged

The first doctor that I had look at my sprained ankle was either a patholgical pessimist or just wrong. Either works for me. Perhaps dazzled by the brilliant hues of the painful looking bruises and purple toes of my left foot, he proclaimed the worst: it will never fully heal, and you will feel pain during changing weather patterns.

The former didn't bother me greatly as my sedentary lifestyle doesn't include things like Olympic weight lifting, pole vaulting, or extreme downhill shopping cart racing. The latter was a different story. It seems to me that people that can "feel" weather changes are actually feeling changes in the ambient atmospheric pressure. Well, that would be bad for me, you see, because pilots of small, unpressurized airplanes like Papa go through pretty rapid pressure changes every time we fly! What is it, 1" of pressure drop for every 1000'? It's something like that, anyway. A 2" change in atmospheric pressure change across a four minute period would be a mighty strange weather event indeed, but is routine in the airplane.

Not to worry, though. We had a big thunderstorm blow through last night, and I didn't feel anything at all unusual in my ankle. It was just the normal thunderstorm hassle: Brave Sir Hogarth, The Mightiest of All Canine Hunters, (when danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled...) hears the thunder long before we do. Feeling that it is his job as the Canine of the House to awaken us, apparently so that we can protect his 85 lb. lilly-livered canine derriere from the fearful monster appproaching our abode from the west, we were awakened in the usual manner at roughly 2:00 am.

Brave Sir Hogarth, Slayer of Hider From Thunder

The "usual manner" is a combination of breath panted directly into the face, combined with a paw clawing at the side of the bed. I think it's the rotten innertube smell of his breath that is the more effective, truth be told. In any event, all was normal. That's good.

But man, am I tired today!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Wooden kayak morphing into fiberglass

The wires (aka boat clecoes) are all removed, and the wooden shell of the kayak is just strong enough from the tack glue joints to hold its form against gravity and the periodic bumps it gets from my clumsy walking around. It's weak as a kitten and would leak like a NY Times front page if it got anywhere near the water, but the next few steps will start to correct that.

First, the inside of the hull will be strengthened and waterproofed. The fore and aft compartments will have 3" fiberglass tape applied to all of the wood joints, and a coat of clear epoxy applied to the bare wood surfaces not covered by the tape. The cockpit area is a little different: a large sheet of fiberglass cloth will coat the entire inner surface.

Both forms of fiberglass share a common weakness: they will not adhere well to sharp angles. In the cockpit, that isn't a very big problem but in the fore and aft sections, there are very sharp angles where the panels meet. The cure for this is to mix up a batch of what the manual calls 'peanut butter,' which is simply epoxy filled with sawdust until it attains a moldable consistency:

This peanut butter (and just so you know, the manual has already called for 'ketchup' and 'mustard' - I'm still waiting for 'maple syrup' and 'spaghetti sauce') gets spread down into the crevices formed by the joined panels and shaped to a nice, round fillet. I used a ZipLoc bag with the tip of one of the corners cut off:

I invented a tool to make the fillet shape up in the tight confines of the sharp ends of the boat by sanding the sides off of a plastic spoon:

Patent Pending

Once the peanut butter is in place, the tape is laid onto it, and clear epoxy is brushed over the whole enchilada:

Both the fore and aft are done - I just followed up the tape, peanut butter, and clear epoxy with a second coat of epoxy this evening. Tomorrow I will so the cloth and epoxy in the cockpit section.

I Would Invite the Esteemed Senator to Kiss My A$$

"Commercial airline passengers shouldn't continue to subsidize corporate jets," said aviation subcommittee Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday.

Commercial airline passengers are subsidizing their own access to federal ATC services and facilities. Just because they don't own the airplane and aren't either monitoring the autopilot or passing out the peanuts, that doesn't mean they aren't directly benefiting from having a place to land and a control system in place to keep them from an unwanted meeting with another airliner.

Dumb ass.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

It never fails when you're in a hurry...

... you always get stuck in the slow lane:

I didn't have a great deal of time to fly today and pretty much needed to have it wrapped up and myself back to the ranch by noon. That was no problem since near-by Urbana was hosting a balloon fly-thing (I don't know what to call it since they're actually trucked in and launched, rather than flown in as you would in a traditional 'fly-in'), and I'm of the opinion that you simply cannot take a bad picture of a hot air balloon. With an early enough start, I figured I could be there and back before my curfew.

Well, wouldn't you know that I'd get behind the exact same guy up on the airway? Poking along in the fast lane too! I'm surprised he didn't have a turn signal on, like those folks you get behind on the highway that go for miles promising a lane change that they never seem to get around to.

There's a metaphor in the way the reflected compass rose from my directional gyro encircles the plane, I suppose, but I'm just not poetic enough to know what it is.

Anyway, I finally got a chance to pass, and as I went by I recognized the driver: none other than RV-9A builder Rick, taking a break from his building tasks to join me for breakfast at the balloon fly-thingy. He's borrowing that Cherokee from a friend while he finishes up his RV, which is convenient for me as I still get someone to eat with but don't have a witness to my landings. Win-win. I tease him a lot about how slow it is, but it's really a nice, well-equipped airplane and I suspect it's even a knot or two faster than my Tampico was.

Now, I said before that it's darn near impossible to get a bad picture of a hot air balloon. You may assume that to be a statement regarding their photogenic nature, but in fact it means you can never find one to take a picture of at a balloon fly-thingy. I'm not sure if 9:00 was simply too late to catch them, or if the forecast of 10G15 wind was enough to dissuade them, but they were trucking up and leaving as I landed. I'm pretty sensitive to the wind in my taildragger, but as you can imagine balloonists are positively adverse to anything but a light breeze, or so it seems. I know I would be!

I needed gas, and Rick did too, so we briefed for a quick hop down to MadCo. We had to wait a few minutes for our turn at the pump, but it was no big deal since the plane we were waiting for was so nice to look at (and long for):

Things were really hopping at MadCo. Just before I saddled up for the jaunt back to Bolton, this crop duster landed for a refill. It's a turbine, so I got a whiff of the fumes that take me back to an overseas RF-4C flightline much in the way that the whop-whop-whop of a Huey probably effects a Nam vet. I think it would be a tremendous amount of fun (and risk, I suppose) to fly a duster like that. If I was wealthy enough to work at something that doesn't pay, I think I'd try on a new job every year and write a book about each experience. Crop dusting would be on my list. Oddly enough, even more sedate things like being a steward on a cruise ship would make the list.

Coming back into Bolton, I heard a Grumman report in to the tower as 7 miles west, and a quick glance at the GPS showed me at 6.8 miles west. That was fine, though, as the GPS also informed me of my 171 knot groundspeed. There's no Grumman shy of the F-14 (ok, their probably is, but I invoke literary privilege) that would be in danger of catching up and running me over, so I felt it safe to ignore him, as long as I let Papa keep up the pace. If I'd had the wheel pants back on, I'd have been doing at least 180 knots. As it was, we were cooking right along.

Photo courtesy of Richard J. Schwandt

Photo courtesy of Richard J. Schwandt

As I was entering mid-field right downwind to 22, a Cessna 172RG had already been cleared to land from a 1 1/2 mile left base. This being my home field and my plane known to the controllers, the tower guy told me that if I could keep a tight pattern, he could clear me in front of the Cessna. "I can do it," I told him, and was immediately cleared to land. I had whoa-ed Papa a bit on the entry to the pattern, but thinking that I'd be flying an extended downwind to land #2 behind the Cessna, I hadn't yet slowed down to the 100mph limit for dumping the flaps. I also had an 11 knot tailwind, so I was eating up pattern distance at a far more prodigious rate than the other guy.

Throttle to idle and no wheel pants to block the drag from the wheels got me down to flap speed quickly enough, so I dumped them down and turned base just past the numbers. At this point, the 11 knot wind RDTR worked in my favor. I was high and fast pretty close in to the threshold, but the headwind was keeping my distance across the ground manageable so I didn't even need to resort to a slip. I also target a spot 1000' down the runway for my touchdown so I am slowing to turning/taxi speed just as I reach the A3 taxiway, so I had plenty of room to work with. It was a nice, smooth touchdown and I had turned off of the runway at A3 and onto the parallel taxiway to head back to the barn by the time the Cessna was flaring for his touchdown. I don't think I've ever ridden a more controllable and eager-to-please mount than PapaGolf.

Update: just playing around in Picasa, I tried the grainy WWII newsprint look:

Photo courtesy of Richard J. Schwandt